The harder you can lift, push, drag, throw, swing, or slam it, the greater the health gains.
Physical strength is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Our strength determines the quality and the length of our lives, it promotes both physical and mental health. And the best news of all? It’s not just for men.
Women all over the world are empowering themselves and becoming physically strong by lifting weights in the gym. Weight training is the most efficient way to a better body and better health. Gone are the days of the stereotypical “cardio bunnies” as women are becoming to realise the importance of weight training for health, sports performance and overall well-being.
Enhanced body composition
Lifting weights is the absolute best way to improve body composition and most of us do actually have a body composition goal. Most women want to have that “toned” look, but fail to realise that to “tone” you need to firstly build muscle and secondly lose body fat.
To build muscle you have to lift heavy weights. Sorry ladies, no Micky Mouse dumbbells allowed that you can do endless reps with. Choose a weight that you can just about manage 8-10 reps with and absolutely nothing lighter. Building lean muscle, along with an intelligent nutrition program, will sculpt a lean and strong body.
While there are many aesthetic benefits to be gained from lifting weights, weight training is not just for the Jodie Marsh wannabes of the world who want shirt-ripping biceps.
Women do not ever have to be worried about building bulky muscles, because we simply do not have the levels of the male hormone testosterone necessary to do so.
Lifting weights is about much more than just physical strength. It is excellent for relieving anxiety and depression, while giving an enormous sense of empowerment and self-confidence.
The mental focus required during training sessions to lift heavy weights safely and effectively can provide a great release from daily stress.
Lifting weights has the ability to make you feel strong, independent, empowered and in control. The feeling of accomplishment that comes with moving heavy weights is like no other and it is hard not to fall in love with it.
As we age beyond our middle years and become less active, some significant changes occur in our bodies. We begin to lose muscle, our body fat increases and we become stiffer and less mobile.
A sedentary lifestyle in old age leads to a loss in muscle mass. If we have less muscle then we will burn fewer calories. If we burn fewer calories, yet still eat the same amount of calories, then the inevitable will happen and we will get fatter.
Not only do we get fatter as we get older due to inactivity and muscle loss, we also lose coordination and balance, which puts us at a greater risk of falling and breaking bones.
Lifting weights in the gym slows down the ageing process. The rate at which we lose our muscle mass can be reduced by 10 or 20 years.
Our balance, coordination, proprioception, reaction time, flexibility, mobility, posture and muscle strength all improve as a result of weight training. This in turn, reduces the likelihood of falling in old age and the poor health, and often death that occurs with it.
Weight training is the best prescription for the prevention of all of these age-related problems and unless a person is terribly sick, that person can benefit from a weight training program.
Bones for life
Women over the age of 50 have the greatest risk of developing osteoporosis. As the disease develops and the breakdown of bone occurs, the bone is weakened and the risk of fracture increases.
As women reach menopause, there is a sharp decrease in the female hormone oestrogen. As oestrogen is a bone protecting hormone, there is an associated increased chance of menopausal women developing osteoporosis. One in every two Irish women over the age of 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime.
A hip fracture, as a result of osteoporosis, has a major impact on quality of life. Over half of people over the age of 60 with a fractured hip are unable to dress, bathe or walk unaided and only 30% will ever regain their independence. In some cases it can even be fatal, with 20% of patients suffering hip fracture dying within four months and 30% within a year. It’s a sad but preventable reality.
Weight training involves loading the bones of the body. Bone is a living, stress-responsive tissue, just like muscle, and it will respond to the loads it is put under by becoming stronger.
If weight-bearing activities are increased, then the bone will remodel itself over time to become stronger and denser to resist the weight of the resistance.
For women with osteoporosis, lifting weights has shown to dramatically improve bone density. Stronger, denser bones reduce risk of fracture from osteoporosis and provide a higher quality of life, especially in menopausal women.
Where to begin
If you are a beginner and want to start weight training, then find a good coach to show you the ropes. Give me a shout and I perhaps I can help point you in the right direction.
Women should train in exactly the same way as men. Forget your “firming and toning” routines and develop your technique on the big compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts, overhead press, push-ups, chin-ups and rows.
Alternatively find a good strength and conditioning class that uses tools such as kettlebells, barbells, rings, tires, wheels, hammers, ropes, bodyweight, boxing bags, or anything else that you can lift, push, drag, throw, swing, or slam!
Forget “Strong is the New Skinny”. Get strong to be strong, and to live longer, fuller, better quality and more graceful lives.
Karen, your local Nut Coach.
[As published in The Herald on 16th July 2014 as the "Use It Or Lose It" feature piece]