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The Unique Benefits of Strength Training for Women

Young woman with weights

If the term “strength training” makes you think of body builders with bulging biceps and thighs, think again. Unless specifically designed to do so, exercises that build muscle strength do not necessarily increase muscle volume. They can, however, provide numerous health benefits, many of which are unique to women.

What is Strength Training?

Strength training refers to exercises that are designed to build strength and endurance by forcing your muscles to work against an opposing force or resistance. The resistance can come from weight machines, free weights, resistance bands or your own body weight, as with push-ups and squats. The good news is, you don’t need a gym membership to get in a good strength-training workout – many effective resistance exercises can be done at home.

Building stronger muscles provides a long list of health benefits for both men and women, including:

  • Lower risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes
  • Increased metabolism for more efficient calorie burning and weight control
  • Improved blood flow and reduced inflammation
  • Better balance and decreased risk of falls
  • More endurance for sports and daily activities
  • Improved mental wellness

Beneficial for Women of all Ages

Strength training for women provides unique benefits at every age and stage of life. “A supervised strength training program is highly beneficial for people of all ages,” says Allison Schroeder, MD, sports medicine specialist at University Hospitals. “Resistance exercises activate bone-forming cells, leading to stronger, denser bones. Bone density is a particularly important consideration for women given they are more prone to bone thinning and osteoporosis in their later years,” she adds.

Studies have shown an association between strength training and self-esteem in teen and tween girls aged 10-16 years. The physical strength that comes from resistance training often translates to more confidence and increased feelings of self-worth.

Childbearing Years & Pregnancy

Strength training during the childbearing years of a woman’s life can help prepare her body for a healthy pregnancy, labor and delivery. “During pregnancy, strength training can relieve feelings of fatigue and low energy and lessen the chance of a cesarean birth being necessary,” says Susan Lasch, MD, women’s health specialist at University Hospitals.

“A strong body and regular exercise will also lower the risk of pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and postpartum depression,” adds Dr. Lasch.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) agrees that strength training is safe for most women with low-risk pregnancies; however, pregnant women should always check with their doctor before beginning an exercise program.

Perimenopause, Menopause & Beyond

“Building and maintaining muscle is important for post and peri-menopausal women to combat the loss of muscle mass that often occurs with aging.” says Corinne Bazella, MD, OB/GYN with a special interest in menopause. “And given that muscle tissue is highly metabolically active, strength training may help prevent common metabolic diseases like diabetes and help prevent the weight gain commonly experienced in menopause.”

In addition to enhancing general quality of life, strength training in midlife women may offer the following benefits:

  • Reduced risk of age-related cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease
  • Improved joint and muscle pain management and physical functioning
  • Slows bone loss and prevents osteoporosis
  • Lowers risk of certain cancers
  • Increased range of motion and mobility
  • Improved balance and reduced risk of injury due to falls

Beginning a Strength Training Program

“If you are new to strength training, it is important to start slowly with an emphasis on proper technique to avoid injury,” says Dr. Lasch. “I advise women to start with body weight resistance exercises such as sit-ups and squats without using weights. After a few weeks, they can progress to using light weights or low-resistance bands.”

To build muscle strength, choose a weight that allows you to perform 8-15 reps for 1-3 sets while maintaining proper form. As you become stronger, you can gradually increase the weight and the number of reps and sets.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the goal for most women should be two 15-30 minute strength training sessions per week coupled with either 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise (running, swimming laps, aerobic dancing) or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week (brisk walking, biking, swimming, yardwork).

Regardless of your age, you should always check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.

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The sports medicine and women’s health experts at University Hospitals collaborate to provide women with the care they need to be strong and healthy at every age and stage of life.