2 Major Reasons Why Women Should Be Lifting Weights – And some tips!

2 Major Reasons Why Women Should Be Lifting Weights – And some tips!

July 22, 2021

It’s not hard to imagine a typical gym scenario where you glance at the weight section and see mostly men pumping iron and a couple brave women.  Then you glance over at the cardio section or group fitness class and see more women.  I’m pretty sure I fit into that mold quite well in my early adult life and then learned how to run after having my first baby and began training for half marathons for the next several years.

But as I learned more about the specific health needs of women as a pelvic PT and as a consumer of health information for myself, I realized that this scenario is ALL WRONG.  Women have two major reasons that we NEED to strength train and they are to build our muscle bank and our bone bank.

When it comes to muscles, us physical therapists have measured, tested, and seen just about all types of muscles on our clients young and old.  What hurts our PT hearts is to see those women who have achieved senior status only to struggle to do simple things like get up from the floor, bend over to pick something up without falling, or be able to hold in their urine.  

They needed strength training decades ago.

They may have believed the societal myths that women shouldn’t lift heavy weights or that walking was all they would need to do to maintain a healthy body.  Often, women have a  lopsided focus on their weight as the measure of health above all else.  That issue still rings true today, but we have MUCH more available information to prove that women in fact DO need to work on their muscle strength.

By the time we are 30, we begin to progressively lose muscle mass… unless we are actively strength training.  And healthy muscle mass or bulk can really come in handy if we have an injury that keeps us from being very active for a time as we will have more reserves when our muscles get weaker from not using them.  The same goes for the times when we are pregnant.  These are phases where we are typically going to be weaker by the end of our pregnancy due to all of the changes we go through.  Those who have more reserves before they are pregnant will fare better… and this includes the pelvic floor!

The same issue exists for our bone mass.  We will slowly lose bone density over time with age, and the most crucial time to build our bones is in our youth and young adult days.  Strength training will create loading through the bones in a way that will stimulate them to become stronger.  This is known in the medical world as Wolfe’s Law.

Approximately 50% of women over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.  Caucasian women are at the most risk of having this condition with ⅓ of the bone mineral density lost in the hip between the ages of 20-80.  Hip fractures and spinal fractures can be so life altering to an older woman, that they may never regain their quality of life before the injury.

When we get to menopause, a reduction in estrogen will make BOTH issues worse.  This is where discussing estrogen supplementation with a doctor is really important.  Research has shown that taking estrogen supplements in the first 5 years can have lasting life long positive effects on our health, including our heart health.

Now here is the GOOD NEWS!

It’s NEVER too late to START weight training!  As a physical therapist, I get to witness countless women make strength gains while working with me to recover from many issues and improve their quality of life.  I have talked with women who were testing positive for osteopenia (early osteoporosis) that began serious strength training and a year later reversed their bone density screen.  

Strength training can mean many things to many people.  It can include body weight only exercises or light weights or even building up to heavy weights.  It ALL matters.  The key is to start lifting weights and working on strength and NOT STOP.  This can be a regular 3 day a week routine that should also involve some cardiovascular exercise as well on these days or different days.

The goal with our patients at Pinnacle is to make sure that their form and movement patterning with exercises work for their body, does not cause them pain or other issues so that they can scale up the difficulty or variety at the gym or at home.  It is very typical for early sessions to begin in a treatment room on a table laying down, progressing to looking like we are doing cross training with weights, bands, and body weight exercises that look similar to what you would see someone doing for a “workout” near the end of their course of care with us.

My favorite benefits from strength training include:

  • Moving like a younger person

  • Getting up from the floor with ease

  • Lifting heavy things and not hurting yourself

  • Reducing injury risk and feeling more resilient

  • A functioning pelvic floor and no leaks

  • Passing the bone density screens with flying colors

  • Not feeling frail or brittle

My favorite tips for weight training:

  • Breath out with the effort (or exhale with effort)

  • The 10-20 Rule: If you can’t do 10 reps, its too difficult or heavy, if you can do way past 20 reps, its too easy.  Find the weights you use based on this rule… unless you are doing Olympic lifts or 1 reps max lift (think really heavy weights).

  • Work with a PT to be sure your form is safe and activates the most important muscles the right way so you aren’t wasting your time at the gym or class.

  • Make it fun and mix it up!

If you would like more help and guidance on starting a strength training program or are struggling with your strength training now, feel free to connect with us HERE.  We would LOVE to help you LIFT!

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