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Weights for Women

February 02, 2020

Weights For Women

by our Sports Scientist Stephen Morehen

According to research from YouGov, the most common new year’s resolution for us Brits is to exercise more / improve our fitness. In a sample of over 2000 people, 39% of men had this resolution and a massive 54% of women echoed this goal heading into the new decade. In light of this, I have enlisted the help of PhD candidate, sports nutrition lecturer and all-round fitness enthusiast, Nura Alwan to give some pointers for women when it comes to weight training.

Why should I be lifting weights as part of my fitness regime?
It might seem obvious, but research has shown that a 12-week strength training program improved measures of fat-free mass and strength in a cohort of 20 women [1]. Notably, these women were aged 19-44 and were untrained, i.e. not involved in any training prior to the study. If you’re already active but looking to increase your strength training, there is also research which shows how strength training can increase lean tissue mass in young active women [2]. And finally, research also shows how an 8-week resistance training program elicited increases in maximal strength in aspiring female physique athletes [3]. These studies are pertinent as they show that anybody can benefit from strength training, if it’s the first time you’re picking up a dumbbell or even if you’ve been training for some time!

What about the mental side of things?
Aside from the plethora of physical benefits that come in tandem with weight training, there’s a whole heap of mental ones! The following benefits are all evidenced by peer-reviewed research studies which, if you’d like to read in more detail, can be found in the reference list at the end of the article. Weight training has been shown to reduce symptoms

  • Anxiety [4]
  • Depression [5]
  • Low self-esteem [5]
  • Poor cognitive function [6]

If you’re starting weight training for the first time, try and incorporate it into your fitness regime 3 days a week, ensuring adequate rest between sessions to allow your muscles to recover from stimuli which they may not yet be accustomed to. In our next blog we will be looking at compound vs isolated exercises and how they test our bodies in different ways and the benefits of both training methods – you can then make an informed decision about which training method is most relevant for you based on what you’d like to achieve. For women, it is also worth considering your menstrual cycle when planning workouts. Research has shown that increasing levels of oestrogen during ovulation elicits an increase
in knee laxity (looseness) and this can lead to an increased risk of ACL (knee ligament) injuries [7,8]. For this reason, it may be worth avoiding dynamic lower-body work during ovulation – however research is still ongoing on these factors.

Starting out on your strength training journey is always the hardest part, so well done if you’ve taken those first steps. If you haven’t then hopefully the benefits that we’ve covered in this article will encourage you to do so!
A big thanks to Nura Alwan for helping out on this post, if you’re interested in reading her research about female physique athletes, you can find it here.

1 – CULLINEN, K. and CALDWELL, M., 1998. Weight training increases fat-free mass and strength
in untrained young women. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 98(4), pp. 414-418.
2 – CHILIBECK, P.D., CALDER, A., SALE, D.G. and WEBBER, C.E., 1996. Twenty weeks of weight training increases lean tissue mass but not bone mineral mass or density in healthy, active young women. Canadian journal of physiology and pharmacology, 74(10), pp. 1180-1185.
3 – CAMPBELL, B.I., AGUILAR, D., CONLIN, L., VARGAS, A., SCHOENFELD, B.J., CORSON, A., GAI, C., BEST, S., GALVAN, E. and COUVILLION, K., 2018. Effects of High Versus Low Protein Intake on Body Composition and Maximal Strength in Aspiring Female Physique Athletes Engaging in an 8-Week Resistance Training Program. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise
Metabolism, 28(6), pp. 580-585.
2018. Association of Efficacy of Resistance Exercise Training With Depressive Symptoms: Meta-analysis and Meta-regression Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. JAMA psychiatry, 75(6), pp. 566-576.
5 – O'CONNOR, P.J., HERRING, M.P. and CARAVALHO, A., 2010. Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training in Adults. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 4(5), pp. 377-396.
6 – FIATARONE SINGH, M.A., GATES, N., SAIGAL, N., WILSON, G.C., MEIKLEJOHN, J., BRODATY, H., WEN, W., SINGH, N., BAUNE, B.T., SUO, C., BAKER, M.K., FOROUGHI, N., WANG, Y., SACHDEV, P.S. and VALENZUELA, M., 2014. The Study of Mental and Resistance Training (SMART) Study—Resistance Training and/or Cognitive Training in Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Double-Sham Controlled Trial. Journal of the American Medical
Directors Association, 15(12), pp. 873-880.
Changing hormone levels during the menstrual cycle affect knee laxity and stiffness in healthy female subjects. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 37(3), pp. 588-598.
8 – MCSHANE, J.M., BALSBAUGH, T., SIMPSON, Z., DIAMOND, J.J., BRYAN, S.T. and VELEZ, J., 2000. Association between the menstrual cycle and anterior cruciate ligament injuries in female athletes. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 28(1), pp. 131.

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