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Women and Weight-lifting: 10 Benefits without Bulk

Weight lifting is for people of all shapes and sizes and with varying goals, no longer just for men wanting to get bigger.

The following are just a few ways in which lifting weights outshines the competition in delivering powerful health and life-enhancing benefits.

1 – The best exercise for fat loss

What exercise do most women do when they want to drop a dress size?

Cardio.

That’s ok but, who wants ok results?

Performing weights in conjunction with a cardio based training plan is a far better way to drop fat.

Why?

Increasing and maintaining adequate muscle mass is one of the best ways to keep body fat at bay.

Lifting weights goes beyond the calories used during a workout. It boosts the metabolism so that calories continue to be burned even when you are not working out.

In fact, a recent study in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed enhanced metabolic effects with concurrent training (performing both weight and cardio training) compared to either style of training on their own.

As your lean muscle increases so does your resting metabolism, which is the rate at which your body uses energy when not engaged in any activity, and you burn more calories all day long.

Muscle mass requires energy to be maintained. Adding 1 pound of muscle to your frame burns 50kcals more per day.

Wayne Westcott, PhD, author and fitness consultant, found that the average woman who strength trains two to three times a week for as short a time as two months will gain nearly two pounds of muscle and will lose 3.5 pounds of fat.

Girl gone strong....and sexy!
Girl gone strong….and sexy!

2 – Weight training is anti-aging

Studies at Tufts University, often cited for research in health and nutrition, have found that the top 2 biomarkers of ageing (your anti-ageing capacity) are 1) muscle mass and 2) muscle strength.

Furthermore, weight training with rest periods of 60 seconds or less using large movements can increase growth hormone (GH). GH is anti-ageing and excellent for the skin, hair and nails.

3 – You won’t get bulky

Women simply do not have the hormonal profile to develop hulking muscles.

Women produce an extremely small amount of the sex hormone testosterone (10-30 times less than males) which is largely responsible for a man’s ability to get big and muscular.

I have had female clients request arms like Evangeline Lilly and Michelle Obama. Both of them are known to have trainers and used weight training to get the desired results.

US First Lady Michelle Obama flexes her muscles
US First Lady Michelle Obama flexes her muscles

If it is good enough for them it is good enough for you!

4 – Weight training increases insulin sensitivity

According to the MRC Human Nutrition Research, Metabolic syndrome affects a significant proportion of the UK population and is becoming increasingly common in the United States.

Researchers are not sure whether the syndrome is due to one single cause, but all of the syndrome’s risk factors are related to obesity and diabetes.

Metabolic syndrome is associated with many conditions and risk factors. The two most important risk factors are:

  1. Extra weight around the middle of the body (central obesity). The body may be described as ‘apple-shaped’.
  2. Insulin resistance, in which the body cannot use insulin effectively. Insulin is needed to help control the amount of sugar in the body.

Insulin helps blood sugar (glucose) enter cells.

If you have insulin resistance, your body doesn’t respond to insulin, and so blood sugar is not transferred to the cells. As a result, the body produces more and more insulin. Insulin and blood sugar levels rise, affecting kidney function and raising the level of blood fats, such as triglycerides.

By contrast, if your body needs normal or small amounts of insulin to process the glucose and deliver it to your muscles, then you are insulin sensitive.

Improving insulin sensitivity means that your body will be more efficient at utilising carbohydrates for energy and muscle function instead of storing them as fat.

This can be achieved or improved with weight training. This is one area where weight training completely outperforms cardio. If you lift weight heavy and often enough the blood sugar is transferred to your muscle cells to recover from the hard training.

Research indicates that weight training can increase glucose utilisation in the body by 23 percent in four months. Not only is this good for aesthetic reasons it also reduces your chance of developing adult-onset diabetes.

5 – Weight training can help shift fat from problem areas

Fat loss requires the mobilisation, transportation and oxidation of free fatty acids (FFA).

Unfortunately, areas of stubborn fat tend to have a high level of alpha2 receptors which blunt fat loss (this can get very nerdy to save you the time I’ll briefly outline how a weight training protocol can combat this. For more info on stubborn fat I suggest you check out Lyle McDonald’s bookThe Stubborn Fat Solution).

Simply put to combat this we must override the inhibitory fat effect of the alpha2 recptors.

How do you do that?

  1. Perform high intensity exercise (such as weight training or intervals) to release catecholamines and, therefore, the release of FFAs.
  2. Create an elevation in blood flow to problem areas to aid mobilisation and transportation of FFA. Weight training exercise targeting certain areas can help achieve this. Getting a pump to the target bodypart is a good idea.
  3. Then perform lower intensity exercise (e.g., light cardio) to allow the FFA acids to be oxidised.

Weight training also changes hormone levels such as, raising growth hormone and lowering oestrogen.

According to strength and conditioning coach, Charles Poliquin’s biosignature modulation, ‘a systematic approach to losing unwanted body fat in specific locations “spot reduction”‘, a high level of oestrogen can result in fat being disproportionately stored in the thighs and hips.

A common issue with elevated oestrogen is reduced testosterone levels. Low testosterone levels can result in fat storage on the triceps (bingo wings).

Training, where the weight lifted, the number of repetitions for each exercise, the exercises selected and frequency with which they are performed during a week are tailored to the individual, together with sensible food supplements can help to reduce fat storage in these areas.

My client Amanda showing off how weights helped shape her figure to be fit at 40+
My client Amanda showing off how weights helped shape her figure to be fit at 40+

6 – Weight training makes life easier

As Mark Rippetoe says…

“Strong people are harder to kill.”

Being physically stronger will give you greater independence in daily life.

Lifting weights also reduces the risk of osteoporosis

Resistance training increases bone mineral density. The density of, for example, calcium in your bones decreases with age and in extreme cases develops into osteoporosis where the bones become fragile.

Weight training together with a healthy diet is the best combination to ward off osteoporosis.

7 – Lifting weights reduces the risk of injury

Strength training not only builds stronger muscles, but also builds stronger connective tissues and increases joint stability. This acts as reinforcement for the joints and helps prevent injury.

8 – It’s good for your heart

Weight training can improve cardiovascular health in several ways, including lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.

The heart is a smooth muscle which can adapt to training. It has been shown that combining aerobic exercise with weight training can actually improve heart health as much as, if not even more, than just performing cardio

9 – Lifting weights can increase your confidence and lower the chance of depression

A Harvard study found that 10 weeks of strength training reduced clinical depression symptoms more successfully than standard counselling did.

Furthermore, numerous studies show that the heavy weight training appears to modulates mood in a positive manner by increasing endorphin levels. Women who strength train commonly report feeling more confident and capable as a result of their program, all-important factors in fighting depression.

All in all weight training can improve your body image and self-esteem.

10 – Weight training can improve your sleep

Nowadays it seems nobody gets sufficient quality sleep. Lifting weights has been shown to improve both sleep quality ad duration. In fact, weight training provides an effective natural alternative to many prescription medications in patients with insomnia.

This better sleep will in turn help you have more energy for the rest of your life, oh, and hitting the iron harder next time!

So there are your 10 reasons for women to lift weights. Want to know how to set up a training plan? Then take a look here to read my Top 10 Training Tips

As ever, if you have any questions or comments feel free to get in touch.

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