Why Women Need Weight Training!

It’s nice to see that in 2010 the mainstream media is finally starting to “get it” when it comes to the benefits of resistance training (weight training baby!) for women. I wrote an extensive commentary on the topic a while back, that debunked the myths and covered some of the science of why women specifically benefit from weight training.  For example, some of the benefits listed were:

  • Enhanced bone modeling to increase bone strength and reduce the risk of osteoporosis
  • Stronger connective tissues to increase joint stability and help prevent injury
  • Increased functional strength for sports and daily activity
  • Increased lean body mass and decreased nonfunctional body fat
  • Higher metabolic rate because of an increase in muscle and a decrease in fat
  • Improved self-esteem and confidence

A recent piece in The Sydney Morning Herald called  “Anti-ageing – get with the strength” attempted a more cosmetic approach to why women benefit from weight training, and then add in some of the more physical/medical benefits of weight training for women:

Skin treatments like Botox and retinol might be high profile anti-agers, but they don’t tackle the pointy end of ageing that’s tucked away in nursing homes – the muscle wasting that leads to Zimmer frames and loss of independence. It’s not just the wrinkling of the outer skin that makes a 60 or 70 year old body look older than that of a 30-something. It’s also what’s happening to the stuffing inside – when muscles start shrinking, bodies sag and posture droops. This doesn’t just affect how a body looks, but how it functions – ever-weakening muscles make it harder to get up the stairs or out of your chair.

That’s the bad news. The good news is there’s an antidote – strength training. It was great to hear Professor Hal Kendig, head of the ageing, work and health unit at the University of Sydney, spruiking strength training in the Sydney Morning Herald last week when he said that if older women want to stay out of nursing homes, they should lift weights. He’s right. But wouldn’t it be better still if women got the strength message earlier, say, in their 40s when creeping muscle loss begins? It’s not like men don’t need this message too – they do. But women need it more because they generally have less muscle to begin with and get frailer faster than men. Women also put less value on strength. If you were to guess which physical feature would be high on most women’s wish lists, you can bet strong muscles wouldn’t be up there. All our lives we learn we need good hair, good skin, good boobs and good legs, but strength? Not really our department.

Yet muscle is a real asset and building it has anti-ageing benefits for women, in how they look and how they function. Let’s count the ways.

Regular strength training helps your body look younger. It fights the sagging, ageing effect of dwindling muscle and gravity, and makes it easier to stay at a healthy weight. Cardio exercise is important too for both general health and weight management, but it can’t boost muscle in the same way as strength training so you need a combination of both. And it’s a myth that working out with weights makes women bulky – women don’t produce enough of the male hormone testosterone to grow muscles like a man.

Strong muscles make you less accident prone. We hear a lot about preventing osteoporosis, but hands up who’s heard of sarcopenia? It’s the medical term for loss of muscle and preventing it is as important as preserving bone. After all, it’s the unsteadiness caused by dwindling muscle strength that leads to falls – that lead to fractures.

Regular strength training helps prevent diabetes. To get the link between muscle and diabetes, it helps to know that muscles soak up blood sugar to use as fuel, The more muscle you have, the more blood sugar they take up and the lower the risk of high blood sugar levels that lead to diabetes.

Stronger muscles give you more energy. How’s this for sad news? A study of 34 to 58-year old women by the University of Michigan found that those who’d lost around 2.5 kilos of lean muscle walked more slowly and had less strength in their leg muscles. These women were hardly ancient, yet muscle loss was already eroding their strength.

The Brink Bottom Line: Well, the above is at least a step in the right direction in that it pushes the benefits of weight training for women. That’s a good thing. Readers will note the mention of sarcopenia, which is the age-related loss of muscle mass. I have a full article on that topic for those interested in the details there. Although resistance training is a key player in preventing sarcopenia, it’s far more complicated then the above article would suggest. I’m happy to see weight training/resistance training is slowly but surely not being seen as a “manly” activity and the media getting with the program. Might take another 50 years until they figure out aerobics is overrated (read is close to worthless…), but that’s another blog…

  1. Dave 13 years ago

    Will, it consistently amazes me how many women, even AFTER having done weight training and seeing results they love, continue to focus on their WEIGHT rather than any other single factor. I’ve known a number of women who lifted weights, lost INCHES and got into the kind of clothes they wanted to (not to mention looking awesome!) only to abandon it because they weren’t dropping POUNDS!
    I’m not sure why there’s such a cognitive disconnect with most women between how they WANT to look, and understanding that their weight isn’t the single greatest factor in that equation. I knew a female bodybuilder who at 5’5″ weighed 145 pounds yet was a size 4/6, but had a number of peers refuse to believe that was her actual weight because she looked so petite!
    Until women can internalize that to be able to fit into the clothes & sizes they want and have that bikini-ready body building muscle and losing inches is a far, far more important factor than what they see on the scale, getting them to lift weights is going to be an uphill battle.
    Thanks again, as always, for sound, science-based advice!

  2. alfredoe 13 years ago

    Hi All. Anybody that has talked to a woman into lifting weights can know how difficult is for them to accept something as important as resistance exercises. No way you can explain they will never look like those women on magazines without some chemical help.
    They just refuse to accept it.
    Thanks for an important article.
    Alfredo E.

  3. Ana Estévez 13 years ago

    Hey, Will, great article!!! I absolutely LOVE weight training, specially with free weights because it helps me to train in 3D, without the guidance of the machines (I use a lot the smith though).
    I takes just a little brain to trully understand what you say. As a kind of scientist (I’m chemical engineer) I understood the testosterone and bulking thing right away, but it is amazin how most women do not understand this. I have read tons of articles, I really love to get the most information I can, but it alway surprises me how lazy most people are, not just about training but to read articles and get information too!!!
    At my office, most of the ladies criticize me about going to the gym and aaaaaall the time are telling me “you’re going to look like a man”, and even the guys (not exactly lean and excercising guys) tell me “hey, you should stop doing that, you’re going to bulk up” and of course, I always ask for the references and source of their information and invariably they say “hey, that’s what I’ve heard”. It always anoys me, because I’m the leanest, thinnest female at work (and still soooo far away from my goal, Oxygen model type) and the “advice” I get is always from lazy, fat people!!! GET A GRIP!!!
    Anyway, sorry for taking a lot of space (had to take that out of my chest) and thanks a lot Will for this article.

    • Author
      Will Brink 13 years ago

      To tell ’em Ana! Forward my blog to those people! 🙂

  4. fairlane 13 years ago

    Please don’t wait another 50yrs to explain the worthlessness of aerobics. Point us to what you know. kthnxbai 🙂

  5. Olga 13 years ago

    Great article!
    I was very afraid to start weight training for the very same reason – I did not want to look too muscular. Years passed by, I train a lot, and I am not even close to that ripped look that most women dread to end up with if they exercise 🙂

  6. Shaira Williams 13 years ago

    This is my first time to stumble into your blog and I must say that you just wrote a very informative article. Resistance training for me is something that all women must do because so many benefits it can give to them. I personally like to do some resistance training to help me build a stronger and leaner body.

  7. silvana 13 years ago

    I like wheight training a lot, much more than cardio.I used to train in a gym but now i own a power rack and barbell set .Only people who never trained with wheigths regardless of the goals thinks that they bulk up.It is hard for men and way much harder for us girls.It is a pity that women only enjoy tread mills and such.
    Iron is our best friend gals ,not diamonds…and you know what my power cage is right in the middle of my living room.

    • Author
      Will Brink 13 years ago

      Power cage in the middle of the living room? Rock on!

  8. Rosemary 13 years ago

    Hi Will,
    Thanks for a great article. At 60 years old I know how important it is to keep strong. I have been resistance training since I was 41. A couple of years ago, I let my training slide and felt the difference, but I’m back on track. As we get older I think it’s vital that we keep it going, for me its maintenance. Why wouldn’t you want to keep strong and having tried most types of exercise over the years, I reckon weight training is one of the easiest exercises you can do, and without wanting to spout about it, we need a bit of everything as we age, bit of stamina, bit of suppleness and, of course, strength. Not forgetting what we put into our mouths. I just wish we could convince women how hard it is to gain muscle, virtually impossible. Never give up ladies and spread the word! To quote Miriam Nelson, MD, Tufts University, New England, “Strength Training is the Elixir of Youth”. Way to go!

    • Author
      Will Brink 13 years ago

      Good for you Rosemary. Keep spreading the gospel regarding weight training for women! 🙂

  9. This blog entry was so on time and on point for me… you have no clue. Thanks alot for writing it. Such powerful and wonderful content.

  10. Regan Lick 13 years ago

    Quite an informative post and supporting comments here. I would like to point out that other people have proposed a varying viewpoint, especially in terms of natural health. Has anyone here found supplemental related ideas on the Internet, and would you give me some direction?

  11. Bronwyn Malcolm 13 years ago

    That was a great article, don't know why I didn't see it when it was first posted.
    I am nearly 44 and I have been going to the gym religiously for the past 4 years, I meet with a personal trainer twice a month and I do resistance training and my trainer pushes me really hard, I really don't know where he gets some of the ideas for my programmes from but I enjoy the challenge and the knowledge that it is doing me a world of good.
    It is interesting that many women (and I was one of them a few years back) think that if you do strength training you will get muscles like a man, but I guess you don't really understand it until you are doing it and seeing results that are making you a trimmer, fitter, stronger person. I must admit that I enjoy doing the resistance training way better than the treadmill, but I still do my fair share of cardio too.
    People look at me strange when I say that I go to the gym 6 mornings a week and I lift weights. But they are closed minded and don't want to even try and understand.
    I encourage women to give it a go and hope that they get hooked like me.

  12. Chris Lutz 12 years ago

    Yeah, I still find it funny that the American Heart Association has endorsed circuit weight training for it’s benefits for the cardiovascular system for over 10 years, but people still don’t know that or think it’s true.
    Do your really think your muscles or your heart know whether you’re on a treadmill or pushing on a leg press? No, they don’t.
    Chris Lutz

    • Author
      Will Brink 8 years ago

      “Do your really think your muscles or your heart know whether you’re on a treadmill or pushing on a leg press?” Yes, yes I do, and that’s well supported by both the research and “real world” responses.

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