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Think of “weightlifting” and you picture muscle-bound strongmen straining under heavily- loaded barbells. As such, many women are put off lifting weights because they assume it'll make them bulky; the fact is that regular resistance exercises will create definition and strength, but stronger doesn't equal bigger for us females. Building and gaining muscle takes a great deal of dedication and it's actually very hard for women to bulk up - we simply don't have high enough testosterone levels.
If you feel daunted at the idea, remember that weightlifting falls under a large strength-training umbrella: from bodyweight exercises, free weights, TRX moves to yoga and Pilates, resistance training is accessible to everyone.
- Primarily, it will help protect your bones, joints and muscles against more high-impact exercise as well as boosting mobility in your joints and improving core strength.
- Particularly important for women is that it helps protect bone health and can lower the risk of osteoporosis. Oestrogen decreases as women get older so resistance exercise is very important for maintaining strong, healthy bones.
- Increasing strength in your shoulders, upper back, core and glutes will improve your posture and efficiency in your daily life as well as in your cardio-based sessions. Plus the stronger your muscles are, the longer you'll be able to perform without getting fatigued.
- Resistance exercise aids fat loss because building lean muscle revs up your metabolism, so you burn more calories at rest. You also benefit from a high EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) after an intense resistance session.
- It's a great form of low impact cardio exercise, upping your heart rate and strengthening your joints with a much lower risk of injury.
- It mimics functional activity and improves your ability to carry out daily tasks.
- Weight training is a natural way to boost your mood and improve your overall mental It gets your endorphins flowing, boosts your confidence and gives you a real sense of achievement and empowerment. As your physical strength increases, this will resonate on your mental strength and how you approach your every-day life.
If you're new to resistance work and unsure where to start, try some body-weight circuits with compound exercises such as squats, press-ups, planks and glute bridges - you can make modifications if certain moves are too challenging. Aim for sets of 15 to 20 reps of most exercises with say 4 rounds of 6 exercises, 3 upper body and 3 lower body, with a small rest between each set and round if you need to.
Compound moves are a more time-efficient way to work out and should form the bulk of your session. As you start to feel stronger and more confident, you can add more reps or begin to incorporate weights and different types of lifts into your routines. You can also include isolation moves within your circuits that target specific muscles to help improve areas of your body you want to change, such as tricep presses and hamstring curls. Isolation exercises also recruit stabilising muscles like your glutes and core when performed correctly.
You should generally aim for 8-12 reps when lifting weights but this will depend on your goals; the heavier weights you lift the less reps you'll be doing. You'll know when it's time to up your weights, increase your reps and/or introduce new moves as you'll feel less challenged by what you're doing.
- Technique is key – make absolutely sure you've nailed the correct form before attempting to lift anything too heavy. If something doesn't feel right, stop and ask a personal trainer for advice, watch reputable online demonstrations.
- If you’re new to weightlifting and looking to perfect your form, why not take things further with a bespoke fitness retreat where you’ll have access to experienced personal trainers, healthy nutrition and spa treatments that will put you on the path to long-term success with the practice?
- Aim for 2-3 strength sessions a week – it's important to incorporate rest days so that your muscles have time to recover. That said, stay mobile on your rest days with some light cardio such as walking, swimming or cycling, or some gentler resistance training like yoga.
- Mix it up – if you don't enjoy weightlifting as such, find another form of strength training that suits you.
- Don't underestimate the mind-muscle connection – thinking about the muscles you're trying to activate as you squeeze them really does work!
- Don't forget to engage your core and breathe. Exhale on the exertion - so when you're pushing up from a press-up or a squat, for example - and inhale as you lower yourself or the weight.
- Be sure to eat well to fuel your exercise sessions. A healthy balanced diet will set you on track to reach your goals. Ensure you include slow-release carbs, plenty of protein, fresh fruit and veg plus unsaturated fats. If you're particularly looking to build muscle, aim to consume 1.2g to 1.7g of protein for every kilogram of bodyweight.
Resistance training relies on you pushing yourself further over time which signals your muscles to grow stronger and more defined as a result. But as outlined above, the benefits of weightlifting for women include far more than just a toned body. As with all exercise, the type of strength-training you choose largely depends on your goals - it's also important to find the right fit for you so that you're able to enjoy it, stick with it and progress.
Eleanor is a Level 3-qualified personal trainer who works with clients of all ages and levels of fitness. Her tailored programmes incorporate a mixture of low/high intensity interval training plus resistance work and she is qualified to advise on nutrition to compliment this. She is also a single mum to a 5-year-old boy so recognises the challenges of balancing a busy schedule with a healthy lifestyle.
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