I was having a conversation last week with a friend who’s been doing a lot of hiking and running recently. He mentioned that he hasn’t been strength training as much as he used to and he is starting to feel like that’s catching up to him – that he’s lost a little strength and is just feeling blah. I told him I feel the same way. Since Baby T was born, my focus has been on regaining my cardio fitness, as well as some basic strengthening moves to help recover from childbirth when I started back running. But now I’ve reached the point where I know I’m missing a key component of my overall fitness.
This is the first time in a looong time I haven’t had access to a gym. We keep meaning to join a gym near us, but I think we’ve just been letting the excuses take over and now it has to happen. Despite lots of squatting, lunging and abdominal work during the BOSU challenge I took part in, I haven’t been utilizing my at-home workout gear as much as I could.
Now that I’ve signed up for the Vermont City Marathon next year, I want to focus on my strength to form a good base for upping my mileage. I’m excited to start lifting weights again, even more so when I read this article in the Times about a year-long study into the effects of strength training on the brain – it’s kind of jaw-dropping.
What are the benefits of strength training, especially for women?
Building strong, lean muscle is the best way to burn more fat. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so even at rest, your lean muscle is keeping your metabolism stoked. There’s no better way to reduce your body fat percentage than by strength training.
Resistance training is essential for staving off osteoporosis. This bone-thinning disease affects women more than men, since our bone density is lower and we lose bone density more quickly than men as we age. But the disease can be prevented by regular strength training, since lifting weights maintains and increases bone density.
Lifting weights increases your self-esteem and body image. Isn’t that an awesome side effect? And given that so many women report being dissatisfied with their body, it’s one we could all use more of.
Your flexibility gets better when you strength train through your full range of motion. You’re strengthening your muscles and joints to work the way they ideally should, meaning your range of motion will be at its peak when you’re stronger and more trained.
There are several medical benefits to lifting weights, but let me lump them all into one category so you can be blown away with how significantly it can affect your health to weight-lift: With regular resistance training, you decrease your risk of arthritis, depression, back pain, increase your body’s blood sugar control and increase your HDL (good cholesterol) levels. WOW.
And don’t forget, getting stronger and leaner can make all your daily activities easier – if you’re a runner, more muscle strength will positively affect your speed and endurance, but you’ll also find walking up stairs, carrying groceries, picking up your child, or taking the trash out that much easier.
So, what does ‘regular’ strength training mean?
It probably depends on the person, but most of the studies on the effects of strength training on disease use a twice-weekly strength training session as their standard. That’s a great goal to set for yourself – you can get a good workout done in 30 minutes, which is just an hour out of your week if you’re getting in two workouts.
Strength training doesn’t necessarily mean lifting weights in the gym, either. Especially if you’re just starting out, bodyweight exercise counts as resistance training and can definitely be progressed as your body becomes more efficient. Also consider tools like resistance bands and TRX-style training if you don’t have access to weights.
Want somewhere to start?
Try out some of these workouts I’ve posted:
3 Quick Workouts – includes one cardio, one gym strength-training, one at-home strength training.
Three 15-Minute Workouts – for the next time you’re in the gym and don’t have a lot of time.
Stroller Workout – out with your little one in the stroller? Try this workout.
Resistance Band Workout for Runners – great for prehab and rehab of running injuries!
Postpartum Workout, Without Leaving Your Living Room – aimed at postpartum recovery, but helpful if you’re new to resistance training!
What’s the best benefit you’ve noticed from regular strength training?
Favorite at-home exercise tool?