October 18, 2015
Last week I spent seven glorious days leading a fitness retreat in Nicaragua. There were 18 women in total and we spent our days sweating together, chatting mindset and enjoying the Nicaraguan culture.
The topic of strength came up over and over on our retreat. We talked about inner strength, outer strength and even being grateful for the crappy stuff we go through that leads to deeper strength.
I heard it loud and clear. Strength is important to the women in my life.
The challenge is that as women we receive a lot of conflicting messages when it comes to being strong. We value our resolve and we also enjoy being physically strong, but we're told lifting heavy isn't feminine.
The point is that I believe working on physical strength goes hand in hand with creating inner strength, and personal resolve is the most life changing trait we can attain.
So this is about our minds and also about our bodies.
In the circles I engage in this topic is not something we talk about regularly. We've moved beyond the inaccurate fears that lifting heavy somehow makes us less feminine (we define our femininity and it's about more than body parts). We love our muscles and we work hard to get them, because lifting heavy does not ensure we grow huge biceps (I wish that weren't the case). Genetics plays the biggest role here. Just like doing bodyweight leg lifts will not create lean legs, lifting heavy does not have the same results for every woman. Strength looks different on everyone.
How many hours we spend in the gym, how much we're willing to prep and eat, and the style of lifting you follow will greatly dictate the amount of muscle mass we have.
I think it comes down to this: I lift weights for my health, for enjoyment, for physical results, to gain muscle mass and for empowerment.
Lifting weights heavier than 10lbs has a multitude of benefits, and if you are one of the women with a genetic predisposition to gaining muscle easier than others, let's celebrate it! The benefits greatly outweigh any misguided fears perpetuated by the pop culture industry that lack scientific support and represent the body types of less than 1% of all women.
I've picked my top 10 reasons why women need to be lifting more than 10lbs while completing our sweat sessions each week. Women are strong and capable and it's about time we start owning that in the gym too.
1. Bone Density
According to the Centre for Musculoskeletal Research in Queensland, Australia two thirds of women will experience an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetimes. We know that regular strength training with weights that bring us to muscular fatigue can prevent osteoporosis. New research shows that bone density can improve in women with existing osteoporosis when they begin lifting regularly, doing compound exercises like rows, presses, squats and deadlifts.
Seriously, can we smarten up? Lifting more than 10lbs is important for our long term health.
2. Exercise, especially lifting weights is empowering.
I think all exercise is empowering to a degree. Exercise that has us focusing on self care, physical ability and improving strength is extremely empowering. Exercise that has us trying to be skinnier, smaller, changing specific body parts and to fit into an unrealistic ideal perpetuated by 1% of the population is limiting, not uplifting.
3. Functional Strength
Functional strength refers to our ability to complete the activities of our daily life. Things like picking up children, carrying groceries up flights of stairs, chopping wood and moving furniture are all examples of functions our body requires us to do.
Do you have children or furniture that weigh less than 10lbs?
That’s what I thought. Training in the gym is training for real life.
4. Leading by example.
There is a dichotomy when it comes to women and the physical activities we participate in. We say we want to be strong, but are fearful of gaining muscle mass. We say we want to look feminine (whatever that ‘looks’ like) and also to be ripped. We are encouraged to be demure and also driven.
My fellow lifting buddy Emily and I practicing yoga after our strength class in Nicaragua.
I say enough already. Let’s lead by example. We cannot get strong physically by lifting weights under 10lbs. Yes, strength training is a metaphor for life so get out there and pick up the next set of weights on the rack, you never know who you’ll inspire. It took only one woman to see me lifting out there on the weight floor with all the men and say ‘I want to do that too’ for me to believe I could start a business sharing my joy of lifting with other women.
5. Improved self-belief.
The number of women I’ve worked with who have taken on lifting and let their new found strength permeate other areas of their lives is in the triple digits. These women have found better relationships, had the guts to have tough conversations, have stood up for themselves and created the careers of their dreams.
Physical strength begets mental strength.
6. Improved Insulin Sensitivity
This is a lesser talked about benefit of regular resistance training, as research in this area has only exploded in the last decade. Insulin is a hormone created by our pancreas, and its’ job is to take sugar from our blood stream and store it in our cells.
When we are not insulin sensitive, we can be on the spectrum of insulin resistance which is created when our body needs to release more insulin to do the same job as someone who is more sensitive to insulin. The extreme outcome of insulin resistance is called Type 2 diabetes.
Lifting weights regularly helps us to become more insulin sensitive. Studies are showing that strength training can help improve insulin sensitivity in those with Type 2 diabetes more than cardiovascular exercise alone.
This is the most superficial point I’ll make on this list. I like having muscles. They are part of my healthy, and yes, feminine body. The other nine points on this list highlight the health and mindset benefits of lifting, but having muscles is important to me, and to get them you have got to lift more than 10lbs!
This photo was taken when I was probably the most muscular I’ve ever been. I was training regularly, lifting very heavy and I love this picture.
8. Healthy metabolism
Muscles are some of our most metabolically active tissues. They require calories for energy to create movement and this means they rev up our metabolic rate significantly.
More muscle = a healthier metabolism. Using weight training as a means to gain muscle mass helps us to be more effective fat burners and to create a metabolism that can be strong for years and years.
9. Injury Prevention
When it comes to preventing injury, muscle mass can help us a great deal. Let's take running as an example. I have all my clients who are running medium to long distance races incorporate regular strength training twice a week. We do compound exercises like lunges, squats and deadlifts. Running places a great deal of stress on our musculoskeletal system, and we need the strength and muscle mass to absorb the impact we experience each time our foot hits the pavement. When it comes to training for your next event, rather than loading up your schedule with long runs, tempo runs and hill intervals, add more strength training and reap the benefits in the injury prevention department.
Another reason why lifting weights with proper form and control prevents injury is due to our muscles being able to control our range of motion. Flexibility is important and healthy as long as we have the strength to control our range. Challenging our muscles with resistance helps to develop muscle that controls our range of motion in yoga class, while playing softball and while chasing after the kids.
10. Grip Strength
If you’ve ever added strength training to your weekly exercise schedule, you’ve likely felt the burning fatigue that goes along with taxing your grip. Even when working on a lower body exercise like lunges, holding dumbbells in your hands improves our grip strength.
Grip strength is one of the biggest predictors of how long we will maintain our functional independence. Opening doors, being able to pull ourselves up from a seated position and opening jars are all possible when we have a strong grip.
Lifting weights over 10lbs greatly improve our grip strength.
"You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have."
I hope this list has helped you to come to some conclusions about strength, lifting weights and the ironic messages that many of us women hear.
After thinking ahead to some questions that may come up, I want to address this:
Can we get some of the above benefits by lifting less than 10lbs?
For some of the points it's possible, but will take much longer, and for others, the answer is no. Many women will not see muscle definition without lifting heavier weights. Of course there are injuries and travel plans that take us away from strength training, but misguided fear is another reason altogether.
Get on out there and get lifting!