- Strength training has myriad benefits and is important for women.
- Celebrity trainer Luke Worthington shared three of the biggest ones with Insider.
- Resistance training can be empowering, help with fat loss, and reduce osteoporosis risk.
Strength training is hugely beneficial for people of any age, but historically it has been seen as the reserve of men.
Data suggests that’s gradually changing, with more and more women trying resistance training for both the mental and physical health benefits.
UK-based personal trainer Luke Worthington is a vocal advocate for women lifting weights, having trained high profile women including Dakota Johnson, Winnie Harlow, Jodie Comer, and Naomi Campbell.
The qualified sports scientist, nutritionist, and strength and conditioning specialist has over 20 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry, and on January 9 launches a strength training app called 3×52. It’s designed with women in mind and based on his unique “3 x 52” philosophy.
Worthington told Insider about 85% of his clients over the last 10 years have been women, and they’ve all responded to strength training “very quickly and have found it very empowering.”
“It’s not that cardio isn’t worth it,” personal trainer Anna Victoria added. “Cardio has an important place in a balanced training routine, especially when it comes to our overall health, but there are benefits unique to strength training from which women especially could vastly improve their results and quality of life.”
If you’re still on the fence about adding resistance to your workouts — be that with a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, or your bodyweight alone — Worthington shared some of the main reasons women should strength train, from reducing osteoporosis risk to fat loss.
1. Being strong makes daily tasks easier
Simply being stronger makes life easier, Worthington said.
When you are stronger, everyday tasks become easier, be it carrying a suitcase up a flight of stairs, picking up a child, or moving house, both experts said.
“The transfer over to the everyday tasks, being able to do things you couldn’t before, and feeling more empowered in that is key,” Worthington said.
Strength will also make all other activities easier, be it running, tennis, or ballet, and will reduce the injury risk from anything else you might do, Worthington said.
Consistent weight lifting can help people feel strong and capable both in the gym and outside it, Victoria said.
As well as boosted confidence, strength training can improve mental health. A May 2018 study in JAMA Psychiatry, for example, found that weight lifting reduced the frequency and severity of depressive symptoms and anxiety.
2. Resistance training strengthens bones
Strength training can improve bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, which is particularly important as you age and particularly for women who start losing bone earlier than men, according to research.
Because of this, women are four times more likely than men to have osteoporosis and twice as likely to fracture a bone as they get older, according to a July 2011 study in Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research.
“When you contract and extend a muscle while lifting weights, it places stress on the tendons that connect it to the bone,” Victoria said. “The bone responds to this tension by getting stronger. And increasing the load over time only makes them stronger (just like muscles), this is called Wolff’s Law.”
Not only can strength training delay the onset of osteoporosis but it can also reverse it, and it’s never too late to start, Worthington said.
He trains a 62-year-old woman who is actually healing holes in her pelvis, and this has been directly attributed to regular strength work. “She’s stronger than she’s ever been,” Worthington said.
3. Strength training helps create a lean, ‘toned’ physique
The concept of toning muscles in a myth, but creating the look many people describe as “toned” means building some muscle and having low enough body fat to see it, and strength training is essential for this.
If you have already built muscle, strength training can help you maintain it, while losing fat by eating in a calorie deficit can reveal muscle definition. If you haven’t built muscle yet, strength training — while eating enough — is the way to do that, Worthington said.
Strength training to build muscle can also help change your body composition, or muscle to fat ratio, by raising your resting metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories at rest, which helps you lose fat, Victoria said. A June 2015 study in the Journal of Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport found that resistance training boosted participants’ resting metabolic rate after exercise, when compared to steady-state cardio.
If you are in a calorie deficit to lose weight but don’t do any resistance training, you will lose both muscle and fat, meaning that although you may get smaller, you are likely to have what’s known as a “skinny fat” physique, Worthington said. To keep the muscle you need to repeatedly use it by strength training, he said.
“While cardio can also help reduce body fat, if you’re comparing them minute-by-minute, resistance training has a greater effect on age-related abdominal fat than cardio does,” Victoria said, citing a December 2014 study in the journal Obesity.