Strength training is important for keeping your muscles strong. In addition, strengthening the major muscle groups in your body puts stress on your bones and thus helps to keep them strong. When your muscles and bones are strong you can move with less effort and greater enjoyment in all your activities. And, the more lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn — even when you are resting. Many women don’t strength-train because they are afraid of adding bulk. I can tell you that this doesn’t happen when you lift weights unless you’re taking metabolic steroids! You would have to lift extremely heavy weights and eat enormous amounts to gain bulk. In fact, Miriam Nelson, PhD, an associate professor at Tufts, whose study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that postmenopausal women were able to reduce body fat, increase muscle mass and bone density, and improve balance by lifting moderately heavy weights regularly. Nelson1
I lift weights three times per week. Using graduated dumbbells between 2 and 20 pounds, you can tone your arms, legs, shoulders, chest and back muscles easily by doing a few sets of biceps curls, overhead presses, bent rows, flat rows, triceps kickbacks, chest presses and flys. You don’t need to push yourself extremely hard. Try breathing deeply and you will gradually be able to increase the amount of weight you can lift.
But before you increase the weight you lift, it’s important to learn how to lift weight correctly, using the proper form. For the basics, I like Miriam Nelson’s book, Strong Women Stay Young. I also like The Firm videos. You can buy dumbbells just about anywhere. For strengthening your abdominal muscles and stretching your back, I like fitness balls. I use one of these all the time to keep my back flexible and for core stabilization during push-ups and triceps exercises. If you are going to start a weight lifting program, here are a few tips:
- Set a goal. Like anything else, if you have a goal to work toward you will see results sooner. For example, if your goal is to tone your arms, then you will focus on those exercises that will help you accomplish this. If you use a trainer, tell him or her what your goals for fitness are.
- Learn proper form and technique. The mirrors at the gym are there for more than just admiring your new-found muscles. They are actually there to help you keep proper form so that you don’t get injured while lifting. Learn the proper form from a trainer or video. When you can, try to lift in front of a mirror to watch your form until you are comfortable with the exercises.
- Vary your routine. Repeating the same exercises over and over will cause your muscles to adapt and you will begin to see less benefit the longer you do them. You will also get bored and perhaps even injured. So, mix it up. Learn different ways to work the same muscles and vary your routine every four to six weeks.
- Don’t rush. Contract you muscles slowly when lifting, allowing at least two seconds for the contraction and three to four seconds to release it. Using slow, controlled motions will help maximize your strength gain because you really have to use the muscle and not depend on momentum to swing the weight through the motion.
- Work opposite muscle groups for balance. A trainer or a good video can help you learn what opposing muscle groups to work together, such as working the muscles in the chest and back together, or doing biceps and triceps curls together. Try to pay particular attention to your upper back and shoulders, as this will help prevent posture problems. Also try to strengthen any muscles that support injured ligaments or joints. For example, if you have a weak knee due to a torn ligament or osteoarthritis, try to work on strengthening your hamstring muscles.
- Find a work-out partner. Sometimes having someone to work out with can help keep you on track. When it comes to weight lifting, it’s nice to have someone spot you to help you with your form or to encourage you to do one more rep.
Learn More — Additional Resources
- Strong Women Stay Young by Miriam E Nelson, Ph.D.
- Nelson, M. E., Fiatarone, M. A., Morganti, C. M., Trice, I., Greenberg, R.A., & Evans, W.J. (1994). Effects of high-intensity strength training on multiple risk factors for osteoporotic fractures. A randomized controlled trial. JAMA, 272 (24), 1909â€“1914.