Unless you’re a seasoned gym addict (and even if you are), your view of the gym might be that cardio is for girls and weights are for men. Yet more and more, women are learning the benefits of lifting, and doing away with the gender stereotypes set in the gym. Over my years of going to the gym, I have seen a notable shift towards the use of both free weights and weight machines by women, and even women venturing into what has been (not so affectionately) nicknamed the ‘testosterone room’ in my university gym. However, when I was in London this summer I attended the easyGym in Oxford Circus. Here, the open plan allowed for men and women to move between the floor, cardio machines and weights area without having to restrict their workout to one of these areas.
It made me so happy to see women in the weights area – not just because they looked badass, but also because it just might mean the end of women being scared of the weights section. Scared of being seen as manly, scared of ‘bulking up’ and scared of changing up their fitness regime.
In this blog post I’m going to outline the benefits of lifting weights as a woman, in the hope that more of you might take the plunge next time you’re in the gym.
More effective fat-loss
If you think running on a treadmill for hours on end is the only way to lose fat, think again. Countless studies have shown that actually, not only do you burn calories whilst working out, but you also continue to burn carlories and torch fat for hours after your workout. This is due to the consistently increased oxygen consumption of muscles that have been worked hard. More oxygen consumed means a faster metabolism for longer after training.
Not only does weight training affect your metabolism in the short term, but if you’ve read anything about fitness, you know that muscles burn more energy than fat. This means you have a consistently higher metabolism if you have more muscle. Also, a higher metabolism means you are more likely to have higher energy levels, which means your workouts will become less of a chore.
In total this means more weight training = higher metabolism and more muscle. More muscle = higher metabolism = more energy = more working . It’s a win-win (win win win)!
Same anti-depressant effect as cardio
Everyone knows that exercise can reduce your chances of depression and increase your happiness, both in the short and long-term. However, most people assume that this is only for cardiovascular exercises – if you’ve heard of the ‘runners high’ and know about endorphins, you’ll know that cardio can indeed give you a huge buzz. However, if you’re thinking of moving to do more resistance or weights training, have no fear; studies have shown that both weight and cardio training have the same long-term effect on depression – both cause a decrease in depression for at least a year after an 8 week running or weight-training course. More things to smile about J
Decreased risk of osteoporosis
Sadly, as we age, our bone density decreases, especially once we hit menopause due to oestrogen no longer being produced. However, we can do things to increase bone density before menopause, making conditions such as osteoporosis less likely when we’re older. Research has found that weight training can increase bone density by 6-12% over just 6 months. It was also shown to maintain bone density in post-menopausal women for longer, so no stopping on the weights when you reach menopause!
This is an advantage of exercising in general. Working out has been shown on countless occasions to reduce stress levels. However, conversely, doing aerobic exercise for long periods of time has actually been shown to INCREASE your cortisol levels. Cortisol is the ‘stress hormone’ that all of us experience at some point of other. Small amounts of cortisol is useful, but if it is released over long periods of time, it has multiple effects that can actually lead to weight gain; decreased sleep, increased appetite and an increase of fat storage around your mid-section to name a few. Lifting weights does not increase cortisol levels. On the contrary, it lowers them, decreasing stress levels and allowing you to lose weight without your workouts backfiring on you.
Improves other areas of sport
If you worry that lifting weights means you have less time to train in the sport that you would otherwise be doing, you’re wrong. Studies have shown that in all but the very elite levels, lifting weights can improve various aspects of your sport. Cyclists and runners get more power, rowers more strength and across the board, lifting weights decreases the chance of injury in your sport. This means that rather than hindering your other training, adding in weight training to your weekly routine can accelerate your progress in other sports.
I hope these are enough reasons for you to start to incorporate more weights into your gym sessions! Although I often don’t feel exhausted at the end of a weights session, I know that I’ve done my body good. Not every workout has to make your heart rate skyrocket and leave you in a sweaty mess on the floor – weights can do that too, but mixing up your workouts is one of the best things you can do for your body, whatever your fitness goals.
Many thanks to easyGym for allowing me access to their Oxford Circus gym (especially the weights section 😉 )