Strength Training For Women: What You Need To Know

by Evelyn Valdez

There are more women strength training now than ever before! Back in the day cardio and aerobic exercises were the only workouts advertised for women. Women were taught to believe that cardio led to weight loss and lifting weights lead to getting bulky and looking manly. But those days are over!

There is nothing wrong with doing cardio, it's actually great for your cardiovascular health. But running on a treadmill everyday for an hour won't help you build muscle that gives you that tight, toned look.

If your goal is to burn fat and achieve a toned, strong physique then start incorporating weightlifting to your workout routine. Strength training sounds intimidating, but we want to help all women (and anyone new to the gym!) to overcome the intimidation of lifting weights.


Benefits of strength training

Let's start off by answering the most important question of all, "what is strength training?". It is the movement of any weight (even bodyweight) against resistance. You are essentially pushing your muscles outside of their comfort zone which forces them to rebuild stronger. You should also be practicing progressive overload when training. Progress overload is when you do slightly more than your last training session - lift heavier or do one more rep. Doing this type of training enhances the ability to move more weight over time because your muscles are constantly adapting and rebuilding themselves stronger.

So we know one of the benefits of strength training is getting stronger, but what are the other benefits?


Burn more calories

A 30-minute cardio session will definitely have your heart rate pumping and help you burn more calories in a short period of time. But did you know that weight training helps you burn more calories overall? The International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Metabolism published a study on resistance training and the effect it has on the resting metabolic rate in young women. The study found that after following a 100-minute strength training session, young women's basal metabolic rate spiked by 4.2% for 16 hours after the workout—burning about 60 more calories. [1] So lifting weights can actually spike your metabolic rate helping you burn calories even after crushing it at the gym!

An amazing long-term benefit of weight lifting is that it can help you burn up to 25-50 calories a day without even trying! That is because muscle is metabolically active, fat isn't. Replace fat with lean muscle and your body will start burning extra calories, even on low activity days.


Lose fat, gain muscle definition

Cardio helps with weight loss, but most of it comes from muscle loss. Strength training helps you lose overall body fat and promotes muscle growth. It even helps you lose belly fat! There are no specific exercises that can spot reduce fat, but strength training has been proven to help you lose belly fat. This type of belly fat is called intra-abdominal fat, it's associated with diseases like diabetes and cancer.

Losing fat leads to more muscle definition. A lot of women have a misconstrued idea about weights, they think it will make them gain weight and look too manly. Yes, you might gain weight, but you're gaining lean body mass.The more lean muscle you gain, the more calories and fat your body burns so you'll actually look slimmer than before.

Just remember, it's not all about the scale! Establish goals on what you want to gain physically and mentally, don't base your goals only on the scale.


Lowers risk of health related diseases

Mentioned earlier, strength training is known to help reduce intra-abdominal fat. This is very important because intra-abdominal fat (visceral fat) is associated with Type 2 Diabetes. The Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise published a study that used data from nearly 36,000 women ages 47-98. The women who did some form of strength training had a 30% lower risk of getting Type 2 Diabetes and 17% lower risk of a cardiovascular disease, opposed to women who did no strength training. Those who combined aerobic exercises with weight lifting had an even lower risk of getting those diseases. [2]

Combining strength or resistance training with aerobic exercises will give you the best results for your body and health.


Healthier bones and joints

Low or no physical activity can lead to losing muscle mass. In fact, women who don't exercise can lose up to 3-8% of muscle mass each decade! Luckily, weight training helps build muscle and bone density. You may be wondering, how?? Well when you perform a bicep curl, your muscles tug on your bone. Within your bones, the cells react to this by creating new bone cells. So overtime they become stronger and more dense.

Studies show that strength training can promote bone development, reduce lower back pain, and reverse several skeletal muscle aging factors. [3]


How to start strength training

Getting started is the hardest part, but don't worry we have some tips that will help you get started on your strength training journey!

  1. Don't start with heavy weights! If you're completely new to lifting weights then focus on bodyweight exercises first. This means using your own body weight for resistance training. Plus you want to make sure your form is on point before handling weights. A few examples of bodyweight exercises are: squats, lunges, push ups, pull ups, and planks. You can even add a resistance band when performing lower body workouts to make it a little more challenging. Once you nail your form and can perform those exercises easily then you can start incorporating weights like dumbbells and barbells.
  2. Start with 2-3 full-body training sessions a week, that way you target various muscle groups and you're giving your muscles enough rest in between. Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps. The lighter the weight, the more reps you can do. Once you start increasing weight then you can lower the reps to 5-8.
  3. Fuel your body! Women who want to lose weight typically start eating less and working out more. You should be in a calorie deficit, but you have to make sure that you're eating enough to fuel your body. Strength training helps you build strength and muscle, but it won't happen if you're not eating enough. So remember to eat an adequate amount of protein, carbs, and fats so you have the energy to lift!
  4. Don't forget to do cardio! You don't want to completely neglect cardio because combining the two will give you the biggest gains and help you stay lean. We suggest doing high-intensity cardio like HIIT workouts, sprinting, etc. Short and high-intensity workouts are better for burning fat. 

There are three levels we recommend beginners to follow. Following these three levels will help you build strength gradually and effectively while minimizing the risk of injury. Learn more about those levels and how to get started strength training


Frequently asked questions

We want to make sure you have all the information you need, so we've added a few common questions asked by beginners.


How much weight should I lift?

The amount of weight you should lift is dependent on your fitness level. If you're completely new to strength training then start by using resistance bands or low weights 5-10 pounds. Once the exercises become easier you can start increasing your weight in increments of 5.


How often should I train with weights?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend starting with 2 or more days per week of full-body resistance training. [4] [5]

Once you get in the groove and want to increase your intensity then you can add more training days.


What are the best upper body workouts to get stronger?

Focus on hitting all muscle groups: back, biceps, triceps, chest, and shoulders. Here are strength training exercises you should be practicing:

  • Overhead shoulder press
  • Bench press
  • Bicep curls
  • Dumbbell rows
  • Pull ups
  • Push ups
  • Incline Overhead Dumbbell Extensions

 

What are the best lower body workouts to get stronger?

Focus on hitting each muscle group in your legs: hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves.

Here are a few examples of leg exercises you should be practicing: 

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Deadlifts
  • Hip thrusts
  • Romanian deadlifts
  • Bulgarian split squats

 

What are some exercises for strength training at home?

Bodyweight exercises are the best strength training exercises for home workouts. All you need is your own body weight! You can do: squats, lunges, push ups, pull ups, jumping jacks, planks, and more.

Need home workout ideas? Check out the Fit With Iulia APP! Iulia is the founder of UPPPER, and she also has a fitness training program. Her fitness app features gym and home programs, personally created weekly workouts, and detailed instruction and videos. It's like having your own personal trainer in your pocket!


What type of equipment or weightlifting gear do I need?

Luckily all the equipment you need is at the gym. Almost every gym has different exercise machines, dumbbells, barbells, etc. However, they won't provide you with weightlifting gear like lifting straps and wrist wraps. But don't worry, we got you! Our UPPPER Lifting Straps and Lifting Belts are cute, but designed to be durable and help you lift heavier. We also have Resistance Bands in different resistance levels, they are perfect for warming-up your glutes before leg day or to add intensity to your leg workouts!

We hope this information helps you feel empowered to start lifting weights so you can get stronger and live a healthier, active lifestyle!

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