From Emma Stone’s impressive deadlifts to Sheila Hancock taking up weights in her 80s, women are increasingly turning to strength based training for health gains, from faster metabolism to improved bone density and greater calorie burn. Here’s why lifting weights is the ultimate ‘age smarter’ strategy
Once upon a time the weights area of the gym was a testosterone dominant zone, but take a look around in 2018 and you’ll see women bossing bench presses, bicep curls and deadlifts galore, possibly uploading their achievements to Instagram tagging the #girlswholift hashtag (almost 20 million posts and counting). Workout goals are shifting from how much weight you can lose to how much weight you can lift, and with the likes of Emma Stone, Gal Gadot and Ashley Graham expounding the advantages of gaining and maintaining strength for both general health and confidence, it’s steadily becoming the norm for women to pump iron in a way that wasn’t de rigeur before, a shift that actress Sheila Hancock acknowledges…
Having only incorporated cardio into her workouts previously, Sheila began lifting weights in her eighties after an unfortunate incident trying to haul cabin baggage into an airline locker (and failing). A wake-up call to consider weight training, Sheila, now 84, recently told Sky 1 that she’s now lifting barbels equal in weight to those used by the men at her gym, having previously only just managed to lift the bar itself, and reversed some of the muscle wastage that comes with ageing:
“Lifting weights has restored muscle that had gone. My bicep is back now. My lower arms are strong. Some people do weights to look toned but I just want to stay strong as I get older. You don't have to get weak as you get older - I've proven that."
It’s not just post-retirement guns that you’ll have in the bag either if you take up strength training. Here’s why weight training is vital in every woman’s workout schedule…
It’s basically a health insurance policy
According to the NHS , strength training is the ultimate form of functional fitness:
“Muscle-strengthening activities help maintain the ability to perform everyday tasks and slow down the rate of bone and muscle loss associated with ageing.”
Given that women are most prone to brittle bones, particularly post-menopause due to a drop in oestrogen levels , regular strength training is key to maintain bone density. Level 3 PT and fitness instructor and trainer at Core Collective Em Furey seconds the longevity benefits of weight training:
“The reason that weight training is key throughout different life stages is because it helps to promote strength in all muscle groups as well as stabilising blood sugar levels and blood pressure. If a woman starts weight training in her 20s and continues until a much later age, she’ll have a much higher percentage of muscle and bone mass once she’s older, lowering the risk of injury. That said, weight will make a positive difference to your health no matter what age you adopt them into your regime.” (we salute you Sheila)
If you fear bulking up Arnie style, you can put that to bed too…
It’s the gift that keeps on giving
A few weight training sessions a week (Em recommends two to three) will set you on a path for a speedier metabolism, as according to the NHS muscle burns more calories than fat , thus the more muscle you have, the more fat you torch, and the benefits continue after you’ve left the gym too, as resting metabolic rate improves, meaning that you burn more calories throughout the day. Em confirms that you won’t turn into Popeye either:
“Weights can be so transformative in terms of results and the way that they sculpt our bodies, and while a strength programme will cause our muscles to become more visible, it’s more subtle than many assume. You’ll look and feel strong and sculpted, not stacked.”
Lifting weights increases your lean muscle mass- emphasis on the lean.
It improves your mood
Who knew you could get a buzz from a barbell? Performance Coach and Founder of Twenty Two Training Dalton Wong explains how lifting can give you a lift across the board:
“Lifting weights increases your feel good hormones, plus there’s something uplifting (..sorry) in knowing that you can sprint away from danger with power and defend yourself that enhances your confidence. Having a strong athletic body also reduces the risk of bone diseases like osteoporosis and can also help to balance the hormonal fluctuations that often affect mood, for instance during the menopause .”
For additional mood-boosting benefits, try signing up for a group session or checking out one of the growing bank of innovative weights based classes up and down the country. Em reckons there’s something in the group goals mentality that not only enhances performance, but happiness levels too:
“Group workouts are something that will only increase in popularity, and you see such a diversity of people in classes and collective workouts now. Working out in groups has so many advantages, and by strength training together you motivate and support one another, which in turn helps you reach personal bests and realise that you can do something that you’ve never thought of doing before. The sense of community really shines through in these workouts and brings everyone together who has something in common- to get fit and strong.”
Clearly the group workout setup applies to cardiovascular exercise too, but if you’re just getting started with weights, the extra camaraderie can help you to make progress quicker and keep you committed.
If you’re a Londoner and up for some all-female fierceness, whether you’re a newbie or pro, Strength Ambassadors Ltd’s Ladies Who Lift programme is designed for women, by women, and will take you through everything from bodyweight basics to Olympic lifting. Meanwhile Virgin Active’s nationwide Get to Grips classes will teach you the fundamentals of safe weight lifting, while Gymbox’s yoga programme takes in everything from muscle action via the weighted “Loaded Yoga” to recovery and flexibility by way of “Yoga for Lifting”. The R&R is as key as the action itself- muscles need time to recover , particularly as you get older.
It’s not as hard as you think
There’s no denying that the weights room can be intimidating for all sorts of reasons, but Dalton stresses that “lifting weights doesn’t mean that you have to lift really heavy weights, just enough weight to challenge you.” Actually, you don’t have to begin with lifting weight as all- bodyweight resistance is enough to keep you fit and strong, as the phenomenal popularity and results seen from Joe Wicks' short, sharp bodyweight focused at-home workouts indicate. Resistance bands are a light and inexpensive piece of kit to have in your arsenal to enhance your strength training programme, and if you are looking to nail the perfect deadlift or weighted squat, a thorough one-on-one could pay off for years to come, as Em highlights:
“Investing in a trainer who has a large level of knowledge about weight lifting is always a good move, and it will certainly speed up the process of understanding how to lift weights effectively and what you should be doing to reach any particular personal goals.
“The right kit can be key to strength training success too- I think that the first part of the necessary equipment would be some specialised weight lifting trainers, particularly if you’re training often. These are different to regular trainers in that the sole is very hard and flat, which helps you to avoid any slipping and keep you grounded and stable, which should allow you to lift more weight.”
And days when you’re not strength training?
“Try incorporating cardio based sessions to improve and maintain fitness levels while keeping your heart healthy. Both cardio and strength training go hand and hand and compliment one another, but weight training definitely becomes more crucial as we age. In terms of recover, it’s not all about putting your feet up- a hot bath with Epsom salts or a foam rolling session can work wonders and improve your overall results.”
Whether you’re Wonder Woman or just more proficient at dealing with the contents of your own overhead locker, giving your life a lift only furthers your kickass independent woman status. Which was there before btw.
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