Strength training is a type of exercise that involves combatting external resistance (e.g. lifting weights) to build muscles. Typically, the number of male weightlifters will significantly outnumber the number of female weightlifters at the gym. Many women hesitate to participate in this strength-training exercise for a variety of reasons, the majority of which will involve intimidation of working out beside the Arnold Schwarzenegger look-a-likes or having bodies that resemble those of bodybuilders. These beliefs are driven by the ideal of what femininity is supposed to look like.
Author and professor of psychology Jessica Salvatore notes that the ideal masculine body inspires a notion of strength while the ideal female body inspires a notion of thinness. Due to these socially-established ideals, many women will avoid lifting weights while men flock toward it, creating a highly gendered exercise.
Health Benefits of Strength Training
- Builds Strong Bones – Weightlifting helps prevent the bone loss that naturally occurs with aging. Since women tend to have less peak bone mass than men–and pregnancy and breastfeeding lowers bone mass–strength training is highly recommended for women. Bones with more density helps prevent or forestall osteoporosis. According to the CDC, bone fracture was also reduced among women age 50-70 who strength trained.
- Reduces Fall Injuries – Resistant exercise has been shown to build muscle mass and help with strength and stair climbing. The Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health noted that “resistance training may contribute to better balance,coordination, and agility that may help prevent falls in the elderly.”
- Helps Maintain Weight – Those who strength trains have a higher metabolic rate since weightlifting helps build more muscle mass and muscle burns more calories than fat. This helps people control their weight and can increase one’s metabolic rate by 15%.
- Improves Mental Health – Strength training also increases self-esteem and self-confidence, which overall helps one’s quality of life. It can also help alleviate some symptoms of depression.
- Eases Arthritis Pain – According to the CDC, a study showed that strength training lowered arthritis pain by 43% over the course of a 16-week program.
- Improves Heart Health – Strength training helps decrease the risks of heart disease since it keeps the body lean. The American Heart Association recommends doing at least two strength training sessions per week.
- Reduces Risk of Type-2 Diabetes – Strength training can help lose weight, maintain insulin sensitivity, and lower your risk for heart disease. For those with Type 2 diabetes, it is highly recommended that they do both strength training and aerobic exercises to control blood sugar levels better.
- Improves Sleep – Higher quality sleep has been noted as a positive impact of weightlifting. People have experienced falling asleep more quickly, sleeping longer, and waking up less often during the night.
Risks of Strength Training
Major risks of weightlifting for women include exercise-induced injury. According to the New York Times, the majority of weightlifting-related injuries were due to people dropping weights on themselves, with 90% of all weightlifting injuries being due to free weights. This is usually caused by overexertion, losing balance, and muscle pulls.
The key to avoiding injuries while weightlifting and strength training is to use proper techniques and manageable weights. Due to all of the benefits of strength training, more women should include it in their exercise routine. While aerobic workouts are healthy for the body, it is strength training that makes the muscles, bones, and overall body stronger.
- Header Image: Plantronicsgermany (Flickr)
- Co-author: Shoua Kue
- Physical Activity – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Weightbearing Exercise for Women and Girls – American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)
- Exercise and Type-2 Diabetes – Diabetes Care (Journal), American Diabetes Association
- Strength and Resistance Training Exercise – American Heart Association
- Resistance Training for Health – Michael L. Pollack and Kevin R. Vincent (University of Florida)
- Weight-Lifting Injuries on the Rise – New York Times