What are the benefits of strength training for women?

Emma Mitchell
Physiotherapist at Bupa UK
25 February 2022
Next review due February 2025

Strength training, also known as resistance or weight training, has many health benefits. But, some studies show that some women might be missing out on all that strength training has to offer. Here, I discuss how this type of exercise can improve your health. I also bust some common myths about how strength training can affect women.

group of women doing plank exercise outdoors

What is strength training?

Strength training simply means any exercise which builds your body strength. It includes resistance training, bodyweight exercises and weight training. You could try any of the following exercises:

  • Pilates
  • bodyweight workouts (including squats, planks and press-ups)
  • weightlifting (for example using dumbbells, kettlebells or barbells)
  • resistance bands
  • yoga
  • weight machines (like those you’d find in a gym)
  • cross-training

Why is strength training good for women’s health?

Strength training has many benefits for both your physical and mental wellbeing. It can help to:

Keep your muscles and bones strong

You naturally lose muscle mass as you get older. It happens slowly once you’re over 30, and effects everyone. But, if you’re a woman you may be more at risk, because of your hormones. If you’ve gone through the menopause, you will have less oestrogen (a hormone produced by your ovaries). This can reduce your bone density and increase muscle loss.

If you lose bone density, you may have a greater chance of getting health conditions, such as osteoporosis and bone fractures. Luckily, exercise, and in particular strength training, can help to keep your bones strong. which can reduce your risk of injury.

Improve your heart health

It’s not just cardiovascular exercise, such as running or aerobics, that can benefit your heart. Strength training is also good for your heart health. Some studies have shown that just one hour of weightlifting per week can reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke as you get older. This may be because strength training can help to reduce your blood pressure and might lower your risk of obesity too.

Maintain a healthy weight

Strength training can also help you to maintain a healthy weight. This type of exercise can improve the way your body processes excess sugar. It can help you to burn more calories when you’re resting too. This is because it can help you to build more lean muscle mass. And having more muscle increases your metabolic rate (the rate at which you burn energy).

Boost your mental wellbeing

You can gain mental health benefits from all kinds of physical exercise. It doesn’t have to be cardio-based. Strength training can give you a boost of feel good hormones. And if you do strength exercise regularly, it may help to improve your self-esteem and confidence too. You may also feel more positive about your body image and feel more empowered in your daily life. Strength training has also been linked to a reduction in aches, pains and poor posture – all of which can worsen your mood.

Strengthen your joints

As you get older, your joints are more likely to experience wear and tear. Sometimes this can cause pain and discomfort when moving. But, strength exercise can support the muscles around your joints, which helps to keep them stable and strong. Studies also show that regular strength training can reduce your risk of sports injuries.

Will strength training make me look bulky?

Many people enjoy the benefits of looking and feeling stronger. But, there are some common misconceptions about strength training for women. For example, you might be worried that it will make you develop more muscles than you want. But, for many women, it is actually quite hard to build muscle. Unless you spend lots of time in the gym lifting heavy weights over a long period of time, strength training will usually lead to a slight muscle definition. This is often referred to as ‘toning up’.

Strength training can affect men differently. They may form new muscle mass more easily because of increased testosterone.

How often should I strength train?

In the UK, it’s recommended that you do strengthening exercises that work your main muscle groups (legs, back, core and arms) at least twice a week. This is as well your regular cardio exercises, such as dancing or brisk walking. They key is to remain consistent and aim to continue strength training regularly.

But if you’re short on time, some forms of exercise, like HIIT style workouts, can combine both strength and cardio elements.

How can I strength train safely?

If you’re new to strength training, it’s important that you don’t get injured. The best way to help you stay safe and injury-free is to attend a few classes or training sessions with an exercise professional. This could include a personal trainer or qualified fitness instructor.

This is so you can learn the correct form and technique for each exercise. Once you are confident and can practice the movements correctly you will be safer when working out from home, or alone in the gym.

Remember to also eat well and take rest days between your sessions. If you have any health concerns or worries about how suitable strength training is for you, speak to your doctor for advice.

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Emma Mitchell
Emma Mitchell
Physiotherapist at Bupa UK

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