When you think about strength training (or weight lifting), images of body builders or over-enthusiastic CrossFit athletes may come to mind. For women especially, it may seem that this type of training is not how you’d like to achieve overall wellness. However, once you recognize that there are many different approaches and surprising benefits of strength training, you may quickly change your mind!
It has taken me a lifetime to realize that this is one of the best ways for me to care for my body and mind, and has made me confront some stubborn beliefs that I know others hold as well. Here’s a helpful list of reasons why I’ve been lifting weights as my main form of exercise lately and why I think you should too!
5 Surprising Benefits of Strength Training
1. Boosts Metabolism for Long Periods of Time
A slower metabolism is what we blame for the pesky weight gain that many of us experience as we age.
There are many reasons why metabolism decreases and our bodies become less efficient at burning calories and stored energy (fat), and why it’s different from person to person. Yes, genes play a role to some degree, but it’s small. Diet and lifestyle patterns influence our metabolic rate much more.
Extended periods of stress, high carbohydrate diets, eating too many processed foods, inactivity, and being exposed to environmental toxins can all lower your metabolic rate, increase fat stores, and exacerbate certain diseases like diabetes and hypothyroidism.
This is good news though, because it means that we’re not a victim to our metabolic rate and are capable of controlling it (and prevent certain diseases)! Exercising regularly is essential to regulating metabolism, especially resistance exercises.
With cardio exercises like running, cycling, or swimming, your metabolism is increased during the activity, but quickly moves down to it’s resting rate.
Lifting weights, on the other hand, can keep your metabolism revving for several hours and even days after you finish! The reason for this is that strength training challenges your body so much that it needs greater time to recover. But as long as your careful with form and you don’t harm your joints, this is a good stress that actually makes you not only stronger, but more efficient with burning fat as energy.
2. Provides Stability and Safety as We Age
A few months ago in a tennis clinic, I pulled a muscle for the first time in my life. My calf muscle snapped and spasmed after I made a simple lunge for the ball. It made me realize that even though I consider myself fairly active, I apparently had a muscular imbalance that left my calf vulnerable.
That’s the point where I really started spending more time in the gym doing heavy squats and weighted lunges to condition my leg muscles equally. As an outcall Acupuncturist (hauling a massage table around town) and Yoga Instructor, strength training is ensuring that my body will be able to last as I care for others in the community.
Whether you need to keep your body conditioned for your job or sport, it’s still essential you build muscle as you age since sarcopenia is inevitable. In addition to eating more protein, as advocated by Functional medicine practitioner Gabrielle Lyon, lifting weights will also help you maintain muscle mass. You’ll spend more time enjoying fun activities and less time worrying that you’ll fall and decline in health.
3. Improves Your Mood and Mental Health
Like all forms of exercise, strength training releases endorphins which can drastically improve our mood. However, there are studies that now show resistance training is actually more effective than aerobic exercise in supporting the management of mental-emotional issues such as anxiety, which is a growing concern in our country.
4. Challenges Body Ideals and Fixed Beliefs
What do you think of people who lift weights? Do you make assumptions about their interests, intelligence, and sexual preference? I’m calling this out because I know for a fact that many people have unkind thoughts and weird assumptions about other people that they feel threatened by.
I wrote about my body image issues and other people’s assumptions in How To Be Thankful For Your Body As It Is. This is the main reason why I’d always been afraid to do a lot of weight training. I was already short and stocky – not the “ideal” body shape for a woman – and I didn’t want to move even further away from being “feminine”. I’m over it now though. This is not something I believe anymore!
Women, if you want to be a stronger force in the world, I feel like tapping into your physical strength will help you feel even more powerful. Gone are the days where we need to be soft-spoken, demure, and feel like we need to look smaller than men. Let’s be strong alongside men!
All bodies are beautiful whether we’re large or small. Strength is more about function, the body’s ability to confront challenges. I may look bigger than most as I find the perfect about of strength to sustain my fun & active life.
I’m not afraid to look strong! Are you?
5. Increases Self-esteem And Confidence.
As you start your strength training journey, you’ll need to overcome a few things I already mentioned:
- Worry about hurting yourself
- Concern for what other people think about you
- Intimidating gym equipment
Once you get over these though, a new degree of confidence is going to emerge. You’ll feel that you’re not only more physically capable to play sports, carry heavy objects, and such, but that your stronger inside.
Strengthening your body will also strengthen your character. It will strengthen your resolve to stick to a program for your benefit and for the people who rely on you.
You’ll become a confident role model for those you share your life with.
How to Start a Weight Training Program
Are you interested in strength training but don’t know where to start?
Getting personal training at the gym is a good place to begin to make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly.
Once you become accustomed to dumbbells, barbells, cables, and kettle balls, you may want to start looking at magazines and videos for inspiration. Right now I’m loving the content on YouTube from MegSquats, BodyBuilding.com, and Kat Musni Fitness.
I hope learning these benefits of strength training has peaked your interest in giving it a try!
Do you incorporate strength training into your exercise program? How has it worked for you? Please let us know in the comments!