Strength training is so beneficial and so important for so many reasons. Many women think that strength training is not for them because it will make them "bulky", and when they're trying to lose weight or get thin, to them this may seem counter intuitive. Let's squash this right off the bat. Men will get bigger and more bulky when they lift weights because they have much more testosterone than women. That is a normal response in the male body, but not for women. Yes, we've all seen pictures of women body builders who actually have gotten pretty darn huge, but this is NOT from your typical everyday strength training that most women are doing.
A good strength training routine will help anyone (male or female) have a better body composition (meaning your percentage of fat and muscle). When you have more muscle in your body, you are actually creating a better metabolism. It takes more calories to maintain muscle than fat on an everyday basis. Sometimes women don't even realize that they actually don't need to lose any weight at all to feel and/or look better. It can simply be a matter of your body composition and finding a better balance of muscle and fat. It is possible to not change your weight whatsoever yet feel and look so much better with added muscle. Five pounds of muscle is much more compact and shapely than five pounds of fat. You may actually become tighter and smaller, rather than bulky. Your overall shape will improve, and not to mention your body mechanics in your everyday life will be so much better with a body that has more muscle. When your body mechanics become better, then everything you do gets easier, and you instantly help decrease your chances of injury in your daily activities. That's huge for everyone, and especially nurses!
Decreasing your risk for disease is another huge benefit to weight training. People who do weight training decrease their risk for diabetes and heart disease especially. It makes your body more sensitive to insulin, decreasing your chance of insulin resistance. Weight training will help increase your HDL (good cholesterol) and decrease your LDL (bad cholesterol), and also help lower blood pressure. Not to mention, weight training is a GREAT way to decrease stress and anxiety. I always say if I am upset or angry about anything, nothing fixes that quicker than some heavy deadlifts! There is something so energizing and empowering about picking up something heavy and getting out all your stress. This can greatly improve your mood!
Lifting weights is so important for bone health as well. How do you make something stronger? Put some stress on it and force it to resist that pressure. That's what happens to your bones when lifting weights. This is so important, especially as we age. And speaking of aging, do you know that after the age of 35 most people will lose 5% of their muscle mass every ten years if they don't do anything about it? Sarcopenia is the term for age related muscle loss. It is inevitable, unless you fight against it.
Weight training, or resistance training I should say, does not actually have to include weights at all. You can do some great resistance training exercised using just your body weight alone. Any exercises like pushups, pullups, squats, lunges and planks are just a few examples of body weight exercises that build muscle. You can also do band assisted exercises to create more resistance, and if desired, you can eventually add dumbells, barbells and/or kettlebells to greater increase your resistance.
Many gyms, of course, are loaded with all kinds of machines for weight training. While I'm not going to say these are "wrong" or to avoid them, I would say that using body weight exercises and/or free weights are more functional for helping improve everyday movements. Machines do more for isolating specific muscles and giving the ability to make them bigger and stronger, yet they do not train complete human movement patterns (primal movement patterns) that are necessary to move well. Using free weights also allows you to activate more stabilizing muscles as you exercise, and these muscles are important in everyday movements! Just some food for thought. Now get out there and LIFT!!!
Terri Wentzell is a registered nurse with more than 20 years of experience. She is also a certified personal trainer, wellness coach, fitness nutrition coach, and sport yoga instructor.