The importance of strength training for women

07 August 2019
Active Health

 

When you hear about strength training, what may come to mind are bodybuilders with hulk-like physiques. This leads many women to believe that strength training just isn’t for them. Don’t put the weights down just yet! Adding a little resistance to your workout will not only help you become stronger; it also brings many other health benefits for the ladies. Here’s why strength training is good for your health and some easy ways to get started.

strength training for womenPhoto: Active Health

A better functioning body

While cardio may be the go-to for burning fat, it does not help build the muscles you need for movements your body carries out on a daily basis.

“Research shows that a little muscle goes a long way into burning more calories than body fat as muscles can help to improve our resting metabolic rate, also known as metabolism. Don’t worry about looking too ‘bulky’ because women do not naturally have the testosterone levels to support this. Testosterone is a hormone that plays a crucial role in muscle hypertrophy (growth)”, stated Mr Munir, Active Health Expert at Heartbeat@Bedok.

Increased bone health

Losing bone mass is especially common in post-menopausal women due to decreased levels of estrogen, putting them at greater risks for bone diseases such as osteoporosis. In addition, women tend to lose bone mass at a younger age and at a more rapid pace than men, and thus have an essential need for bone re-modelling through strength training.

How does strength training play a part in this? The stress and strain of strength training by muscles and connective tissues on bones induces an osteogenic effect (bone growth).

strength training for womenPhoto: Active Health

Decreased risk of heart diseases

It is widely known that physical activity has a direct relationship with disease prevention. A regular strength training routine could lead to improved cholesterol levels and a decrease in blood pressure levels, putting women at lower risk of heart diseases. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 2 or more days of resistance training for all adults.

“If you are just starting out, commit to once a week for about two to three weeks. Once you get comfortable and it becomes a habit, you can start building up to the recommendation of twice a week. Better beats perfect!”, recommended Mr Munir.

Reduced anxiety and improved self-esteem

Feeling under the weather? Strength training might help! Regular physical activity is found to decrease stress levels. While running may be therapeutic for some, others might find it more effective to release negativity through repeated muscle actions. It is found that resistance training at a low to moderate level is optimal for reducing anxiety.

Strength training is also found to improve self-esteem, especially in women. It was found that men feel a boost in their body image when they feel good during training. However, women feel better about their body image when they see actual progress in their strength. This is essentially what strength training is all about – increasing your strength.

Stronger body, longer life and better mental health? Yes, please!

strength training for womenPhoto: Active Health

Basic exercises at home and in the gym

Not sure where to start? Body weight exercises are a form of strength training that can be done anywhere by using your body weight as a form of resistance. Moreover, these exercises can be tweaked to suit your ability level, which makes it accessible to beginners. Here are some basic exercises that can be done at home.

An effective and quick work out that targets all parts of the body is a 30-minute circuit workout.

1. Chair dips targeting arms - 10 reps

For this exercise, all you need is a sturdy piece of furniture, like a chair or a coffee table. Place it behind you. Face away from the furniture and position your hands on the edge of the seat, shoulder-width apart from each other. Straighten your arms and bend your knees so you’re almost in a seated position. Slowly, lower your entire body by bending your arms to a 90-degree angle. Hold that position for a second before straightening your arms and repeat. If this is too easy for you, place a heavy book on your lap to increase resistance.

2. Lunges targeting legs – 10 reps per leg

Stand with feet hip-width apart and tighten your core. While keeping posture upright, step forward with one foot until the rear knee almost touches the floor. Keep the front foot flat and lift the back heel. Push yourself back up and repeat.

strength training for womenPhoto: Active Health

3. Crunches targeting abs – 10 reps

Lie on your back on a mat. Put your hands behind your head. Bend your knees and keep your feet firmly placed on the floor. Lift your legs off the floor and cross them. Keeping your hands behind your back and your lower back fixed to the mat, curl up and outwards so that your shoulders and the top half of your torso are off the mat. The movement is similar to that of a sit-up, but don’t go up all the way. Hold for 5 seconds, slowly lower yourself down and repeat.

4. Squats targeting core and legs – 10 reps

Stand with feet hip-width apart and place your arms out. Tighten your stomach muscles. Bend your knees while keeping your upper body as straight as possible, as if you were lowering yourself onto a seat behind you. Lower yourself as far as you can without leaning your upper body more than a few inches forward. Do not lock your knees while going down. Straighten your legs and repeat.

5. Plank targeting hips, lower back and abs – 15 seconds

Facing down on a mat, balance on knees and elbows with hands balled and wrists facing inwards. Lift body 15cm to 20cm off ground. Do not arch your back or lower your hips. Keep eyes on hands without lowering head or tucking in chin. Lower and repeat. If you don’t find this challenging, switch things up by swivelling your hips left and right.

strength training for womenPhoto: Active Health

Rest for 30 seconds – 1 minute between each exercise. Repeat the circuit 3 - 4 times with 2 - 3 minutes of rest between each round. Switch up your routine with different exercises to keep yourself from getting bored. Opt to increase the number of reps, adjust the rest timings or incorporate resistance bands, if you are at a more advanced level.

For those with a variety of equipment at your fingertips, free weight exercises can help you build up your strength. If you’re clueless about dumb bells and weightlifting, here are a few basic exercises that can help you get started. If in doubt, you can aim for 2 - 3 sets of 8 - 12 repetitions.

1. Single arm row targeting arms and back

Kneel on a bench with your right knee and put your right hand on it. With your left foot stepped out wide, a dumbbell hanging down in your left hand and your back in a neutral position, drive left elbow up and lift the dumbbell to your torso. Lower your elbow and repeat.

2. Hip thrusts targeting legs

Sit on the floor with your upper back against a bench. Roll a barbell onto the front of your hips. With your knees bent and shoulders on the bench, drive hips off the floor until your back is parallel to the ground. Slowly lower your hips back down and repeat.

3. Weighted steps-ups targeting legs

Stand up straight while holding a dumb bell on each hand. Step on the platform (bench or box) with your right leg. Use your right heel to exert force and lift the rest of your body until your left leg is on the platform. Return to the original position by stepping down with your right leg first. Alternate between right and left leg until the desired number of repetitions.

strength training for womenPhoto: Active Health

4. Deadlift targeting back and legs

Probably the most common form of strength training, deadlift, can look pretty intimidating to beginners. Following these simple steps and you’ll be lifting like a pro in no time.

Place an empty bar (minus any weights) on the floor and stand with feet hip-width apart. Grip the bar and position hands a little wider than your feet. Keep your bottom low, chest up and back flat. Drive your legs up and stand up straight with your shoulders back and arms straight down. Keep bar close to your body and return to the floor, maintaining a flat back all this while. Repeat.

Next, choose a weight range you’re comfortable with! The right weight should not be too heavy that you compromise your form during the last few reps, but it should not be so light that you do not struggle during the last few reps either.

Of course, the equipment in gyms can be used for more than just resistance training. Interested in joining a gym but not sure where to start? Head over to the free programmes offered by Active Health and choose from a wide range of programmes held island wide!

Don’t worry if your weight increases after you begin strength training. Muscle weighs more than fat, so some weight gain is inevitable. Remember, health is more than the number on the weighing scale.

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