- Strength training has countless benefits and is important for women.
- Celebrity trainer Luke Worthington shared three of the biggest with Insider.
- Resistance training can be strengthening, help with fat loss and reduce osteoporosis risk.
Strength training is hugely beneficial for people of all ages, but historically it has been seen as the preserve of men.
Data suggests that is gradually changing, with more and more women trying resistance training for both mental and physical health benefits.
UK-based personal trainer Luke Worthington is a vocal advocate for women lifting weights, having trained high-profile women including Dakota Johnson, Winnie Harlow, Jodie Comer and Naomi Campbell.
The qualified sports scientist, nutritionist and strength and conditioning specialist has over 20 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry, and on January 9 is launching a strength training app called 3×52. It is designed with women in mind and based on his unique “3 x 52” philosophy.
Worthington told Insider that 85% of his clients over the past 10 years have been women, and they’ve all responded to strength training “very quickly and have found it very empowering.”
“It’s not that cardio isn’t worth it,” added personal trainer Anna Victoria. “Cardio has an important place in a balanced exercise routine, especially when it comes to our overall health, but there are benefits unique to strength training from which women in particular can significantly improve their performance and quality of life.”
If you’re still on the fence about adding resistance to your workouts—be it with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, or bodyweight alone—Worthington shared some of the top reasons women should strength train, from reducing the risk of osteoporosis to losing fat.
1. Being strong makes daily tasks easier
Just being stronger makes life easier, Worthington said.
When you’re stronger, everyday tasks become easier, whether it’s carrying a suitcase up a flight of stairs, picking up a child or moving house, both experts said.
“The transfer to the daily tasks, being able to do things you couldn’t do before and feeling more empowered in that is the key,” Worthington said.
Strength will also make any other activity easier, whether it’s running, tennis or ballet, and will reduce the risk of injury from anything else you might be doing, Worthington said.
Consistent weightlifting can help people feel strong and capable both in and out of the gym, Victoria said.
In addition to increased self-confidence, strength training can improve mental health. For example, a May 2018 study in JAMA Psychiatry found that weight lifting reduced the frequency and severity of depressive symptoms and anxiety.
2. Resistance training strengthens bones
Strength training can improve bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, which is especially important as you get older and especially for women who start losing more bone earlier than men, according to research.
Because of this, women are four times more likely than men to have osteoporosis and twice as likely to fracture a bone as they age, according to a July 2011 study in Clinical Orthopedics and Related Research.
“When you contract and expand a muscle while lifting weights, it puts stress on the tendons that connect it to the bone,” Victoria said. “The bone responds to this tension by getting stronger. And increasing the load over time only makes them stronger (just like muscles), this is called Wolff’s law.”
Not only can strength training delay the onset of osteoporosis, but it can also reverse it, and it’s never too late to start, Worthington said.
He trains a 62-year-old woman who actually healed a hole in her pelvis, and this has been directly attributed to regular strength work. “She’s stronger than she’s ever been,” Worthington said.
3. Strength training helps to create a slim, “toned” physique
The concept of toning muscle is a myth, but creating the look many people describe as “toned” means building some muscle and having low enough body fat to show it, and strength training is essential for this.
If you’ve already built muscle, strength training can help you maintain it, while losing fat by eating in a calorie deficit can reveal muscle definition. If you haven’t built muscle yet, strength training — while eating enough — is the way to do it, Worthington said.
Strength training to build muscle can also help change your body composition, or muscle-to-fat ratio, by increasing your resting metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories at rest, which helps you lose fat, Victoria said . A June 2015 study in the Journal of Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport found that strength training increased participants’ resting metabolic rate after exercise, compared to steady-state cardio.
If you’re in a caloric deficit to lose weight but don’t do resistance training, you’ll lose both muscle and fat, meaning that while you may lose weight, you’ll probably end up with what’s known as a “skinny fat” physique, Worthington said. To keep the muscle, you have to repeatedly use it in strength training, he said.
“Although cardio can also help reduce body fat, if you compare them minute by minute, strength training has a greater effect on age-related belly fat than cardio does,” Victoria said, citing a December 2014 study in the journal Obesity.