The vast majority of American women are missing out on the myriad health benefits of weight training, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the report, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, just 24.5 percent of women met the guidelines for muscle-strengthening activities, as outlined in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. These exercises include moves such as the bench press, shoulder fly or leg raise and are done using body weight or additional equipment such as dumbbells.
A steady flow of studies confirms that weight training can help develop strong bones, control weight, boost stamina, manage chronic conditions such as arthritis and heart disease, and sharpen your focus, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, additional research highlights the unique benefits of these exercises for women—no matter their age.
For younger women, strength training can foster the development of greater peak bone mass and help tone the body. In post-menopausal women, these exercises can slow bone loss, delay the risk of fracture, reduce body fat, increase muscle mass and improve balance. For the elderly, benefits can include fewer falls thanks to increased strength and balance, the potential for increasing bone mass in certain areas, and improved cognitive function, associative memory performance and functional brain plasticity.
To reap the benefits of strength training, you need to do it on a regular basis, says Anna Wood, a personal trainer at the New York Health and Racquet Club in New York City. Wood specializes in women’s weight training and works with a variety of clients to help them learn proper technique and reach their health and fitness goals. Her newest program, 7:7:5, teaches women how to have a great workout that goes beyond cardio machines.
“Women should do resistance training a minimum of twice a week to feel results and three times a week to see results,” she says. “It’s best to work with a personal trainer at least the first few times you work with weights to learn the exercises with proper form.”
Wood suggests using a weight that is somewhat challenging, but which still allows you to do eight to 12 repetitions of any exercise for two to three sets with no more than a minute of rest between.
In the following slideshow, Wood demonstrates simple exercises that focus on the legs, glutes, shoulders, back and waistline—the muscle groups and target areas that help outline a women’s figure. Through these moves, you can shape and tone your body while also reaping the general health benefits of weight training.