Historically, weight lifting has not been a main thing that women choose to do.
There are 5 reasons that you might want to consider getting into some form of weight lifting.
But basically ladies:
LIFT WEIGHTS AND AMAZING THINGS ARE SURE TO HAPPEN TO YOU.
5 Reasons to Lift Weights
1. Studies show it can STOP bone density loss as you age, and even INCREASE bone density.
2. Weight lifting can radically change your metabolism, allowing you to eat more calories while still maintaining your weight (by increasing your lean body mass ie muscle).
3. No matter your current weight or how much fat you have, it can give you a more pleasing SHAPE.
4. It's actually safer and less stressful on your joints than aerobic exercise.
5. You just might feel super good about yourself #mentalhealthisthebest
Let's break each of these down a bit:
1. Stop & Reverse Bone Density Loss
As we age, losing bone mineral density (BMD) is just something we have to face. This can have a GREAT impact on how mobile and healthy and capable we stay into our 60's, 70's and 80's.
It's proven that heavy loads on your body maintain and even increase your bone mineral density.
The only way to practical way achieve this, outside of perhaps lifting heavy animals on a farm or something, would be to lift some weights.
You cannot get this effect with just general "exercise" like running or jogging or other cardio - for instance this study on women doing aerobics for 10 weeks showed that it did NOT change/improve bone density. This is because these forms of exercises don't include the main aspect you need- WEIGHT being loaded onto your body. THIS is what sends the signal to your body that you need to keep the bone density you already have or create more.
This study (which unfortunately was done on on men, so we can't say how this would translate to women, but it's still useful) showed a significant INCREASE in bone density in men in the 44 year age range during the first 6 months of doing weight bearing exercises - and this was for men who already had osteopenia of the hip or spine. Ostopenia is when your bones are weaker than normal but has not led into actual osteoporosis yet.
This study review mentioned that, "the net gain of BMD (bone mineral density) after exercise interventions among older people is modest, at a level of 1-3% per year, but it is not clear whether positive effects can be maintained over a longer time. Although aerobic exercise is important in maintaining overall health, the resistance type of muscle training may be more applicable to the basic rules of bone adaptation and site-specific effects of exercise, have more favorable effects in maintaining or improving bone mass and architecture, and be safe and feasible for older people.
Weight lifting can actually PREVENT osteoporosis.
2. Metabolism Change: Eat More, Don't Gain Weight
Another thing that seriously starts disappearing like a bowl of whipped cream sitting in front me once we pass 35 years old is muscle mass. Scientific terms for this are LBM (lean body mass) or FFM (fat free mass). If we don't use it, we lose it.
Just ONE of the problems with losing muscle as we age is that having reduced lean body mass leads to a lower metabolism, and conversely building more lean body mass through weight lifting leads to a higher metabolism.
As this study states, "Fat-free mass (FFM) is the major predictor of resting metabolic rate (RMR)."
In that study, they found that over a 9 month period of resistance training, the subjects resting metabolic rate went up by an average of 300 calories PER DAY.
This study, titled "Six Weeks of Moderate Functional Resistance Training Increases Basal Metabolic Rate in Sedentary Adult Women" which THANKFULLY was done on women (so many of these studies are with men only and that makes it really hard as it's likely we may not get same results since we have such a different hormone profile), found that after only 6 weeks of being on a resistance training program, their basal metabolism had risen by an average of 250 calories!! That's like, super awesome. That's a huge snack, a healthy dessert, or half of a good-sized meal.
The conclusion of that study was that the "results indicate that 9 months of resistance training significantly increased RMR ~5% on average."
If that happened to you that would mean that if you can currently eat 1400 calories per day without gaining weight, a resistance training program like this could allow you to eat 1650 calories per day without gaining weight! I mean 250-300 calories is a LOT more food each day!
A different smaller study in men saw a 7.7% increase in metabolic rate from a weight training program.
How does it do this?
A. More muscle = more calorie burning in daily life.
The main way is probably because having more muscle mass directly equates to burning more calories in daily life. When at rest, just sitting there on the couch even, if more of you is muscle than it was before, you will be burning more calories while sitting there.
The general consensus is that AT REST your muscle tissue burns about 6 calories per pound. Obviously, anytime you start moving around or do some exercise this number will go up a lot! But just as a baseline.
I saw a chart that showed than an average woman my height (5'1") may have around 80 lbs of lean mass. I have 103 lbs. That's 23 lbs more. 23lb x 6 calories per pound = 138 calories per day extra that I get to eat, IF I DON'T EVEN MOVE FROM THE COUCH than the gal next to me that has 80 lbs of lean mass. If I move (which I typically do each day) ;), that number will go up even more.
Over the course of 1 month (30 days) the extra 138 calories = 4,140 extra calories I got to eat that month, simply from having more muscle mass on my frame, without gaining any extra weight.
When you are new to weight lifting, it is NOT hard to gain several pounds of muscle very quickly.
B. BUILDING MUSCLE REQUIRES EXTRA CALORIES that won't get stored as fat
I don't have a like an equation here for you, but the point is, when you lift weights, and you get somewhat sore and have those microfiber tears in your muscles, your body's cells rush to that area to then rebuild that muscle, bigger and better- and that all takes energy (calories).
This isn't like you can eat 1,000 extra calories per day- but it's very possible to be able to eat 100-300 extra calories per day depending on your current size while consistently lifting weights, being essentially always in a "rebuilding" state with your body.
C. AFTER-BURN EFFECT
When it comes to weight lifting or other resistance training, one way metabolic is increased is what's called the "After-burn Effect" - this is basically what happens during the period of time after your workout. The scientific term is EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). Basically what it's talking about is the extra energy (calories) in the form of oxygen that your body requires after exercise to help repair your muscles and recover and get back your body back to your pre-exercise state. Research shows that strength training is especially effective at raising EPOC. This article mentioned that, "The intensity of exercise appears to be the most significant factor in boosting post-exercise metabolism."
So for instance, when I do walking lunges with dumbbells, and standing shoulder presses- they are heavy enough that after about 10 reps of the shoulder press, and 20 walking lunges (10 each leg) I am heavily out of breath and my heart is pounding (just like as if it was cardio!). So the intensity is there meaning my body couldn't handle much more.
All we're saying here is that after you exercise, especially after lifting weights, your body has a higher metabolism for a number of hours afterwards.
How long does the After-burn effect last? People aren't certain but it appears to be anywhere from 3-24 hours (and my guess is the length of time is probably correlated with the nature of what the workout was).
I must note here: For both of these metabolism boosters, the effects are really only going to be at a level where they are making a significant impact in your life once you are fully immersed in a fitness routine - it will take some time to build enough muscle to be able to eat enough extra that you notice it, it will take some time to be able to be fit enough to do a workout with the intensity level required to get a good EPOC effect. This is so worth it for the long haul though. Because once you lay the groundwork for these effects, you will be reaping the benefits of it with your continued lifestyle for years to come.
It took time and hard work to GET to my 103 lbs of muscle- but it's actually pretty easy to just KEEP it now- I don't have to work out as hard to maintain the muscle, but I still reap all the benefits I get from having that 103 lbs every day, like being able to eat more.
Controversy Over How Much Metabolism Is Really Affected
Ultimately? When you read up on this aspect of metabolism, people always say that it doesn't really change your metabolism all that much etc etc.
However, in my real life, I feel like it's somehow made a big impact on how much I can eat- afterall, who gets to be only 5'1" and 127 lbs and eating 2,000 calories a day? I have to attribute my weight lifting to this for the most part. I even have thyroid issues that I take medication for and am always having to tweak having yet to found the dosage that gives me normal energy, and yet I can still eat at that level without gaining weight. I just know the weight lifting is part of that.
So while we may not know the exact in's and out's of it all, it's one of those things that it doesn't really hurt to give it a try, and I personally truly believe it will make a BIG difference in your EASE of maintenance long term by allowing you to eat more while still maintaining for the long term.
3. More Pleasing Shape At Any Size and Weight
This one will happen whether you are at your goal weight or still mid-weight loss journey. When you lift weights, it gives you much more pleasing SHAPE and CURVES. While fat just hangs there, muscle gives your body smooth curvy shapes. My quad muscles are so much more curved than they were before- so that even though my thighs are still rather thick, they are curvy and I think they look a lot better!
Shoulder, back, quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves- doesn't matter- with heavier weight training, they will all get more shapely and no matter your current size, your body shape will look more balanced and pleasing in a way that you (and others!) will like.
4. Safer as you Age
It's not that aerobic exercise is BAD - certainly not. But even for me at 38 years old, I have found over the past couple of years that my ankles are more stiff and if I don't warm up for a very long time, I can't just start running or hopping around on my feet- when I do, I feel precarious and can sense that (and I HAVE) hurt myself and gotten sharp pains from movements like this. Just think- when you run or jump, there is a "falling" motion where you may or may not land correctly on that foot, or on that hand (ie burpees) - there is a strong IMPACT on your body while at the same time not having complete control over how you land, which can cause an injury. Again, not saying not to do this, however, weight lifting often gets flack for not being "safe" and as you get older and feel less strong and more delicate, you might be tempted to avoid something like weight lifting, thinking you could get hurt.
Here's the real deal:
With weight lifting, you can do it a very slow, controlled way, making injury very likely. There is no "impact" and you don't have to be unsure of where the movement will finish in regards to your body. Doing a squat or deadlift or shoulder press, with an appropriate weight, slowly and controlled, is very safe and you feel very in control.
And remember, sometimes you might see gals lifting super heavy looking weights, and maybe they are. But they didn't start out doing this, they worked up to this level as their muscle capability increased. And in the end, you never have to do that if you don't want to.
The point is to have some sort of load on your body - doesn't have to be super super heavy. You will find as you go what level you are comfortable with, and you will likely find yourself naturally going a little heavier as you find yourself getting more at ease with the movements and seeing your strength improve.
For instance, using dumbbells to do a strict shoulder press - I started with 15 lbs which was a level I could just barely do 10 reps of. But as I got stronger I increase the weight till now I'm up to 25 lb dumbbells for the same movement, where again I can just barely do 10 reps. And this means that I feel no need to stay at 15 lbs because it feels way to easy now, and isn't challenging at all.
The 25 lb dumbbells feel just as safe as the 15 lb dumbbells did because my strength grew to match the higher weight.
5. Major Positive Body Image Gains
This study on older women in a rural area who did a 10-week, twice-weekly strength training program (just twice a week ladies! I only do 2-3x a week- it's ALL you need!) found that "strength training was associated with significant improvements in several dimensions of body image, health-related quality of life, and physical activity behaviors, satisfaction, and comfort among rural aging women"
I can strongly confirm this in my own case. I've been crossfitting for 8 years now, and it was when I began lifting weights and my focus on my body image becoming related to lifting weights instead of how thin I was, that I started to feel a lot more happy and confident about my body. Today, I still have thicker thighs LIKE I HAVE SINCE I WAS BORN, but now I am proud of them, I'm not self conscious about them. I comfortable and proud of them. I'm not afraid to show them in short.
I also found this study, which although small, found something interesting- they found that women involved in the weight training had improved body image but what was interesting was the CAUSE of the improved body image: "For women, body image improvements were correlated with subjective physical changes as well as objective increases in strength."
Once again I can corroborate this. When the women saw themselves being able to lift more weight, meaning they were getting stronger, this made them feel better about themselves and their bodies- and that is what happened to me.
Like I mentioned earlier, this take the focus OFF being as thin as possibly, which is a life of constant miserable restriction, and puts our value of our body into something more positive.
Common Concern Women Have with Weightlifting:
1. You will get bulky and look too manly.
I think we see men and what weightlifting does for them, so we naturally assume if we did the same thing as them, we'd turn out looking the same as well.
Nope. The reason men look the way they do when they lift weights is because they have SO much testosterone compared to use ladies. Because we have so much less testosterone, we will not become nearly as muscular as them.
I'd like to give you a couple examples to ease your fears:
Here is a woman around 30 years old, who can now deadlift 430 lbs (OMG - my VERY max that I could ever deadlift ONE rep of - that means I can only lift it once and it's so heavy I have to drop it and can't lift it again) was 205 lbs. Her's is more than TWICE that.
You will notice she is teeny tiny and looks nothing like a man:
And me! At least I don't think I look too manly. ;)- I'm doing strict shoulder presses with 25 lbs dumbbells in each hand- which is pretty heavy for a gal, and my arms are just regular 'ol woman arms.
I hope this will encourage you to give lifting weights a try ladies!