strong like a girl: lift weights, feel great
Enter into any co-ed gym and you will find the weight training section dominated by guys. They’re big, sweaty and can be very intimidating. It can be daunting walking through there, let alone picking up some weights. So, because of this, you still often find that women believe the treadmill is their place in the gym.
Oh, how wrong that is.
Cardiovascular training is important for many reasons. It’s been found to help individuals achieve a healthy weight, heart health, increased bone density and reduce their risk of heart disease. However, you are severely limiting yourself if that’s all your workouts consist of.
The reason the weight section is larger isn’t just because it’s the more popular section of the gym, but because science shows it’s the most important.
When you strength train, you build lean muscle mass. Studies have shown that adding an extra 1.4kg of muscle mass to your body can increase your metabolism by up to 7%, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight and in turn, negate some risk of chronic disease (i.e. you can fight the patriarchy for longer). All bodies are beautiful, but weightlifting can unleash strength from within that also has, for some, a pleasant effect on the outside. Weight training allows you target specific areas of the body. Cardio is able to help you burn fat, but only weight training will help to shape the body. Additionally, stronger muscles, especially in your core area, will help to straighten your spine and improve posture (so you can stand tall in the face of sexism).
But it goes much further than the physical.
There is a reason lifting weights has increased in popularity in recent years with movements such as Cross Fit becoming a favorite with women. Lifting weights is good for the mind. Legally Blonde protagonist, Elle Woods told us ‘exercise gives you endorphins; endorphins make you happy’. And it’s true. A Harvard study found that 10 weeks of strength training reduced clinical depression symptoms more successfully than standard counselling. Furthermore, studies have also linked weightlifting to lowering anxiety.
There is an incredible feeling of satisfaction that comes with strength training, realising you’re stronger with every new lift. Personal trainer and professional fitness model, Sophie Treacy sums it up nicely. She says lifting weights can provide ‘a huge boost in confidence for women, not just for that feeling of achievement after being able to lift something they thought they weren’t capable of, but the feeling of being strong’.
This feeling has a huge impact on how you see yourself. Research at McMaster University in Ontario found that after 12 weeks of regular weight training women enjoyed a huge spike in their body image plus greater self-confidence from the satisfaction of gradually lifting more weights. New South Wales Junior Weightlifting Champion and qualified PT, Courtney Miller says she lifts because weight training makes her happy.
‘I know it will help me live longer,’ she said. ‘The same applies for those I have taught.’
Miller also highlights how weight training can help you to improve your athletic performance: ‘As a teenager, I did weight training for sports performance. For high jump I needed to strengthen my legs and core to create more power from the ground which I needed because I was a lot shorter than the other girls at national level.’ Whatever sport you play, strength training has been shown to improve overall performance as well as decrease the risk of injury.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, less than 1% of Australian women lift weights. This number is staggering to believe as the practice reaps so many benefits, but unfortunately there is still a stigma attached. There is still the belief that you’ll get a Schwarzenegger build by lifting (or even that such bulked female musculature is a bad thing). Michele Olson, American College of Sports Medicine Fellow and Professor of Exercise Physiology at Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama cuts through this myth saying ‘women do not have the levels of anabolic hormones (that) men have,’ which are key to building heavy muscle. By lifting weights you’re more likely to end up with Michelle Obamas arms than The Rock’s. This does, however, present problems for some women who may wish to achieve the latter aesthetic.
The American College of Sport Medicine recommends weightlifting for all adults at least twice a week, with three times a week being optimal. It’s obvious that in general, women are not hitting this target. This could be due to the fear of getting big, or even just the fear of jumping in with the men in the gym. This should not hold you back. Lifting weights isn’t just a new fad in fitness, and just because men have historically dominated it doesn’t mean women don’t have a big place within this space. Whether it be squats, free weights or the assisted machines, it’s past time for women to step up to the mat and start lifting; for body and mind. Weightlifting can be modified for people of all physical and mental abilities, so be ye not afraid: go forth and fight your own kind of fit.