For decades, the words ‘strength training’ and ‘women’ were never used in the same sentence. Weight training was a man’s world and females went to the gym for a bit of fat-blasting cardio or focused on fat-restrictive diets. This was based on misinformation and a poor understanding of what building muscle actually looks like, and what it does for your health. Thankfully, strong finally became the new skinny, and strong may not look quite like you think it does.
We take a look at the strength building benefits of pilates, yoga, weight training and resistance cardio, and share some of the best strength training workout videos for women…
Strength Training For Weight Loss
Building strength and muscle is possibly the best form of exercise for weight loss. The amazing thing about building strength and muscle is that you will get rid of excess flab without cutting a single calorie. Although cardio burns more calories in half-an-hour than a half-hour strength training session, the strength training will burn more in the long-term. That’s because our bodies stay in calorie-burning mode after a weightlifting workout.
A study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that women who lifted 85% of their max load for eight reps burned nearly twice as many calories in the two hours post-workout as when they performed 15 reps at 45% of their max weight. That is because, following an intense resistance workout, our bodies need to repay an oxygen debt, which means they have to work overtime to replace oxygen, and, in turn, that boosts metabolism and burns calories.
Resistance Training For Bone Strength
Bone mass peaks around age 30 and then begins to decline, with our bodies starting to reabsorb the calcium and minerals from our bones faster than they can be replaced. This can lead to weak or brittle bones, and in many cases, osteopenia and osteoporosis, which can make them more vulnerable to breaks and fractures. About 18 million Americans have osteopenia, which involves early signs of bone loss caused by depleting bone mineral density. Osteopenia can turn into osteoporosis, which at its worst, can lead to disfiguration and loss of mobility. Women are particularly susceptible to these diseases as they reach menopause. There is a direct relationship between a lack of estrogen and osteoporosis during menopause. Prolonged periods where hormone levels are low and menstruation is absent can cause a loss of bone mass.
Weight training and building strength can help protect bones and even help build new bone, preventing osteoporosis-related fractures. A number of cross-sectional and longitudinal studies have shown direct relationships between the effects of resistance training and increased bone density in people over 50.
One particular study compared high-intensity standing free-weights resistance training and moderate-intensity seated machine-based resistance training in elderly men and women. Both were found to improve bone-density, but the high-intensity resistance training yielded the better results, with 8.1% increased lean mass for women and 3.2% for men.
But I Don’t Want To Bulk Up…
This has been a common misconception for decades. The truth is, women can bulk up, and there are plenty of images out there of bulky women to prove that. But the idea that a woman lifting heavy weights two or three times a week will cause her to bulk up like that is completely untrue. What people don’t tend to realize about female bodybuilding is that developing that kind of muscle takes a lot of planning, training and specific dieting – far more than the kind of strength training we’re talking about here. Even if you were trying to bulk up by lifting heavy weights two or three times a week for 30 minutes to an hour, you wouldn’t be able to. You might put on some muscle weight, but aesthetically, those muscles will be small and lean.
Which Workout Is Best For Me?
Lots of studies and professionals have compared pilates to yoga, yoga to weight training and weight training to cardio, trying to decipher what works best for women’s health and wellbeing. The ‘weight training versus cardio’ debate has caused the most controversy over recent decades, with study after study contradicting the last. The truth is, everyone is different and each of these exercises has its own myriad of benefits. They can each work well on their own, but they can work even better mixed and matched throughout the week for the ultimate fitness routine.
Top 4 Strength Building Techniques For Women
People often think of weights as the only exercise to build strength, but there are actually a few ways to do it, and the best fit for you might be different than it is for the next person…
This intricately-designed exercise program is built around developing strength, power and a physically sound body. It was developed by a German man named Joseph Pilates during World War I. He was constantly tweaking his exercise routine as he grew up, but it was when he was interned as an ‘enemy alien’ in the UK during the war that he fine-tuned his program, which would later become the popular pilates craze. During those years, Pilates fitted springs to hospital beds to allow bedridden patients to exercise and rehabilitate. The exercise was focused on the importance of developing a ‘girdle of strength’, by targeting the deep trunk muscles. He specifically designed this core stability workout to target small, deep back and stomach muscles that control and strengthen the position of the spine and improve posture.
When focusing on exercise to increase strength, the core is a great place to start, which is why pilates is one of the best exercise options. Beyond seriously strengthening the core, it works on toning and strengthening the glutes, legs, shoulders and arms for a full body workout.
This video is suitable for beginners up to intermediate. It is a serious workout for the core, and if you’re just starting out or have a weak core, you might need to pace yourself and take breaks the first few times you try it…
For beginners, yoga is one of the best strength training workouts around. That’s because learning to lift your own weight is usually quite a challenge for people who aren’t used to any kind of weight or strength training. However, that doesn’t mean it stops being beneficial to your strength once a beginner’s class becomes easy. Yoga is almost endless when it comes to challenging your body and building strength. For example, a basic sun salutation, which involves plank pose and downward facing dog, is a challenging sequence for a beginner getting used to holding some of their body weight up with their arms. But, when that does become easier, there are dolphin planks, crow pose, headstands and handstands to work towards (to name just a few). And for somebody starting as a beginner, it can take years of building strength and practicing to master some of those poses.
Yoga is a full body workout that includes balance, resistance training, flexibility and power. The best thing about it when it comes to strength training, is that every part of the body builds muscle equally. Every part of your body from your arms, shoulders and back to your core, buttocks and legs will become toned and strong.
This short yoga workout video is perfect for beginners who want to build strength through yoga…
This is, of course, the number one go-to when it comes to strength training and building muscle. Lifting weights, including dumbbells, kettlebells, bars and bench presses are a sure way to develop muscles and tone the body fast.
If you’ve never tried weight training before, it might be a shock to the system, so it’s important to start out with lighter weights while you train your body to cope with this form of exercise. The great thing about weight training is that, from there, you can keep increasing the weights as you get stronger and fine-tune your technique. This will ensure you are constantly challenging your body and building more and more strength. Increasing your weights is the key to increasing strength, so once you do have your technique right, you should challenge your body with weights that really make you feel your muscles as you work!
Contrary to popular belief, weight training won’t just tone and build strength in your arms. If you incorporate squats, lunges, dead lifts, crunches and rows into your resistance training, then it can be the ultimate strength training full-body workout.
This 15-minute beginner dumbbell sequence is a great place to start. To move onto heavier weights, including bars and bench presses, it’s best to go to your local gym or organize some personal training sessions, because there is a technique to weightlifting, and if you don’t do it incorrectly, you can seriously injure yourself. That’s why it’s important to increase the weights you’re lifting over a period of time…
4. Cardio Resistance Training
Overall strength and fitness is easier to achieve through varied exercises. So, you don’t just want to pump iron all week – mixing cardio into your routine, and even combining it with strength training will improve your overall health. Add some restorative yoga and core-strengthening pilates into the mix, and you’ve got the ultimate healthy and balanced lifestyle for peak strength! But, having said all that, not all cardio is created equal when aiming for weight loss and strength.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and CrossFit are some of the best options here. HIIT has become extremely popular in recent years, with training techniques that push people to their physical limits through cardio and resistance training. Exercises are performed in short, extremely intense bursts, broken up with short intermittent recovery periods. The idea behind this exercise program is to quickly raise the heart rate and keep it up, burning more calories in less time. Some of these intense bursts of exercise include resistance training, which in turn build muscle strength, such as push-ups, crunches and lunges.
CrossFit is another example of resistance training mixed with aerobic exercise that has quite recently taken the world by storm. It is a fitness regime that surfaced this millennium and has gained a significant following in the last couple of years. It incorporates techniques and elements of HIIT, weightlifting, plyometrics, powerlifting, gymnastics, girevoy sport and calisthenics, to name just a few.
This 20-minute HIIT class is designed for beginners using exercises that are easy to understand and perform. However, it is quite a challenging program physically, so, again, you might need to take breaks throughout and join back in when you’re ready the first few times…
So, What’s The Best Option?
Again, this varies from one person to the next. While weight lifting might be the quickest way to build muscle, for example, some people might hate it. And you aren’t going to keep doing what you hate. You have to find the right fitness regime for you – one that you will actually stick to. For example, if a gentle morning yoga session or an evening pilates class is what you will stick to, then that is what you should do.
That’s not to say, however, that you shouldn’t try a few different things. When it comes to the ultimate strength training program, then you’re looking at mixing it up. Weight training twice a week, for example, will increase your muscle mass and help you burn calories even when you’ve finished exercising; cardio will keep you strong and fit; yoga will help with strength as well as help you recover and restore; and pilates will help you build your ultimate core.