Pretty much everyone agrees that women will benefit from lifting weights. Weight training has gained in popularity in recent years, with more and more women crushing loads they’ve never seen before.
Still, the unfortunate reality is that it’s much less popular for women to be lifting HEAVY weights. We’re talking in the 1 to 6 rep range that gets you craaaaazzzyyyy strong. This is unfortunate because heavy lifting has INCREDIBLE and unique benefits that every woman should know about. Here are five of the best reasons that women should stop selling themselves short and start lifting a little heavier.
#1: Better body composition: Less body fat & stronger curves.
A lot of women start lifting weights as part of a plan to lose body fat. If they do it right, they use a German Body Comp-type program that uses moderately heavy weights in the 8- to 15-rep range.
Eventually, those workouts will feel easy and it’s necessary to change ‘em up to keep your body adapting. It’s time to lift heavy with lower rep ranges will radically increase your strength. The stronger you get, the easier time you’ll have continuing to transform your body with subsequent training.
Best of all is the fact that heavy lifting gives you muscle. No, you will not get that serious muscle of top female CrossFit competitors just because you start going super heavy—that takes years of intense training—but you will get the sleek sculpted curves that most women are dreaming about when they say they want to get “toned.”
Check out what you can get out of going super heavy and hardcore: A new study performed on active women found that when they periodized their workouts by switching from a GBC-type program with weights in the 65 to 80 percent of maximal range to heavy training for four weeks (88 to 93 percent of max), they reduced body fat by 1.3 percent and lost an average of 1 kg, while gaining about a half kilo of muscle.
#2: Mental relief & confidence.
One drawback to higher rep workouts like German Body Comp is that they can get a little boring and wear you down after a while. Actually, any workout can become a grind if you repeat it for too long. This is why periodization (or a planned variation in training to ensure your improvements never stagnate) is key.
Lifting heavy is a vital part of periodization and it has the added bonus of providing mental relief from the same killer workouts of higher reps and short rest periods. It can be a incredibly liberating (and a lot of fun) to have sets with only 2 or 4 reps in them.
Plus, you get the added bonus of setting PRs and challenging your limits on a daily basis. This can do a wonders for building confidence and self worth. A lot of women don’t realize that they have this wealth of strength and competitive drive within them that is just waiting to emerge. Once you tap into it, you will literally transform every aspect of your life for the better.
#3: Healthier heart, brain, hormones, and metabolism.
There’s mountains of evidence that training with weights positively impacts every single aspect of women’s health. It just so happens that lifting heavy has unique benefits for women’s physiology that you can’t get from lifting lighter loads.
Lifting heavy “protects” your body by causing metabolic and functional changes in your muscles and your brain that safeguard the body from injury, disease, and fat gain.
For instance, even though lifting to failure with lighter loads will trigger protein synthesis to the same degree as going really heavy, it won’t activate all regions of a muscle, which means you won’t get the same strength and performance gains.
Second, heavy lifting requires you to train with multi-joint lifts that use the whole body—deadlifts, squats, chin-ups and so on. You end up hitting muscles all over just by doing one exercise.
Finally, lifting heavy “turns on” protective genetic pathways that keep your heart healthy and your metabolism cranking. It also resets the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis that is easily dysregulated by chronic stress.
#4: Less stress and lower cortisol.
One reason that lifting heavy makes fat loss easier is that it improves hormone balance by taking the focus off of fat loss. You see, the process of fat loss is inherently stressful. Most people fixate on it, which increases their anxiety level and makes the body feel threatened.
Top it off with the need to use will power to control what you eat, and you’ll have a high stress situation, leading to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol.
It’s important to know that cortisol is a key player in fat loss because it is involved in the release of energy stores to be burned when blood sugar drops. But, optimal cortisol balance that helps you lose fat is like a wave: It should be elevated in the morning and then slowly recede over the course of the day. When you fixate on your body, use will power to restrict food, or train twice a day, cortisol stays elevated all day, impeding fat loss.
Lifting heavy relieves stress by shifting the focus to the numbers on the weight plates instead of on the scale. Plus, studies have shown that when people engage in activities that put them more in touch with their bodies, whether with yoga, mediation, or heavy training, they improve regulation of the HPA axis that governs hormone balance. Fat loss happens, but without all the struggle and deprivation that come with dieting and physique-focused training programs.
#5: Stronger bones & less risk of osteoporosis.
One of the hardest health aspects for women to improve is bone strength. Most people know that due to hormone changes that happen during menopause, women rapidly lose bone density and strength. But what you may not know is that bone loss starts in your 30s and lifting heavy is one of the only things that can truly reverse it.
For example, two case studies of older women who competed in power lifting (which means that at least 70 percent of training involved lifting near maximal loads) found that they had bone density scores well above average for young women who are considered to be at peak bone mineral density.
The scientists who did the study call the findings “vital,” noting that duration and training intensity are key to building bone. Training loads were consistently above the women’s bodyweight, and they trained reliably for over 30 years.
A side benefit of going super heavy is that you preferentially train your type 2 muscle fibers that increase muscle power and improve coordination. This makes you better able to catch yourself if you trip so that you avoid fracturing a bone.