“Really? But you don’t look like a man.” This is typically the response I get from women when I tell them I lift weights 3-5 days a week. If you’re a woman who’s hesitant to start lifting weights for fear of turning into Arnold, I have good news for you! First, your body does not produce enough testosterone to build muscle the way a man’s does. Second, you would need to alter your diet significantly (think chicken and broccoli every single day!) and commit to intense training to gain that kind of “man muscle”. With that fear hopefully quelled, let’s look at why weightlifting should become a regular part of your week and some tips on how to get started.
Modern exercise science is opening our minds to the benefits of resistance training, not just to have a hot bod, but as the key to lifelong physical function and health. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that regular weight training can’t help you reach your Instagram perfect beach body, but the benefits of committing to a few weekly sessions are much farther reaching than the cosmetic ones.
First off, because muscle is metabolically active, meaning it burns blood sugar (glucose) for energy, having more of it is a good thing, especially for people at risk for metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes. Strength training is also one of the best remedies for other medical issues such as high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels and other metabolic disorders. It’s even being shown that the risk of heart disease can be reduced by strength training because regular sessions can reduce inflammation, one of the leading causes of heart problems.
Weight training for women is particularly important to protect our bones. The load from resistance training on bones, tendons and muscles helps protect against the loss of bone density, especially if you are sedentary or menopausal. As we get older, our bones begin to deteriorate faster than we can produce new tissue. Resistance training seems to slow this process dramatically and therefore reduces common postural and functional issues that we would otherwise face. So here we get a two for one: better posture and better health.
If this health info isn’t convincing enough to get you moving toward the dumbbells, research has also shown that strength training has positive impacts on focus, balance, anxiety and general wellbeing. And for those of you who need one last push, lifting weights seems to be one of the best predictors of survival. Almost all health outcomes improve when strength is added. “The benefits of committing to a few weekly sessions are much farther reaching than the cosmetic ones.”
Hopefully, now you are convinced that it’s time to pump some iron. If you’re new to this idea, there are a couple easy ways you can get started. First, educate yourself a little bit about the basics of weightlifting. Whether you read articles, watch YouTube or chat with one of your more experienced friends, there’s a lot of information out there that can help you feel less anxious about the prospect of lifting weights. Second, understand that weightlifting doesn’t mean you have to lift huge, heavy weights. Light weights have been shown to have immense benefits, especially for people who have mobility problems or injuries. Last, find a trainer or coach that can guide you. A good trainer will correct your form, build a plan for you and “do the thinking” so that you can just focus on the activity. For me, this has been something that is particularly helpful because it also holds me accountable. In Thailand, most gyms will provide some initial consultation with a trainer and then you can choose if you’d like to continue working with them.
Whether your goal is to have a better beach body for your Koh Samui trip, to be able to carry more bags from your Chatujak shopping spree or to stay out of the Thai hospitals, weight training will keep you healthy, fit and feminine for many years to come!