Ever thought gyms are the last gasp of gender stereotypes? Women to the left working bums and tums, men to the right bulking on weights? Well not for much longer. There’s a fitness revolution underway at a gym near you – with more and more women heading for the weights, ditching fears that pumping iron means bulking out. With the World Weightlifting Champs hitting Pattaya in Thailand this month, it’s a great time for women of all ages to own the health and wellbeing benefits of weightlifting.
So, what’s in it for women?
Resistance training, whether using weights, or just your own body, brings a whole bunch of benefits. First up there’s the fat burn. Weights build lean muscle – and muscle burns energy. The more muscle you have the higher your basal metabolic rate, and the more calories you’ll shift. Resistance training also burns energy – a session pounding weights torches calories. Experts also reckon it can lower cholesterol, boost hormone health and help stabilise blood sugars.
And if it’s shape and a toned body you’re after – step right up. Firm up your muscle base and your whole body looks perkier. Concentrating on specific muscle groups can give you nice tight curves wherever you want them – bums, pecs and abs can all look fabulous, and feminine, with a bit of work on the weights.
Then there’s bone density. Put your body under a serious load and it responds by making bones denser and stronger. It can also help fend off osteoporosis – thin and brittle bones liable to fracture – something women need to guard against in later life, particularly after the menopause. And the great thing about weights is you can start as light as you like and work up. Great for women of all ages.
What about the bulk – I don’t want to look like a bloke?
For most women, bulking up is difficult. They don’t have the testosterone. To get bulky you’d have to put in serious work – not to mention eating an insane diet: fine if you want to be a badass powerlifter but forget it for most of us. Weights can increase strength and tone – making you look and feel great – without getting a neck like a tighthead prop. And besides, which idiot thought women should be thin and feeble? It’s amazing how much confidence a strong body brings.
Free weights or machines?
Free weights are more flexible – you can work more muscles in less time. You can also get a major work out with only a pair of kettles or dumbbells, making them ideal for home. But if you want to isolate and work specific muscle groups, machines might be your best bet. They’re also easier to control and less likely to lead to strain, great for rehab after injury.
What exercises should I try?
The great thing about free weights is variety – there’s no need to get bored. You can use weights to add extra burn to squats and lunges. Or try a chest press to perk up those pecs: lie on a bench facing the sky and punch those dumbbells one at a time.
For a great glute work out try weight assist with a hip thrust. Sit on the floor, knees up back to a bench. Roll a barbell onto the front of your hips. Drive your hips forward, shoulders on the bench, until your back is parallel to the floor. Repeat. Check out this great video by Girls Gone Strong for a demonstration.
For a full-body workout, combine weights with cardio and max out those health benefits.