One of the most common phrases personal trainers hear from new female clients is that they don't want to "bulk up" with weights and fear one lifting session will transform their bodies into manly hulks. The truth is, weightlifting is a great way for women to exercise for both health and vanity.
Women of all ages and with almost any fitness goal can benefit from incorporating weightlifting into their workout regimen. There are aerobic, fat-burning and cardiac benefits to weight training, and it has proved to be a key weapon in the fight against osteoporosis, a condition in which bones lose density and, over time, become hollow and brittle. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 34 million Americans will be affected by osteoporosis this year at an estimated cost of $17 billion, and those numbers are expected to climb as Americans age. Among the injuries related to osteoporosis are fractured hips and broken spinal vertebrae. One in every two women and one in every four men will suffer fractured vertebrae as they age, according to the NIH. These injuries can lead to stooped or humped posture and may significantly reduce mobility.
There is hope. "Bone is every bit as dynamic as other tissues," says Dr. Karl Insogna, director of the Bone Center at Yale University Medical School. "It responds to the pull of muscles and gravity, repairs itself and constantly renews itself."
Weightlifting and other weight-bearing exercises can significantly impact bone health. The American Society for Bone and Mineral Research studied the bone density of athletes, particularly weightlifters and gymnasts, versus nonathletes and found the bones of athletes were 13 percent more dense.
In addition to improving bone density and strength, weightlifting can make your overall health, posture and balance better. The certified personal trainers at East Jefferson General Hospital's Wellness Center have devised the following simple routines to help women gain the full benefits of weightlifting. They will help build bone density, burn fat and improve cardiac health, and they focus on areas many women want to enhance: shoulders, arms, thighs and buttocks. They are designed to be performed at home or at the gym, alone or with a friend.
Chest Press — Tones and tightens the chest and the back of the arms. Using dumbbells, with one weight in each hand, lie down on the floor, a bench or on a ball. With your elbows out, hold the dumbbells over your armpits. In a smooth motion, lift the dumbbells straight up until your arms are extended. Smoothly bring your arms back down to the start position, completing one repetition. Do three sets of 15 repetitions with a 60-second break between sets.
Overhead Tricep Extensions — Tones and defines the back of the arm. From a seated position, grasp a dumbbell in one hand and raise your arm until the weight is extended straight into the air and your elbow is next to your head. Keeping your back straight and using your free hand to balance the weight, slowly bring the weight down behind your head until your elbow is completely bent, then raise the weight up again until your arm is extended. For best results, hold the extended position while "squeezing" your tricep muscle. Do three sets of 15 repetitions.
Seated Lateral Raises — Builds the shoulders. With your arms at your sides, elbows slightly bent, raise the dumbbells simultaneously out to your side until your elbows are even with your shoulders. At the top of this exercise, your palms should be pointed down as if you are pouring a pitcher. Slowly return to starting position. Do three sets of 15 repetitions.
Ball Squats — Builds the posterior and thighs. Place a fitness ball between a wall and your lower back. Stand with your feet a shoulder's width apart and slightly in front of you. Slowly squat down, rolling the ball upward toward your neck until your legs are bent at 90-degree angles; do not go down any further. Hold that position for one second, then return to the starting position, concentrating on pushing your heels into the floor. Do three sets of 15 repetitions.
Reverse Crunches — Builds the abdomen. Lie on your back with your legs bent at a 90-degree angle and your feet on a chair, bench or ball. Using your lower abdominal muscles, slowly roll your upper body toward your feet until your tailbone is slightly off the floor. Hold for one count and slowly return to the starting position. Do three sets of 15 repetitions.