Benefits of Weight Training for Women

There are a lot of fallacies out there when it comes to weight training for women.  One of the most common myths that deters women from the weight room is that you’re bound to get bulky if you lift weights.  Another one is that you shouldn’t lift if you want to lose weight.

The reality is that assumptions like these couldn’t be further from the truth.  There are actually a number of benefits weight training can have for women, no matter what your goals are.  In fact, weight training may be one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health, especially as you age.      

In this article, we’re going over some of the main reasons women from all walks of life can benefit from weight lifting.  We’ll also discuss some different approaches to weight training and wrap up with a brief discussion on how dietary protein relates to the results you see from your training.  

Weight Training For Overweight Women

It’s no secret that many women want to lose weight.  While it’s true that society has some unrealistic expectations about how women ought to look, having excess body fat — AKA being overweight — can increase the risk of numerous health problems including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), about 67% of American women 20 years and older are either overweight or obese.  

How do you know if you’re overweight?

The NIH makes this determination based upon your body mass index (BMI), which is a measurement of the amount of fat in your body.  Your BMI can be calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared (kg/m2).  A BMI above 24.9 is considered overweight for adult women 20 and older.  Here’s what the classification scale looks like:

BMINIH Classifications
< 18.5Underweight
18.5 – 24.9Normal weight
25 – 29.9Overweight
30 – 39.9Obesity
40+Extreme Obesity

We here at Dioxyme can’t stress enough that you should definitely stay within the normal weight range of 18.5 – 24.9.  Being underweight can also substantially increase your risk of serious health issues.

With that being said, if you have a few pounds you would like to lose, weight training can be effective not only for shedding some body fat but also for maintaining lean muscle mass as you lose weight.  

It’s true that the only absolute necessity when it comes to weight loss is a calorie deficit.  But when you’re only focused on restricting your calories, you’re likely to lose substantial amounts of muscle mass along with body fat.  The issue is that most women don’t want to be just skin and bone; they want to shed some body fat to reveal lean, toned muscle.

That’s where lifting weights comes into play.  In order to spare lean muscle mass and target fat as you lose weight, you need to be actively stimulating your muscles.  Lifting weights actually causes microscopic damage within your muscle tissue.  This, in turn, activates a biological process known as muscle protein synthesis (MPS), setting off a series of signaling events within your body to repair the damaged tissue.   

Lifting weights helps to keep your body’s level of MPS elevated for up to 36 hours after a workout. (1) In combination with an adequate supply of dietary protein, which we’ll get into below, weight training is an incredibly effective means of attenuating muscle loss during a calorie restricted diet.

Also, weight training increases the amount of fat oxidation that occurs in the muscle. Fat oxidation is the process where your muscle uses free fatty acids to generate energy. So weight training not only burns calories and preserves lean mass, but it also stimulates your muscles to burn more body fat.

Again, weight training doesn’t inherently lead to looking bulky, especially when it comes to a calorie restricted diet.  It does, however, help you to maintain what lean muscle mass you do have so that you don’t end up frail and weak after you lose weight.     

Weight Training For Underweight Women

Compared to men, women are more than twice as likely to be underweight.(2) Just as with being overweight, being underweight can also come with some significant health consequences. Underweight women face an increased risk of infection, bone fractures, and osteoporosis. Furthermore, being underweight can have all sorts of negative effects on your immune system.(3)(4)(5)

weight training for women

While it might seem as easy as ramping up your caloric intake to gain weight, it’s not quite that simple.  Eating in a caloric surplus is certainly part of the equation but simply increasing your caloric intake is likely to lead to significant gains in body fat, which is not what most people are after.  When we say we want to gain weight, what most of us really mean is that we want to add lean muscle mass to our frame.  

In order for your muscles to grow, you not only have to be taking in more calories than your body needs, but the amount of protein that is synthesized within your muscles must eclipse the amount of protein that is broken down — i.e. muscle growth occurs when MPS > MPB.  

But in order for this situation to happen, your muscles need to receive the proper stimulation.  Following a session of weight lifting, your body’s natural response is to increase MPS in order to rebuild the muscle tissue that was damaged during your workout.  Again, a single workout can keep levels of MPS elevated in your body for up to 36 hours afterward, helping to mitigate tissue break down and support healthy muscle growth.    

Female Hormonal Balance and Weight Training

When we are specifically looking at body weight, obese women tend to have a more androgenic (masculine) estrogen-testosterone profile compared to non-obese women. However, fat loss helps to improve this profile.  

The biggest hormonal change women experience from resistance exercise is an increase in growth hormone (GH).   GH helps to promote muscle protein synthesis and also increases carbohydrate metabolism. Contrary to popular belief, resistance exercise produces only a small effect on female testosterone levels. (6)

Resistance exercise also increases DHEA and estradiol (E2 estrogen) levels in women. DHEA is associated with increases in lean body mass, bone density, and quality of life. The same increases have not been observed with endurance exercise.(7)

Weight Training For Older Women

Even if you’re at a healthy weight, lifting weights can still be beneficial, especially as you age. After somewhere around 30, you naturally begin to lose muscle mass. In fact, older adults can lose as much as 10% of their muscle mass over the course of 20 years(8)

The loss of muscle mass can ultimately lead to both weakness and immobility, making everyday task far more challenging later in life.(9) However, a number of studies have demonstrated that resistance training is an effective means of preserving lean muscle mass as well as increasing functional strength and mobility in older adults.(10)(11)

Another issue that many women face as they age is weakening bones. Over time, the combination of inactivity and aging can lead to bone loss, increasing the risk of bone fractures and skeletal conditions like osteoporosis, especially in post-menopausal women. Luckily, plenty of research has demonstrated that weight lifting helps to maintain (or even increase) bone mineral density in older women.(12)

Weight Training and Mental Health

weight training and mental health

While weight training can be incredibly beneficial for your body, it can also be just as good for your mind.  No matter whether you’re young or old, single or married, have kids or not, every woman has dealt with stress and anxiety, many on a regular basis.  

The good news is that a number of different studies have found weight training to be an effective means of reducing everything from mental fatigue to stress, anxiety, and depression. (13)(14)(15)(16)

Resistance exercise has been found effective in reducing symptoms in both healthy people and patients with serious medical conditions. Furthermore, many studies have demonstrated that it helps to improve multiple quality of life indicators in elderly adults.            

What Kind of Weight Training Should You Do?

When it comes to weight training there is no one magic exercise routine or training program that is going to be ideal for everyone.  There are, however, depending on your training goals, a couple of broader methodologies you have to choose from. Below we’re going over some of the basics on both strength and hypertrophy-based weight training, with a focus on how they differ from one another and what their potential applications are.  

Strength Training For Women

Not surprisingly, the primary goal of strength training is to make your muscles stronger.  While there is some overlap, making your muscles stronger doesn’t necessarily mean making them bigger.  As such, strength training is extremely applicable to those who aren’t necessarily looking to gain muscle mass. It’s an ideal approach to weight training for aging women and those looking to lose weight.  

How To Do It

strength training for women

Exercise Intensity

With most strength training workout routines, one of the key factors is intensity.  Many strength building programs are going to have you performing exercises at challenging intensities — i.e. you’ll be lifting heavy weights.  Generally, in order to build strength, many training programs will require you to lift at or above 65% of your one rep max (1RM).

So for example, if you can squat 185 pounds for exactly 1 rep, that would be 100% intensity for that exercise.  65% of your 1RM on the squat would equate to doing reps with 120 lbs.  You’ll rarely be going all the way to 100% intensity in most workout programs.  

Sets and Reps

Because you’re performing exercises at high intensities, you’ll only be doing a relatively small number of sets and repetitions.  In addition to being challenging on your muscles, lifting heavy is also incredibly taxing on your central nervous system (CNS).

Ultimately that means you’re only going to be working at your hardest for a pretty limited amount of time when we’re talking about a single training session.  Many strength oriented training programs employ as little as 3 – 5 working sets for a given exercise.  Each set generally ranges from 1 – 5 reps at an intensity of 65% 1RM or greater.         

Training Frequency and Exercise Selection

When we’re talking about strength training, having a balance of strength across all your different muscle groups is crucial.  For example, your chest and back muscles perform different functions but also work together to counterbalance one another.  So, if one muscle group is markedly stronger than the other, it can lead to both immobility and injury. Therefore, one of the keys to any successful strength training program is to focus on building strength across all the major muscle groups.

In general, each strength training session will start out with a major compound movement followed up by some assistance exercises, which are designed to further improve your strength on the main movement.  Your primary lift is always going to be a compound exercise, which means that it engages multiple muscles groups across multiple joints.

Working the compound movements first maximizes the hormonal effect you need for strength development. Your assistance exercises can be compound movements but they can also be isolation exercises, meaning they primarily target one muscle group.  

The main compound movements in most strength training programs are the squat, bench press, deadlift, and sometimes also the overhead press.  Together, these lifts help to target all of the major muscle groups throughout your body.  Training is usually split up across 3 – 4 session per week.  Each session should be focused on a different major lift and conclude with a few assistance exercises for that lift.  

For instance, you would have one day per week dedicated to deadlifting, where you start out training that movement and then move on to other exercises that help to improve your performance on the deadlift.  For example, if you’re having trouble locking out your deadlift when it starts getting heavy, including some kind of row as an assistance exercise, can help with generating more lockout power.

Hypertrophy Training For Women

Whether you’re underweight, or just looking to pack on some additional muscle mass, hypertrophy-style training programs are specifically designed for building muscle.  You may likely get stronger as well, but the primary goal of hypertrophy training is to increase the size of your muscles.

How to Do It

hypertrophy training for women

Exercise Intensity

Compared to strength training, hypertrophy-based exercises generally take place at a lower intensity, although there can be some overlap.  Exercise intensity for most hypertrophy-based training programs is going to be somewhere in the range of 50 – 75%.   

The primary goal of this style of training is to overload the muscle, causing breakdowns in tissue and consequently prompting your body to repair the damage.  Over time, the body responds to exercise-induced stress by increasing the muscle’s ability to deal with that kind of stimulation. That usually means increasing the muscle’s size.  

Sets and Reps

Also in contrast to strength training, the set and rep ranges are going to be a bit higher with hypertrophy-based exercises.  The sweet spot for most exercises is going to be somewhere in the range of 6 – 10 repetitions.  The number of sets you’re going to perform during a training session may vary but is usually going to be in the range of 9 – 16 sets.  In most cases, those sets will be split up across multiple exercises.    

Training Frequency and Exercise Selection

Hypertrophy-based lifting is also going to entail a full body training split.  But unlike with strength training, where you’re primarily focused on building up certain movements, you’re more focused on targeting specific muscle groups with hypertrophy training.  

The general goal is to target 1 -2 major muscle groups per workout — there are a total of 6 major muscle groups.  For most people, that means somewhere between 3-5 training days per week.      

Compound movements are still an important component of hypertrophy training.  Just because the intensity is not quite as high, it doesn’t mean you should skip doing them.  In fact, most muscle building training programs are still going to include exercises like the bench press and squat.  That’s because there’s plenty of research to show that heavier compound movements are more effective for building muscle mass compared to lighter isolation movements. (17)(18)

Though that doesn’t mean you should ditch the isolation movement either.  Instead, do your compound movements first and then round off your workout with isolation exercises to maximize your muscle building potential.

For example, let’s say for today’s training session, you’re targeting your pectorals and triceps.  You’d start off with a heavier compound movement like the bench press, which engages muscles in your chests, arms, and shoulders.  Then you’d move on to more isolated movements like the dumbbell-fly and tricep extension, which primarily target your pecs and triceps respectively.                     

Weight Training and Dietary Protein

While your overall nutritional requirements are going to vary significantly depending on your goals — e.g. you’ll need a calorie deficit to lose weight vs. a calorie surplus to gain weight — there is one thing that’s not going to change all that much: you’re going to need a lot of dietary protein if you want your work in the weight room to pay off.     

No matter whether you’re trying to maintain or gain lean muscle mass, your muscles are going to need an adequate supply of dietary protein to react and adapt to your training.  

The fact of the matter is that many women simply don’t consume enough protein in their daily diets.  The RDA for dietary protein is 0.8g per 2.2 lbs (1 kg) of body weight, and that’s for sedentary individuals.  If you’re lifting weights, you’re definitely going to need more protein than that.

Somewhere between 1g – 1.25g of protein per pound of body weight seems to be the optimal range for most people.  The higher end of that range is usually recommended to those eating a calorie restricted diet since that’s when you’re most susceptible to muscle loss.    

Weight Training Supplements For Women

Whey Protein

While consuming that much protein every day can certainly seem daunting, one way to make things a little more realistic is with protein shakes.  Whey protein, in particular, is an excellent dietary supplement; it’s rapidly absorbed and stimulates muscle protein synthesis more effectively than just about any other type of protein.  Furthermore, one serving for most quality whey protein powders contains over 20g of protein. With that being said, whey protein is derived from dairy, so if for whatever reason that’s just not your thing, plant-based protein supplements can still be an effective means of hitting your daily protein goal.   

BCAAs

One of the things that can ultimately keep women from going back to the weight room is the pain and soreness that sometimes follows a challenging workout.  Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), is a common occurrence amongst weightlifters, especially those with less training experience. The good news is that BCAA help to prevent DOMS, meaning a quicker and more comfortable recovery following your workouts.         

Promote MPS & Prevent Muscle Loss with MPO

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MPS Stimulators

No matter whether you’re trying to build size or strength, one of the most important parts of the equation is muscle protein synthesis.  Supplements like HMB, HICA, and Phosphatidic Acid help to stimulate MPS and prevent protein breakdown, helping your muscles to more effectively react and adapt to your training.

Takeaway

The benefits of weight training extended to women from all walks of life.  Regardless of whether you want to gain, lose or maintain weight, lifting weights can certainly help you to look and feel your bests, especially as you age.  

There are multiple approaches to weight lifting.  Strength training may be more applicable to those looking to lose weight and/or attenuate muscle and bone loss as they age.  Hypertrophy training, on the other hand, may be more appealing to women seeking to add lean muscle to their frame.

Whichever training methodology you chose, you’ll need to be consuming a high-protein diet if you want to reap the rewards from the weight room.