Strength Training for Women

Strength Training for Women

Since the 1970s, women have been encouraged to do aerobic exercises, also known as “cardio,” to keep a slim figure. Cardio includes running, walking, swimming, hiking, cycling, and more. Cardio can quickly help people burn calories; however, the body quickly adapts to these workouts and can bring results to a standstill. It wasn’t until 2008 that the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans began recommending two days of strength training per week. Strength training includes bodyweight exercise, resistance bands training, using dumbbells or kettlebells, weight training machines, and other similar activities.


Overall, strength training can improve health more than cardio since relatively more calories are burned when building muscle. The muscle also continues to use energy during recovery. This means you will be burning calories even after your strength training workout. Women who engage in strength training over cardio are more likely to achieve greater belly fat loss and keep it off. A study in the American College of Sports Medicine showed that women and men who engaged in strength training weekly had a 40-70% reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, or heart-related death compared to those who relied more on cardio. Strength training can also help address mental illness and has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression. 


Women over 60 often shy away from strength training, feeling that they may be too weak to participate. However, women become more prone to osteoporosis as they get older, which is a condition where the bones become weak and are prone to fracture. Strength training is not only a major factor in treatment for this condition but can also prevent osteoporosis as it promotes stronger bones. Even just six months of strength training can improve the durability of a bone.


The benefits of this shift in exercise theory have been slow to spread among the population, which raises this question: Why aren’t more women incorporating strength training in their workouts? Often women will be quick to use a treadmill or elliptical machine as their main form of exercise but very reluctant to incorporate strength training. This is because, unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions regarding strength training. The biggest fear women have is that they’ll become “too bulky” if they start lifting weights. Rest assured; this is unlikely because women don’t have as much of the hormone testosterone as men do. Additionally, contrary to popular belief, strength training can also be continued safely during pregnancy.


A great place to start is with strength training is by completing body weight training, which includes push-ups, crunches, and squats. This can be especially convenient for those who have no equipment, access to a gym, or are short on time. Resistance bands are also convenient and may be less intimidating to older women. When starting a strength exercise program, it is very important to focus on proper form and to go slow to avoid injury. The key is to increase the number of repetitions or the weight itself gradually over time. This prevents the body from adapting to the workout and the results will continue to show long after the workout. 

In summary, strength training is better than cardio for weight loss and the combination of both far outperforms cardio alone. It will lead to a toned body, stronger bones, and greater overall health. Cardio has its place and is great for a “low impact day” in between strength training days. Consider jumping in and trying your neighborhood Pilates class, going to the gym and grabbing a dumbbell, doing an online resistance band class, or simply starting with pushups, crunches, and squats at home to build your strength. 


Dushka Riaz, MD, is accepting patients at White River Health Internal Medicine. To schedule an appointment, call 870-262-1510.