In Girls, go lift! we uncovered and killed 7 common myths about weight lifting for girls. We still received a lot of questions from our community asking about what else lifting and resistance training will do for you – so I decided to write another post to get you convinced of getting started today.
Several recent studies focusing on the physiology and biomechanics of strength training have proven weight training as one of the ways to achieve the best results not only for our bodies – equally important, also our minds.
1. Enhance performance in endurance sports
A common misconception amongst athletes (luckily quite challenged by now) is that building muscle makes you bulk up, which in turn will slow you down.
The reality is that although you won’t need to do squats in the middle of your soccer game, being able to do so with heavy weights on your back will make you able to go at a higher intensity.
As resistance training increases the amount of muscle fibers in your muscles and enhances the communication between the motor neurons (the little guys that tell your muscles to contract) and your muscles, it doesn’t matter which sport you perform – you will perform it better if your muscles are in a better shape.
2. Preventing diabetes
Currently, an estimated 350 million people worldwide are suffering from diabetes, and the disease is on the rise. The World Health Organization is predicting that by 2030, diabetes will be the seventh leading cause of death.
Studies have shown that people that do resistance training have better blood sugar control than those who do not. The National Institutes of Health have found that men lifting weights for approximately 150 minutes per week (5x30min), have a 34% lower risk of becoming part of the diabetes patients. Add some regular cardio to this, and you’re on 59%.
This makes lots of sense:
When you build up muscle tissue, you increase the demand of the muscles for glucose. The muscles then pull glucose from the bloodstream, preventing your sugar levels from rising. This action helps in preventing diabetes.
3. Preventing cardiovascular disease
If you combine lifting weights with a healthy diet, you’ll be burning away the visceral fat as well as some of the fat that’s building up around the body’s organs. A high level of fat around the organs is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease (and also diabetes).
4. Prevent back pain
You’re probably already aware that sitting at a desk all day long can have consequences for your back. If you start resistance training, you will need to activate, contract and thereby strengthen your core muscles.
Now the core muscles support your spine, and as you work on them you will also naturally improve your posture, decrease the discomfort and do away with some of the damage.
Not all resistance exercises will help you with this, so make sure that if you’re aiming to lessen your back pain, you’re working mainly on your core muscles. Ideal exercises for this could be the plank, wall sits and certain weight lifting exercises (as long as they’re done right) depending on your back pain.
5. Improved blood pressure
Studies have shown that strength training can help decrease blood pressure. Specifically one study performed at Appalachian State University looked at what happens to arteries and blood flow after 45 min strength training. The result was a decrease of up to 20% in blood pressure. These effects persisted for approximately 30min after the end of a training session, but continued for as long as 24 hours with the people who trained regularly.
6. Fighting the Fat
As we covered in “Girls, go lift!”, lifting weights will increase the amount of muscle tissue in your body. As muscles need more energy for “daily maintenance”, this will help you fight the fat in your body.
An increased amount of fast twitch muscle fibers (also called type II muscle fibers, and they are the ones activated in anaerobic sessions of weight lifting) will improve your whole-body metabolism. This happens regardless of any change in diet, so if you eat pizza all day long but also make sure to lift weights regularly, your body will be in a better shape to fight the fat than if you had spent the time doing only cardio.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should just go ahead and eat pizza as long as you lift a couple of weights. Also, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do cardio!
7. Get balanced
Studies have shown that balance is a major reason why runners and other athletes suffer from strained ankles. It makes sense – if you’re running on an uneven terrain, your body is forced to change its center of gravity in order to compensate for the changes in the terrain. This is hard on the ancles and pose a risk of strained ancles – but that risk is decreased if your balance is improved.
8. Strong bones
One thing that we don’t think much about while we’re young is our bones, and with good sense. Few of us have any reason to think about this – but once we reach our 40’s, our muscle mass will start decreasing – what’s called Sarcopenia.
Sarcopenia is especially of concern for women because our bones are smaller to begin with, and they can weaken greatly with age.
Luckily, there’s a way to fight this. Just as you make your muscles adapt to the stress that weightlifting posese on them, so do your bones.
Studies have also shown that if you keep the brain active, the nervous system and your coordination sense up and running, you will prevent Saropenia – and weight lifting is a great way to do so.
Regardless of our age, increased muscle mass and bone mass will reduce the seriousness of any injury you may come across for instance from falling – the muscles around the bones and joints will “cushion” them in the fall.
9. Improve memory
Research from Georgia Institute of Technology has found that if you lift weights you don’t only strengthen your muscles, but also your brain.
Most of the previous research that’s been done has looked primarily towards the relationship between aerobic activity (walking, running, swimming, etc.) and memory. One such study found that aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, which is the brains center for memory, learning and emotion. According to Harvard Medical School, exercise also stimulates the release of chemicals in the brain that affects the brain cell’s health and promotes the growth of new vessels. It even helps to create new brain cells.
And now the research from Georgia Institute of Technology shows that a few sessions of weight lifting will give you the same benefits.
10. Boost cognitive performance
Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an investigator at the Brain Research Center at the University of British Columbia, has speculated in an article in the New York Times about how resistance training strengthens the heart. A stronger heart leads to improving blood flow to the brain, which in turn improves the cognitive function. Another thing she speculates about is that since you have to actively think about proper form and learning the technique when lifting, there can also be an upsurge in brain usage.
11. Build mental strength
You can translate physical strength into mental strength in a relative sense, so to speak. When you train with weights, you work on pushing yourself to the limits when your body is telling you to stop, and when your muscles start to burn and hurt. Getting yourself into such situations of high intensity is stressful, but we do have a choice – to stop, sit down and cry and go back to our comfort zone, or to push through and decide to go for the reward in the end. If you’re skilled at pushing through physically, this skill will also persist in other parts of your life.
12. Fight depression
There hasn’t been much research on the topic of how weight lifting can relieve the symptoms of depression – most of this research has been performed on cardiovascular exercises. However, a study by the Primary Care Companion in 2004 followed 40 women and found similar results with the people that were running as with the people that were lifting weights for two months.
Also, a study from Harvard has found that ten weeks of resistance training reduces clinical depression symptoms – and this more successfully than counseling.
13. Start Smiling
It’s been proven numerous times that strength training releases an increased amount of endorphins. Endorphines are basically little natural pieces of happiness-drugs (“opioid peptides”) that your brain produces by itself, and we like them – they make us feel great!
Just remember that endorphins don’t pop up after the first lift – you need to get to work to get those little friends out in your brain!
14. Just feel good
As simple as it sounds! Weight lifting is just an awesome way to get lean, toned and sexy. You’ll lose weight and improve your health overall with cardio, but without challenging your muscles you won’t get as well shaped a body.
And who doesn’t feel great about looking good?
If you're into resistance training, you should join our Facebook group Girls, Go Lift! where we share workouts & clean eating tips. See you there!