7 reasons women should lift heavy weights
While cardio is essential for heart health and tiny weights may help you tone, there are lots of serious, science-backed reasons to add heavy weights to your regimen. (And no, you won't end up looking like a body builder. That's actually a full-time job.)
"Lifting heavy weights—about 8-15 pounds for women is fine and up to 25 is ideal—is the most efficient and effective way to build muscle mass," says Joey Gonzalez, owner of Barry's Bootcamp New York.
"Developing muscle is crucial to lowering body fat, and to improving your fitness and health levels overall," he says. And lots of studies would agree with him. Here are seven research-tested reasons women should lift heavy...
1. Toned arms are hot
Most women are afraid to "bulk up." But trust us: Unless you're hitting Crossfit twice a day and subsisting solely on whey protein, it's going to be seriously difficult to do. "Women typically don’t gain size from strength training—they have 10 to 30 times less of the hormones (including testosterone) that cause muscle hypertrophy," says Gonzalez. Instead, you'll develop super-sexy toned guns a la Cameron Diaz or Michelle Obama. Yes, please.
"Generally speaking, for each pound of muscle you gain, you burn 35 to 50 more calories each day," says Gonzalez.
Studies have shown that adding weight training to your cardio routine increases afterburn, so that once you've showered and settled into your desk chair, your body will continue to burn calories.
In one study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, women who lifted more weight for fewer reps burned nearly twice as many calories during the two hours after their workout than when they did more reps with a lighter weight.
And research has also shown that strength training burns body fat more exclusively, while cardio alone can cause both fat and muscle loss.
Photo: Flickr/CrossFit South Brooklyn
Weights do your body good the way milk, most likely, does not. A regular weight-training routine has been shown to significantly increase bone density, which can help protect you from osteoporosis down the road. "Lifting heavy weights over time not only maintains bone mass, but it can even increase bone mineral density, even in the post-menopausal women," says Gonzalez. "Consistency is key."
This came as a shocker to us, since most people consider cardio workouts to be the only thing needed for a healthy ticker. But, an American Heart Association Survey published in the journal Circulation found that a panel of cardiovascular experts agreed: weight training could reduce blood pressure, improve cardiovascular function, and reduce diabetes risk. "One of the studies the panel looked at showed that 12 weeks of strength training improved participants' walking endurance by 38 percent," reported the New York Times.
Stronger muscles mean stronger connective tissues and stable joints, which can help you avoid injury while working out or running—and in general.
And it's a good pain-reduction technique, too. Strengthening lower back muscles has been shown to be effective at alleviating low back pain in dozens of studies, and it can even ease discomfort associated with arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Exercise, in general, can be just as good as (if not better than) anti-depressants at warding off the blues. And weight training has been shown to be super effective in this area. In one 10-week Harvard study, progressive resistance training "significantly reduced all depression measures" compared to controls. Plus, how awesome does pressing a heavy weight over your head for the first time make you feel? "Lifting heavier weights comes with a big self-esteem boost," says Gonzalez.
This seems too obvious for explanation, but physical strength gives you so much more than sexy shoulders in your sleeveless dress. It will allow you to hoist your overflowing laundry bag up the stairs of your apartment building, tote groceries from Whole Foods, protect yourself on dark city streets, and just generally make you feel like the strong, independent woman we already know you are.