There’s a noticeable barrier between the gym’s weight room and the cardio section. The benches and racks ordinarily overflow with bulky men posturing in front of mirrors. In contrast, greater numbers of women occupy the ellipticals and treadmills.
You’re not alone if you’re interested in strength training but are unsure of where to start or are intimidated at the gym. Keep reading to learn more about gender discrepancy in the weight room and the benefits of weight lifting.
Benefits of Weight Training for Women
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends all healthy adults aged 18–65 complete 20 minutes of aerobic activity three days per week. ACSM further recommends two days of resistance exercises per week. That said, there’s still a gender gap in the weight room.
According to a 2020 study, a lack of equipment knowledge, the presence of men, and feelings of self-consciousness were the most common reasons women avoided strength and resistance exercises.
A survey conducted by Sure Women found that one-in-four women feel intimidated at the gym. And 50 percent of respondents also said they’d felt negatively judged while working out.
Strength training provides physical and mental benefits for both men and women. According to NASM-certified personal trainer Lauren Kanski, there are no “sex-specific” moves for exercising. Muscles aren’t male or female; they all function and look the same.
Let’s explore the benefits women can gain from improving their strength.
Improving your strength and muscle mass is one way to a happier and healthier life. For example, gaining strength allows you to perform daily tasks efficiently (e.g., carrying heavy groceries, running errands, etc.).
Strength training can be therapeutic and lessen depression symptoms. According to one 2018 study, resistance exercise “significantly reduced depressive symptoms” among research participants. What’s more? Studies show resistance exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety, too.
Exercise generally produces mood-boosting neurotransmitters, including dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin.
Increases Joint Stability
In addition to building stronger muscles, strength training works to build connective tissues, increasing joint stability. Strength training can also fix muscular imbalances (e.g., having a stronger core, hamstrings, and glutes gives your lower back a break during lifting).
Improves Heart Health
Studies show that lifting weights regularly decreases blood pressure, lowers your “bad” cholesterol, and improves blood circulation. Resistance exercises can also help you maintain healthy blood sugar levels — consistently high blood sugar levels can lead to heart disease.
Lower-Body Weight Lifting Routines for Women
- Unweighted squat: To do an unweighted squat, sometimes referred to as a “body-weight squat,” tighten your abdominal muscles, inhale, and bend your hips and knees as though you’re going to sit down. Keep your knees aligned with your feet as you lower yourself. Once your thighs are parallel with the floor, stop. Exhale as you push yourself back into your starting position.
- Donkey kick: As the name of this exercise suggests, you’ll need to be on all fours. Once you’re down there, brace your core and raise one leg behind you as high as it will comfortably go (like you’re “kicking” the air). Bring your leg down slowly; repeat with your other leg.
- Walking lunge: Stand up with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step forward with your right leg. Bend your right knee and lower yourself, so that your knee is parallel to the floor and hold that position. Then, without moving your right leg, move your left foot forward and repeat the exercise using your left leg.
Photo: Vadym Drobot via 123RF
Upper-Body Weight Lifting Routines for Women
- Incline pushups: Place your hands on the edge of a table (or another sturdy and stable service); hold your torso at arm’s length with your toes on the floor. Your body should be at a slant, and you should be putting your weight on your toes. Lower yourself until your chest touches the table. Then, slowly push your upper body back up to the starting position.
- Side plank: Get into the plank position and turn your body to the left ( your right hand will bear your weight). Reach your left arm toward the ceiling and stack your left foot on top of your right foot. Pull your waist up and away from the ground. Come back to the plank position and repeat the exercise on the right side.
- Tricep dips: Tricep dips are great for the backs of your arms. Start seated and place your palms down with your fingers facing your feet. Push down and come up onto your feet. so your knees are bent, and your butt lifts above the ground. Bend your elbows to lower your butt to tap the ground, hold, and repeat.
It’s never too late to start strength training. If you’re worried or feel self-conscious about being one of the only women in the weight room, work out at home, or go to the gym with a friend. If you need extra motivation to get up and get going, just think about the benefits mentioned above.