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8 Health Benefits of Lifting Weights

Why Lift Heavy Weights?

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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, eight benefits of lifting weights that'll convince you pick up the heavy dumbbells.

You'll Torch Body Fat

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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. (Here's all the science behind why muscle helps you burn fat and calories.)

"Lifting weights can increase your lean body mass, which increases the number of overall calories you burn during the day," says Jacque Crockford, CSCS and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. Burning extra calories post-workout plus building muscle? That's the surefire way to get the body you want.

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You'll Look More Defined

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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." (Seriously. Here's why you can lift heavy and won't bulk up.)

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. 

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You'll Fight Osteoporosis

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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. (Psst. Yoga has some bone health benefits too.)

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You'll Burn More Calories

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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). (Up next: 7 Common Muscle Myths, Busted.)

Photo: Jacob Lund // Shutterstock

You'll Build Strength Faster

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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.

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You'll Lose Belly Fat

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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. (Not to mention, lifting heavy weights recruits your core, giving you an ab workout without even trying.)

Photo: Jacob Lund // Shutterstock

You'll Feel Empowered

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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. (See: 18 Ways Weight Lifting Will Change Your Life.)

Photo: Jacob Lund // Shutterstock

You'll Prevent Injury

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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. (Related: An Open Letter to Women Who Are Afraid of the Weight Room.)

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