Weight Training for Women 101
Strength training has health benefits for women beyond a toned, fit physique. Here's how to get started.

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Picture of woman with weights Weight Training for Women 101

Weight training, also called strength or resistance training, can help tone and shape your body. But it also has other important health benefits. Strength training protects against osteoporosis, the bone-thinning disease that can affect women, particularly after menopause. Lifting weights can also help control weight. One recent study showed that strength training can help post-menopausal women reduce fat around the midsection.

People of all ages and fitness levels can usually master weight training and reap the benefits. Ideally, strength-training exercises should be added to a fitness routine that includes an average of at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity 5 or more times per week.

And don't worry - you won't get big, hulking muscles from doing standard weight-training exercises.

How weight training works
Using resistance to work your muscles when you exercise will help you build strength. Resistance means using extra weight to make your muscles work harder than normal. Free weights, weight machines, and even your own body weight can all challenge your muscles. By gradually asking your muscles to do "extra" lifting over time, they'll become stronger.

Where and what to lift
Gyms and fitness centers have weight-lifting machines, plus free weights like dumbbells and barbells. Free weights, like lightweight handheld dumbbells, are popular with beginners. Elastic fitness bands that provide resistance when doing exercises are also a good choice if you're starting out. Machines can be easy to use once you learn the proper technique. A trainer at the gym can show you how.

A trainer can also help you plan a full-body workout geared toward your fitness level. He or she will let you know which exercises to do, and how many repetitions of each are ideal. Some trainers also do at-home consultations or work at private studios, if you're not comfortable in a public gym setting. Make sure your trainer is experienced and certified by a respected group like the American College of Sports Medicine or the American Council on Exercise.

Of course, you don't need to go to a gym to do a strength-training workout. Your own living room can suffice with the right tools. Dumbbells don't cost much to buy, or you can use household items like large cans of soup or gallons of water instead of weights if they are comfortable to lift.

Getting started
Weight training is not for everyone. So of course, always check with your doctor first before you start any exercise program. It's especially important to do so if you have a medical problem, are very overweight, or have been inactive for some time.

Once you begin training, it's always best to start off with low resistance and to increase the weight gradually. The most important goal is to learn proper technique. This is easiest to do when you work with lighter weights. If you are straining under too much weight, you're more likely to injure yourself. It's also important to always start your routine with a warm-up before lifting weights.

Once you have the pattern of working out and you have the technique down, you can begin to increase the resistance. Choose a weight or resistance that makes your muscles tired at the end of 8 to 12 repetitions. You should never feel pain, but you should feel the burn or your muscles should feel slightly tired. The only way to get stronger is to challenge your muscles.

By Amanda Genge, Staff Writer
Created on 02/02/2000
Updated on 09/06/2011
Sources:
  • Women's Heart Foundation. Strength training for women.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need?
  • Schmitz KH, Hannan PJ, Stovitz SD, Bryan CJ, Warren M, Jensen MD. Strength training and adiposity in premenopausal women: strong, healthy, and empowered study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007;86(3):566-572.
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Weightbearing exercise for women and girls.
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