Pick up something heavy; marvel at the fact that you were able to do it; put it down.
Now, do that again. And again. And—you’ll like it, I promise.
Strength training often gets a bad rap. It’s seen as repetitive and difficult. And, with lifts bearing names like “deadlifts” and “skull crushers,” it is understandable that weightlifting doesn’t come across as particularly fun or accessible. The results of strength training are often confused or overblown, too; I know that, in the past, I’ve avoided strength training because I didn’t want to have bulging biceps or incredibly cut thighs. Those just weren’t my goals—so why would I pick up a dumbbell or do a million squats?
Let’s focus on what strength training really is—and what research shows us a consistent strength training routine can give us.
The truth about strength training
First, let’s break down a few common misconceptions regarding strength training.
Lifting doesn’t always lead to a bulky physique
One fitness trainer noted that many women who came through her studio specifically asked to avoid strength training activities, despite the benefits. The reason? The women wanted to pursue a fit and toned look, not a bulky one.
Rest assured that even a moderate strength training routine won’t add an incredible amount of bulk. Testosterone, the hormone that generally regulates the bulking-up process, is present in greater amounts in men; as women, we’d have to put in a lot of work to achieve similar amounts of muscle growth. Strength training a few times a week will not add unwanted muscle mass.
You don’t need tons of expensive equipment
You might be disinclined to start a strength training program if you don’t have a membership to a gym. You probably don’t have space (or the budget!) for a lat pulldown machine in your home, so, perhaps it’s best if you choose another activity, right?
While some strength training moves are easier with machines or equipment, it’s very easy to begin with a few pieces of versatile fitness gear—or with nothing at all except your remarkably efficient self. Why?
Strength training doesn’t require insanely heavy weights
You can easily get started with at-home workouts that feature a single pair of dumbbells, common household objects, or even just your own body weight. (In fact, body weight workouts are probably a good place to start to help you learn good form.)
Here’s the good news: strength training is effective, wildly efficient, and easy to cater to your workout preferences (at-home, in-studio, in-pajamas, you name it).
Want to know more about exactly how effective it can be? Here’s what you need to know:
The benefits of consistent strength training
As it turns out, strength training promises several key benefits to those who make it a regular part of their fitness routine.
Okay, perhaps this one is obvious, but close your eyes, and think about what it would mean to be a little bit stronger in your day-to-day life: one trip from the car with groceries, for example, a little bit more stamina when it comes to getting chores done, or being able to lift a child into your arms with ease. You’ll be able to go about the active parts of your day with fewer worries, fewer injuries, and better participation.
Enhanced lean muscle to body fat ratios
On average, women who strength train two or three times a week for two months gain two pounds of muscle and lose 3-4 pounds of fat. This might not seem like a lot, but there are real benefits to increasing your lean muscle to fat ratio. For example, some kinds of body fat secrete excess hormones that can be detrimental to your body in the long run—and more lean muscle means that your metabolism will run quicker and more smoothly, giving you more energy to do the things you love.
Less risk of injury or pain
Let’s talk about what it means to “train” for a second: it implies that, by strength training, you’re readying your muscles for improved activity. When you strength train, you’re building up your muscles—and you’re also increasing your body’s connective tissues, reinforcing your joints, and creating more stability in your body. This can help you avoid joint or back pain in the future, and could even stave off degenerative diseases down the road (for example, arthritis).
Improved heart health
We all know that cardio is good for our hearts (after all, it’s there in the name), but recent studies are showing that strength training can be just as effective. In 2018, the American College of Cardiology released a study in which they looked at exercise data from 4,000 study participants over the course of a year. The result? The researchers found that strength training was more strongly associated with reducing cardiovascular disease risks than cycling or walking. A 2019 study found that the investment-to-reward ratio doesn’t even have to be that impressive: in the study, people who did one hour of strength training per week had a 40 to 70 percent lower risk of stroke or heart attack.
Ultimately, I’ve found that strength training takes less time for me to get the results that I want than, say, a running habit might; and it does so with fewer side effects and more added benefits. As a busy person who’d rather work out for twenty minutes than forty-five, I’ve found that this practice delivers what I need—even though it felt inaccessible before I began.
How to get started with a simple strength training routine
Prioritize consistency, start small, and think outside the box. Many associate strength training with endless bicep curls or dangerous-looking machinery. If this seems like a lot to handle, consider starting with at-home body-weight exercises.
These graceful exercises generally don’t require anything to get started—but that doesn’t mean you won’t see serious results (or feel sore the next day). I swear by this free isolate training series from Blogilates on YouTube.
Use household items for ad hoc training
Door frames, chairs, soup cans, and stairs: if you don’t feel like investing in dumbbells or kettlebells, you don’t need to. Grab a jug of milk, and you’ll have all you need to score your strength-training benefits. (Just be sure to watch an instructional video or two before you begin—lifting with poor form can do much more harm than good.)
Invest in a few versatile pieces of equipment if it makes sense for you
If you’ve established a strength training habit and want to up-level your effort to see some more results, go for it! Good pieces to look out for include an exercise or yoga mat, a few small iterations of dumbbells (I have 5, 10, and 15-lb versions, and I’ll never have to buy anything else), and perhaps a resistance band or two, if that’s more your style.
Explore new things
If you strength train for a few weeks and find out that you and your body love it, research new ways to grow in your practice. Two great sources for further information I love are the Female Training Bible (don’t be intimidated by the name or site; it includes a ton of great suggestions!) as well as Erika Volk’s work (she’s a women’s health personal trainer who focuses on keeping female hormones happy during strength training).
Strength training isn’t for everyone—but it may be worth investigating. It can be easy, accessible, and even fun and (quite literally) empowering. Find a rhythm and routine that works for you, be sure to start small and stay safe, and see whether strength training provides worth-it results for you!