Experts agree: Heavy lifting is in! You can't swing a kettlebell these days without hitting some workout guru, exercise program, or book advising women to not only lift weights but lift heavier weights. But why? And should you try it if you're already happy with your current workout routine? Here are eight reasons why you need to make this change.
You may have been told that cardio is the ultimate fat burner, but that effect stops the minute you hop off the treadmill. Build more muscle and you'll keep your body burning fat all day long. According to one study, adding just two sessions per week of heavy lifting can reduce your body fat by three percent without cutting calories.
Another study from the University of Alabama in Birmingham showed that dieters who lifted heavy weights lost the same amount of weight as dieters who did just card, but all the weight lost by the weight lifters was primarily fat while the cardio queens lost a lot of muscle along with some fat. And more muscle, less fat translated to smaller clothing sizes than their less muscular counterparts.
Love the lean, defined muscles on super-fit ladies? "If women want more definition, they should lift heavier since they cannot get bigger muscles because of low testosterone levels," says Dr. Jason Karp, an exercise physiologist and author. "So, lifting heavier has the potential to make women more defined." If you want more proof, watch this video with two-time Reebok CrossFit Games champion Annie Thorisdottir, who has a great body and certainly isn't afraid to throw around heavy weights.
The key to this one is consistency, as research has shown that lifting heavy weights over time not only maintains bone mass but can even build new bone, especially in the high-risk group of post-menopausal women.
You may burn more calories during your 1-hour cardio class than you would lifting weights for an hour, but a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that women who did weight training burned an average of 100 more calories during the 24 hours after their training session ended. And the effect is magnified when you increase the weight, as explained in a study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Women who lifted more weight for fewer reps (85 percent of their max load for 8 reps) burned nearly twice as many calories during the two hours after their workout than when they did more reps with a lighter weight (45 percent of their max load for 15 reps).
Lifting lighter weights for more reps is great for building muscle endurance, but if you want to increase your strength, increasing your weight load is key. Add compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and rows to your heavy weights and you'll be amazed at how fast you'll build strength.
While it is true that you can't spot reduce—your body is born with pre-conceived places it wants to store fat—a University of Alabama study found that the women who lifted weights lost more intra-abdominal fat (deep belly fat) than those who just did cardio. This not only helps you lose your belly pooch and look better in a bikini, but it also lessens your risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and some cancers.
Throwing around some serious iron doesn't just empower women in the movies. Lifting heavier weights—and building strength as a result—comes with a big self-esteem boost. Your strength will not only show in your lean, toned body, but also in your attitude.
Achy hips and sore knees don't have to be a staple of your morning run. Strengthening the muscles surrounding and supporting your joints can help prevent injuries by helping you maintain good form, as well as strengthening joint integrity.