5 Reasons Every Lady Should Lift Heavy by Emily Newhook


Emily Newhook is the outreach coordinator for the executive MHA program (http://mha.gwu.edu/) program from The George Washington University, MHA@GW. Outside of work and the gym, she likes baking (for better or for worse), drawing and film. Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyNewhook


5 Reasons Every Lady Should Lift Heavy

We all know by now – or at least we should – that there’s no such thing as spot training. The new refrain is more along the lines of, “I just want to get more toned.” I’ll let you in on a secret: tone is muscle, and you won’t get it by logging more miles on the treadmill. The answer is in the weight room – and if you’re a woman, external changes are really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to knocking out a few deadlifts. Here’s why every woman should give strength training a fair shot.

1. Your heart will get stronger: It goes without saying that powerlifting can strengthen all the muscles we see every day, but it also develops one we don’t: the heart. It’s true that cardiovascular exercise, as the name denotes, trains the heart to pump blood more efficiently, but strength training causes the muscle itself to become stronger. LA Times writer Jeannine Stein explains the process (http://tinyurl.com/k3vz9bg): “During a strength workout, the heart’s muscle tissue contracts forcefully to push the blood out. Like all muscles, stress causes small tears in the muscle fibers. When the body repairs those tears, muscles grow.” Progressive strength training (weight resistance increases over time) has also been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes. Why are these facts so relevant in our case? Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women (and women with diabetes are more likely than their male counterparts to succumb to it) – making it all the more important to take as many precautionary measures as possible to keep your heart in good working condition.

2. You’ll boost your mood: Exercise in general can have a powerful effect on our mood: it’s been shown to lift our spirits after a bad day, and even alleviate mild depression. But strength training in particular can be a powerful salve for anxiety. A study presented at the 2011 American College of Sports Medicine (http://tinyurl.com/kozg9rq) found that “weight training was especially effective at reducing feelings of irritability” among women with diagnosed anxiety.

3. Your bones will thank you. Everyone’s bones take a beating as we age, but women are particularly prone: after menopause, our hormone levels shift in a way that predisposes many of us to osteoporosis. Strength training has been shown to help offset and slow diminishing bone density as we age – especially in areas that are especially susceptible to fractures and immobility due to falls, like the hips and spine.

4. Heavy strength training is a full-body exercise. We’ve already established that “toning” doesn’t really exist, but if you were looking for a way to tone your entire body, heavy lifting is the way to go. You’ve probably heard the phrase “curls are for girls.” The wording is stupid and sexist, but the underlying sentiment is dead-on: only training singular muscle groups does not a workout make – especially not if you’re trying to get wholly and progressively stronger. Squats and deadlifts are (rightly) regarded as the best exercises for developing your butt and legs, but they also engage your core, back, arms and chest – just to name a few. In short, you use your entire body to execute these exercises. Moreover, they train your muscles to work in tandem more effectively, meaning that your overall athletic coordination improves, too.

5. Your workout isn’t over – even after it’s over. Most of us hit the treadmill or a spin class or some other variety of high-octane cardio whenever we’re looking to shed fat. And it’s absolutely true that these activities burn more calories than a weightlifting session, but only during the workout itself. Muscle, simply put, uses more energy than fat, so as you build more of it, your body will start working harder more regularly. This means you’ll need to eat a lot more to keep up – what a pain, right?


A lot of women still worry that heavy strength training will transform them into bulky bodybuilders – and the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. For most women, packing on that kind of muscle takes concerted effort. I’m not talking about three or four sessions a week, but rather supplement-enhanced, fine-tuned training programs designed specifically to hurdle past the main barrier that prevents most women from packing on muscle easily: testosterone. Simply put, most of us don’t produce enough of it to facilitate a lot of visible muscle growth via beginner training.

For others, the mere prospect of heading into the weight room is intimidating – a world of machines that sometimes look more like medieval torture devices than workout equipment. Even those of us who aren’t in tip-top shape already know what to do with treadmills. We’re all moving at different speeds, but, by and large, everyone looks the same on an exercise bike or an elliptical. The weight room, by contrast, is a lot less self-explanatory, and with good reason – lifting heavy stuff can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. So how can you get started?

Techniques and training styles vary so significantly from gym to gym that it’s impossible to prescribe a standardized answer – but here are a few general ideas of how you can start incorporating it into your routine. First, keep it basic and start small. Work through the major lifts with a standard 45-pound bar or a lighter trainer bar before you start adding plates. Watch Youtube videos from reputable powerlifting gyms and Crossfit boxes if you have no other recourse, but a living, breathing instructor is always best. And when it comes to instructors, finding other women lifters to help you get started is another way to boost your confidence: a study at Boston University (http://tinyurl.com/lsh7jd3) found that women were lifted more weight when they worked out with other women than when they performed the same exercises in a coed environment.

Regardless of where or with whom you’re hitting the bar, one piece of lifting knowledge seems relatively uncontested: if you’re not squatting below parallel – the point at which your femora are parallel to the ground – you’re doin’ it wrong.

Happy lifting!

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