Women and weight training: Great for physical and mental health – Jamaica Gleaner

Believing that lifting weights will make them bulky and muscular, many women tend to shy away from weight training, instead burning up the cardio sessions. But researchers are finding that strength training offers immense benefits for women. And it won’t make them muscular at all.

If you suddenly picture your body looking like a female bodybuilder, remember that they spend several hours in the gym lifting heavy weights and many take supplements and steroids specific to muscle building.

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Weight training does, in fact, have great benefits for a woman’s overall physical and mental health. Among other things, it reduces body fat, increases lean muscle mass, burns calories more efficiently, increases metabolic rate, increases bone density, improves flexibility and balance, improves mood, reduces fatigue and stress and improves overall strength and stamina.

Strength training is the perfect way to change a woman’s body composition, giving her more muscle definition. A lean, toned, firmer body will be the result. And which woman doesn’t want that?

Experts are advising that women need to challenge their bodies for much better results. In fact, the benefits of weight training far outweigh those of cardio (aerobic exercises).

For women who go to the gym, talk with your fitness instructor about adding strength training to your routine and learn proper form and techniques. For those who work out at home, get advice and instruction from a fitness expert, buy workout DVDs that specialise in weight training and visit a fitness equipment store to purchase what you will need.

Here are some tips and benefits of weight training for women:

– START SLOW: Women don’t need to go for the heavy weights and resistance equipment men use. In fact, using equipment like resistance band and five- to ten-pound dumb-bells can be very effective and yield great results. When you just begin strength training, start off slow and with light weights. Two to three strength training sessions a week lasting just 20 to 30 minutes are sufficient for most people. And overall results are quick.

– GRADUALLY INCREASE REPS: Choose a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 repetitions. When you can easily do more repetitions of a certain exercise, gradually increase the reps and mix up the workouts before considering increasing the weights. It’s not necessary for women to go for heavy weights to see amazing results. Starting off with five-pound weights then to a max of 20 pounds once your muscles strengthen can do the trick.

– REDUCE BODY FAT, BUILD MUSCLES: According to research, the average woman who strength-trains two to three times a week for two months will gain nearly two pounds of muscle and will lose 3.5 pounds of fat. As her lean muscle increases so does her resting metabolism and she burns more calories all day. For each pound of muscle gained, she burns 35 to 50 more calories each day.

– BURN MORE CALORIES: A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that women who did weight training burned an average of 100 more calories during the 24 hours after their training session ended. Weight training is the perfect way to achieve after-burn effect.

– BREAK PLATEAU: If you’ve hit a plateau in your weight-loss plan, adding some weight training to your fitness routine is a great way to break it.

– GET RID OF FLABS: Several women have been beating the treadmill and cardio sessions for months trying to get rid of flabs on the arm, abdomen, legs and other areas, but to no avail. Adding weights and resistance training is perfect for toning those troubled areas.

– STRENGTHEN BONES, REDUCE RISK OF OSTEOPOROSIS: Research has found that weight training strengthens the body’s skeletal structure, which means stronger bone density. It can increase spinal bone mineral density (and enhance bone modelling) by 13 per cent in six months. This helps to greatly reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

– REDUCE BELLY FAT: A University of Alabama study found that women who lifted weights lost more intra-abdominal fat (deep belly fat) than those who just did cardio.

– GAIN STRENGTH WITHOUT THE BULK: Studies have shown that unlike men, women typically don’t gain bulky muscles from strength training, because compared to men, women have 10 to 30 times less of the hormones that cause muscle hypertrophy. Women will, however, develop muscle tone and definition.

– IMPROVE PERFORMANCE: Consistent researches have found that strength training improves athletic ability. Whatever sport you specialise in, strength training has been shown to improve overall performance as well as decrease the risk of injury. A study at the University of Hawaii found that circuit training with weights raises heart rate 15 beats per minute, higher than running at about 60 to 70 per cent of your maximum heart rate.

– INCREASE SEX DRIVE: Strength and resistance training boosts testosterone levels, which impacts on sex drive and sexual performance. Whenever you break down and rebuild muscles by lifting weights, or doing resistance training exercises, you create a spike in testosterone production that lasts for many hours. Women also tend to feel sexier, more attractive and confident about their bodies, with more energy and strength after weight training.

– GREAT FOR BACK PAIN, ARTHRITIS AND REDUCE RISK OF INJURY: While building stronger muscles, strength training also builds stronger connective tissues and increases joint stability. This acts as reinforcement for the joints and helps prevent injury. A recent 12-year study showed that strengthening the low-back muscles had an 80 per cent success rate in eliminating or alleviating low-back pain. Other studies have indicated that weight training can ease the pain of osteoarthritis and strengthen joints.

– REDUCE RISK OF HEART DISEASE AND DIABETES: According to Dr Barry A. Franklin, of William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan in the United States, weight training can improve cardiovascular health by lowering LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, increasing HDL (‘good’) cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. Adding cardiovascular exercises increases the benefits even more. He also noted that when a woman weight trains, it improves the way the body processes sugar, which may reduce the risk of diabetes. Research indicates that weight training can increase glucose utilisation in the body by 23 per cent in four months.

– CUT CANCER RISK: A University of Florida study found that people who performed three resistance training workouts three times a week for six months experienced significantly less oxidative cell damage than non-lifters. That’s important since damaged cells can lead to cancer and other diseases. And in a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, scientists discovered that resistance training speeds the rate at which food is moved through the large intestine by up to 56 per cent, an effect that’s thought to reduce the risk for colon cancer.

– YOU’LL SLEEP BETTER: Australian researchers observed that patients who performed three total-body weight workouts a week for eight weeks experienced a 23 per cent improvement in sleep quality. In fact, the study participants were able to fall asleep faster and slept longer than before they started lifting weights.

– IMPROVES OVERALL STRENGTH AND BALANCE: Weight training is the perfect way to improve overall physical strength and balance, making it much easier to not only carry out everyday chores, but soon you will be able to perform your weight training sessions with much more ease. Studies found that even moderate weight training can increase a woman’s strength by 30 to 50 per cent. Research also shows that women can develop their strength at the same rate as men.

– IMPROVE YOUR MOOD: A Harvard University study found that 10 weeks of strength training reduced clinical depression symptoms more successfully than standard counselling did. Women who strength trained commonly report feeling more confident, much better and capable as a result of their routine. And researchers at the University of Alabama-Birmingham discovered that people who performed three weight workouts a week for six months significantly improved their scores on measures of anger and overall mood.

– BOOST YOUR BRAIN POWER: Brazilian researchers found that six months of resistance training enhanced lifters’ cognitive function. In fact, the workouts resulted in better short- and long-term memory, improved verbal reasoning, and a longer attention span.

– YOU CAN STRENGTH-TRAIN AT ANY AGE: Women of all ages can benefit tremendously from weight training. In fact, studies have shown that women in their 70’s and 80’s have built up significant strength through weight training, so strength improvement is possible at any age. Weight training also fights the ageing process by maintaining lean muscle tissue, giving older women a younger look.

– DON’T WATCH THE SCALE: Remember, in doing weight training you are reducing body fat and increasing muscle mass, which is heavier, so your weight may in fact go up. Judge your overall results with a tape measure, seeing the reduction in body circumference and inches, how your clothes fit, before you start using the scale to assess your results.

– REST BETWEEN WORKOUTS: To give your muscles time to recover, rest one full day between exercising each specific muscle group. And listen to your body. Although mild muscle soreness is normal, sharp pain and sore or swollen joints are signs that you’ve overdone it.

– PROTEIN IMPORTANT: Have a proper, balanced diet, with lots of protein to benefit from strength training. And, of course, keep hydrated.