Many women now understand that resistance training — lifting weights — is an important part of any workout. However, a lot of people used to think that this type of exercise would give a woman a body type that was perceived as too masculine — and some still do.
Nevertheless, resistance training is crucial to promote bone health and increase strength. These areas are key to maintaining a good level of overall health and shouldn’t be avoided. Don’t let the societal norms that attempt to define the ideal female body shape govern your health — you can get great results without committing to becoming a bodybuilder.
While endurance training, such as long jogs, is also an important area of fitness, it’s only one piece of a healthy exercise regimen. There are certain areas of your overall wellness that are best improved upon with resistance training, including injury reduction, flexibility and balance.
Knee injuries, which can often be attributed to muscle weaknesses and imbalances, are very common in active women. Female basketball players are 3.5 times more likely to suffer a severe knee injury than men. A common finding is that those who exhibit a valgus knee position — or the knee caving inwards while standing and moving — may experience more knee pain, and in some cases, tears in the ligaments of the knee.
Lifting weights with proper form — like lunges done while keeping the knee above the toes and exercises that emphasise reducing the valgus knee position — ensures proper knee position in sports and other physical activities. Women who play sports should incorporate plyometric work, such as jump training and strength training, into their exercise programs to reduce their risk of injury.
Resistance training also promotes healthy bones. Osteoporosis is a reduction of bone density, resulting in fragile bones and fractures. After age 30 — when bone mass has grown to its peak — bone density starts to decrease with age for both men and women. Unfortunately, women over 50 are at the greatest risk of osteoporosis and are four times more likely to get it than men. However, certain exercises at any age can help to prevent this bone-density loss.
For example, running, jumping and other high-impact exercises can reduce the loss of bone density, but those exercises might not be appropriate for beginners or older adults. Walking alone doesn’t cut it, whereas resistance training is prescribed for maintaining bone-density health.
Not only are weight-bearing exercises safe but they can also increase balance and co-ordination, thus reducing falls. Bone density increases at the site in which the activity occurs, so working all the major muscles helps to ensure healthy bones in the whole body.
In order to get the benefits, the weights need to be heavy enough to affect bone density. This means using a weight that the lifter can only lift around eight times before breaking form. However, a person can just use their own body weight if adding more weight hinders their ability to perform the desired number of reps before breaking form.
While high-rep, low-weight exercise does have its place, it should not come at the expense of low-rep, high-weight lifting. Multiple sets can be done in a workout session to ensure results. Indeed, according to a study on bone mass in post-menopausal women, those who performed workouts lifting a weight eight times for three sets had a higher bone density than those who lifted a weight 20 times for three sets.
Keep this in mind when you begin to lift weights, and try to gauge what weight is best for you by finding your eight-rep maximum in order to promote not only an increase in strength but good bone density in the long run.
Remember, it’s important for women to learn to incorporate heavy-resistance training into their workout programs, for health and sport, so don’t let resistance training be reserved just for men and bodybuilders.
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