Women and Weightlifting
Ali Othman, NSCA-CPT®
In recent years weightlifting has gained popularity among women as a powerful instrument in a physical fitness routine and a way to enhance one’s overall well-being. It’s a big change from the days when weightlifting was predominantly associated with oversized, hulk-like men sweating and grunting through their routines. Today, an increasing number of women are realizing the benefits of weightlifting, which go far beyond the aesthetic aspect of the sport. These benefits promote better health by mitigating the risk of diseases like osteoporosis and empowering independence, self-confidence, and self-defense capabilities, all while increasing a person’s energy levels and relieving stress in a healthy way.
Many of the health benefits offered by weightlifting are specific to women. Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by low bone density and an increased risk of fracture. This condition is more prevalent among women, especially older women, due to hormonal changes during and after menopause. Weightlifting plays an important role in combating osteoporosis because the mechanical stress imposed during weight-bearing movements stimulates the growth of new bone tissue. New bone tissue means stronger, denser bones and a reduced risk of osteoporosis.
Weightlifting can also have a transformative effect on self-confidence and mental well-being. Stronger bones and muscles mean a stronger you. As you engage in a routine and gradually increase its intensity, you’ll witness yourself getting stronger and your body shape changing. This progress helps foster a positive body image, leading to more self-confidence. Like all intense exercise, weightlifting stimulates the release of endorphins, which are the feel-good hormones that help alleviate stress, curb anxiety, and fight off symptoms of depression. Self-confidence and positive mental well-being may not be visually discernable markers of your weightlifting progress, but they will enhance your overall quality of life.
Through weightlifting, you can build physical strength and power that are useful in many situations. Weightlifting can improve body awareness, coordination, agility, reaction time, and endurance. These are the physical tools needed for self-defense, but just as importantly, possessing these tools may help you navigate threatening situations with more confidence.
Whether your health and wellness goals are health-related or aesthetic, weight loss is usually somewhere on the list. Most people never imagine that weightlifting can help them lose weight, but it is a great way to shed some pounds. Weightlifting’s positive effect on metabolic rate results in you burning more calories throughout the day. In addition, the lean muscle mass built from weightlifting is more metabolically active than other types of tissue, like fat. More muscle means burning more calories, even while at rest.
Compound exercises that engage multiple muscle groups will help boost weight loss by maximizing your calorie burn, and exercises like the dumbbell squat to dumbbell curl are at the top of the list. This exercise engages multiple muscle groups and simulates the motion of picking something up off the ground. It’s a motion that is naturally present throughout your day and one that gets more difficult as we age.
Taking the first step in any program is always the most daunting part. After talking with your doctor about starting a weightlifting program, your next step is to consult a personal trainer. It’s important to learn the basics of weightlifting and perform them in front of a professional who can monitor your form and correct your movement pattern when necessary. Proper movement patterns are the foundation of your program, and whether you have lifted weights before or not, everyone can benefit from a refresher course. Your trainer will take you through each exercise, sometimes before using any weight, while explaining the proper body position and muscle activation for the primary and supporting muscles. This first step is as educational as it is adventurous, so embrace the learning, set realistic goals, and focus on proper form to prevent injury.
After building your foundation, you can decide on your preferred environment for weightlifting. Whether at a gym, a private studio, or in the corner of your home, choose a place where you will be comfortable. While training, it’s good to view the body as an integrated unit rather than a collection of separate muscle groups. Whenever possible, train the groups together and in different combinations to maintain synergy throughout your body.
As you begin your program, your focus will be on the big compound exercises that require movement across more than one joint. Squats, deadlifts, and lunges are excellent for building lower body strength. Chest and shoulder presses, rows, pull-ups, and pull-downs will build upper body strength. Your core is the link between your upper and lower body, so don’t forget to train the strength and balance of your midsection. This will be important for maintaining a neutral posture as your body shape changes.
Gradually increase the intensity of your workouts to avoid a plateau and continue your forward progress. This is called progressive overload, and it challenges the body in a healthy way by allowing you ample time to adapt to the increased stress. It also allows you to get stronger while minimizing your risk of injury. Proper nutrition before and after workouts will support this process, as will a well-rounded cardiovascular routine.
While weightlifting offers numerous benefits, it’s important to be aware of potential risks associated with the sport. Most injuries come from incorrect form and technique or weight overload. When you build a solid foundation, understand the movement patterns, and gradually increase the amount of weight you’re lifting, you mitigate your risk of injury. When progressing in weight, do it gradually to maintain joint and connective tissue health.
Overtraining is another risk that can lead to fatigue, poor performance, and an increased risk of injury. Allow ample rest time between heavy training sessions so your body has a chance to recover and rebuild, and always listen to your body. If a movement doesn’t feel right, remove it from your routine and replace it with a more comfortable alternative. Consider all muscle groups when weightlifting because keeping your body’s symmetry is important to maintaining its synergy.
Weightlifting is an empowering and transformative sport that provides many physical and mental health benefits. Men have been the main beneficiary of these health benefits for too long, but the trend has shifted in recent years. What we’re seeing now is the realization that weightlifting is a great technique to pave the way to a healthier, stronger, and more confident future for women.
Ali Othman is an NSCA-certified personal trainer with over fifteen years of experience in the health and wellness industry.