If you’re not lifting weights, you’re leaving years of your life on the table.
Years you could spend having fun with your kids and their kids. Extend your independence, rather than in assisted living. Years you could live injury-free. Years you could spend doing all the things you love.
Benefits of Lifting Weights
There are too many to list. You get stronger, leaner. Walk taller. Shine. You have more self-assurance. You inspire others to do the same.
But in a strictly physical sense, weight lifting:
- burns more calories during and after a workout than cardio
- accelerates fat-loss
- can significantly reduce workout time
- helps prevent injury
- strengthens bones and has even been shown to reverse osteoporosis
- revs up metabolism
- improves athletic performance
- improves mental health and acuity
- can help reduce anxiety and depression
- improves heart health, insulin sensitivity, and blood lipid profiles
- helps you sleep better
Fact vs Fiction
You’ll bulk up and look like a man!
Good luck. The bodybuilders that look like that spend THOUSANDS of hours in the gym, eat a super-specific diet, and often take a host of supplements (which can include testosterone). In short – you have to work extraordinarily hard to look like that. And yes, there are many women who are into bodybuilding too — but it’s an entirely separate and specific discipline.
Strength training isn’t safe for older women
Wrong again. Strength training has been proven to increase bone density and prevent fractures in post-menopausal women. Lifting weights allows us to keep doing all the activities we love – hiking, walking the dog, running after the grandbabies — or just stay self-sufficient. And if you’re nowhere near menopause yet, great! Start strength training now and you’ll be that much ahead of the game when the time comes.
You’ll have to eat tons more protein
Nope. Strength training does not require you to consume ungodly amounts of meat or fish or buy a protein powder subscription. That said, protein IS important and most of us don’t eat enough. Aim for a balanced diet that includes lean protein, healthy fats, fruits and veggies at every meal.
Building Strength, Building Confidence
As a coach, I’ve seen women blossom as a result of strength training. Feeling stronger, more capable, more self-sufficient — it’s incredibly empowering. I’ve seen paddlers aged 30 to 80 all improve their speed and endurance on the water, simply because they’ve added weight training to their routines. Runners run faster. My own mom, who is in her mid-70s, benefit immensely. Physically, she’s stronger, slowing osteoporosis, maintaining range of motion and flexibility. Emotionally, she’s self-assured and shining.
Where to Begin?
If you’re completely new to strength training, it’s critical to learn proper technique — from a professional. Poor form not only prevents you from activating the correct muscle group(s) but can also put you at risk for injury.
With COVID, many personal trainers have transitioned to serving clients online. The upside of this is that you can get 1-on-1 instruction without ever having to leave your home. The downside is that you have to create a home gym. (Some might consider that an upside actually!) But, it doesn’t have to be complicated — all you need to get started is a few sets of dumbbells.
I recommend starting with the following sets of dumbbell pairs: 2 lbs, 5 lbs, 8 lbs, and 15 lbs. As you get stronger, or want a greater challenge, you can buy heavier dumbbells. Once you master basic moves, you can also add bars, bands, and kettlebells.
Can you learn how to lift without a personal trainer?
Sure — there are thousands of videos online. But you have to know what you’re looking for to be able to separate the good from the bad.
You also won’t get any feedback. Technique is key to staying safe and injury-free — especially when you start to lift heavier weights.
And, you won’t get a program aligned with your specific needs or goals. A good personal trainer will first assess your mobility and stability, then design a training program that aligns with your goals and capabilities plus takes into consideration any limitations or old injuries you might have.
What about classes?
When it’s safe to gather in groups again, classes are a great way to test the waters, and see what type of strength training you like. From CrossFit classes to Les Mills and everything in between, there are literally thousands to choose from. BUT, if you’re a complete lifting newbie, choose a class that offers an introduction to the exercises, 1-on-1 guidance, or access to the instructor.
A BODYPUMP class, for example, incorporates several advanced lifts in its choreography, but the instructors don’t have time to give personalized instruction. If you’re looking to try one of these classes (and they’re a lot of sweaty, challenging fun!) I highly recommend learning basic lifts first. Moves such as bent-over and dead rows, deadlifts, overhead presses, upright rows, chest presses, and the clean-and-press. If you don’t know what these lifts are, or how to perform them safely, you could be setting yourself up for frustration and injury.
Lifting heavy vs. light
To build muscle, it’s important to work it to a point of fatigue. Whether you do that with a light weight and go for 25 reps, or a heavier one and only 6 or 7 reps is up to you. It’s pushing the muscle to that exhaustion point that matters. But note that “fatigue” still means you have to maintain proper form. For example, if you’re doing bicep curls, you want the last two reps to feel difficult — but you should still be able to do the movement without swinging your hips, curling your back, or shrugging your shoulders. If you can’t, it’s time to stop.
Best strength movements for beginners
Master these movements and you’ll have a fantastic foundation upon which to build. Many are probably familiar, but take the time to make sure you are doing them properly — most people don’t!
- Deadlifts — the deadlift improves core strength, core stability, and posture. It works muscles in the legs, lower back, and core.
- Pushups and Presses — these build upper body strength and increase functional strength, work and protect the shoulders from injury, and engage the pectorals, triceps, back and core.
- Squats — the squat is perhaps the single most important move to master. It works the entire body, strengthens legs and joints, burns fat, and helps you stay mobile and active as you age.
- Lunges — these strengthen and shape the legs, work the core, plus improve posture and range of motion.
- Bent-Over Rows – this row develops back strength and stability, challenges the core, and is the foundation for several more complex lifts.
A note about clothing and shoes
- Fitted, wicking workout wear is best. You don’t want anything loose and flowy that can impede your movement or get caught on equipment.
- Bare feet, flat-soled sneakers, or specialized lifting shoes are all good choices. Running shoes and cross-trainers tend to have more padding at the heel, which will put your body in the wrong position for most lifts.
Liisa Reimann is a Certified Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Specialist, TRX Instructor, and Dragon Boat Coach. She specializes in helping women in watersports get their gold-medal moments, without the soul-crushing misery of restrictive diets and excessive training, by teaching them her proven 3-point PowerUp method that’s simple, sustainable, and fun. To learn more, join her free Facebook community, facebook.com/groups/fit2paddle, or find her on Instagram at @fit2paddle.