Blog by YMCA Gym staff member Catherine Sweetman
Fitness Advisor Catherine lays out the benefits of lifting heavy weights and tells us why it’s important for women to add resistance training to their regular fitness routine.
So what exactly is weight training? Weight, or resistance training consists of controlled movements using weighted objects or machines to target muscle groups both large and small. There are many misconceptions regarding resistance training, one of the worst is that it is not for women. Not true. Training with weights is for everybody. It benefits both body and mind and is also far more rewarding than using solely cardio machines. Moreover, if you’ve been experiencing a plateau in your progress, or you’re not quite getting all the results you wanted, resistance elements could well be what your workouts are missing.
Some of the key benefits of resistance training include:
Building your body shape
First of all, training with weights will not make you bulky. It takes years of specific, dedicated training and nutrition to get anywhere near the muscular levels of Mr Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger. When training with weights, you are more likely to gain muscles that will help build and accentuate your body shape.
The optimal rep range for building muscle (if you have the goal of ‘toning up’ this is the one for you) is 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions. For exercises that use many or larger muscles (such as squats, bench press etc) I would suggest staying nearer the lower end of this range. For exercises that isolate individual muscle groups (such as triceps extensions), I would advise going nearer the higher end of this range. If you are getting to 15 repetitions and the weight still feels easy, increase that weight!
Maintenance of functional strength
One of the biggest physical benefits of resistance training is the maintenance of functional strength and abilities such as carrying things, standing up from the floor, walking etc. The phrase ‘use it or lose it’ highlights this beautifully; stimulating your muscles regularly with weights maintains our bodies, increasing their longevity.
Lifting weights to improve functional strength also helps prevent a multitude of health problems that can occur as we age. Including but not limited to back pain, osteoporosis (loss of bone density), sarcopenia (loss of muscle density), hyperkyphosis (extreme hunching of the upper back) and other physical disabilities. Moreover, resistance training 2-3 times per week improves muscle density, bone density and maintains the strength of ligaments and tendons. The additional strength gained from resistance training increases stability which makes our bodies less susceptible to injury and denser bones prevent fractures.
Weight training builds muscle which maintains, and can even speed up, your metabolism due to the extra energy required to sustain your muscle. This means, lifting weights = eating more! I’m not saying to go ahead and eat a whole cheesecake after every session, but it is highly likely you’ll find yourself feeling hungry more often. This is due to an increase in your body’s ‘resting metabolic rate’ or the amount of energy your body requires at rest.
This is good for weight management as a larger amount of energy your body receives from food is put into fuelling your muscles instead of being stored as fat reserves. Training solely cardio (rowing/ running etc.) will burn energy and is great for maintaining the health of your heart and lungs; however, it won’t help you build. When training for effective and long-term sustainable weight management, it is best to have a good balance of both resistance and cardiovascular training in your workouts.
Of course, it can be a little overwhelming if you are dipping your toes into resistance training for the first time. I would recommend starting with using the resistance machines as they will provide stability, allowing you to concentrate on moving the weight with the correct muscles. Free weights such as dumbbells and barbells require a little more stability coming from the body and can be difficult to get a handle on at first, but keep at it! Your muscle fibres will develop movement memory over time which makes it easier to lift the weights, which is when the real fun begins.
If you’re not sure what to do, come and speak to one of the gym team, we are always happy to help! Catherine 🏋️
Catherine’s 6 Week ‘Weight Training for Women’ course begins on Thursday 21st October. Book your place online or via the YMCA Gym app.