Women and Weights: Building Strength For Better Overall Health

What is Strength Training?

Strength training, also known as resistance training and weightlifting, means using your body weight or tools, such as machines or free weights, to improve muscular fitness. As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass. Muscle mass decreases approximately 3–8% per decade after age 30, and this rate of decline is even higher after age 60.1 Fortunately, muscle loss is reversible, and research reveals that resistance exercise is effective for increasing muscle mass at all ages.2 The bottom line is strength training, and building muscle is essential for long-term health.

We all should think about how to build up a base of strong muscles to prepare for the loss of muscle and strength that we will experience as we age.

— Barb Nicklas, Ph.D., professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine

Who’s Doing It?

According to a recent Journal of Lifetime Medicine study, men are likelier than women to participate in muscle-strengthening activities. There are several reasons why women might shy away from strength training, including:

  • Fear of being bulky: Some women may worry that strength training will make them look too muscular or stocky, which can be a deterrent.
  • Lack of knowledge or guidance: Strength training can be intimidating if you’re unfamiliar with the equipment or techniques. Knowing where to start or how to lift weights properly may be challenging.
  • Societal pressure: Women may feel pressure to focus on cardio-based exercises or prioritize weight loss over strength training.
  • Lack of information: Many women may need to know the benefits of strength training, especially for aging adults.

Debunk the Bulk

It’s a common misconception that women who strength train will become bulky and develop masculine-looking muscles. This is not true for most women. Females have different hormone profiles and lower testosterone levels than men, which means they don’t have the same capacity for muscle growth.3 In a recent Instagram post, celebrity trainer Ben Bruno shared a video compilation of women he trains, including Naomi Campbell (52)  and Chelsea Handler (48), to debunk the myth that strength training will make you bulky. Bruno believes at any age lifting weights can empower you to be your strongest self, both inside and out.

Find the Free Weights and Like-Minded Ladies

Many women feel intimidated when they explore strength training for the first time. The good news is that it’s normal, and there are ways to overcome your fear. If you are feeling unsure, start by working out with a friend or family member who can show you the ropes. Another option is to take a group fitness class like Barre or Pilates that use free weights, allowing you to become comfortable with the equipment before trying it on your own. Some gyms and weight lifting classes are designed specifically for women, reducing intimidation and providing a solid support group of like-minded ladies. Take advantage of these opportunities. Before you know it, you will be resistance training with confidence and reaping the benefits.

Move Over, Cardio-There’s a New Game in Town

Most fitness programs marketed to women emphasize the importance of cardio for weight loss when strength training is more beneficial for overall health.4 Cardio is a great way to burn calories, but resistance training builds muscle, and lean muscle mass increases resting metabolism, which helps burn fat.5 So, the more muscle you build, the more calories you burn daily. Check out the science behind burning fat and building muscle. That isn’t to say that cardio doesn’t deserve a place in your workout routine, but it could be considered a side dish rather than the main course.

Knowledge is Power

As women age, they are at greater risk of osteoporosis, in which bones become weak and brittle due to hormonal changes. Lifting weights can help women improve bone density and fight this health condition. Often, women who strength train experience less pain in their joints, less bone loss, and decreased low back pain.7 Studies show resistance training can improve mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve overall mental health.8 This is particularly important for women in midlife who may experience age-related changes in mood and cognition.

It’s important to remember that strength training should be part of a balanced exercise program that includes cardiovascular exercise and flexibility training. Before beginning any new routine, please talk with your medical advisor, but remember, it’s never too late to start a resistance training program. Even minor improvements can significantly impact women’s overall health and well-being.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804956/
  2. https://www.sharp.com/health-news/importance-of-strength-training-as-we-age
  3. https://www.parkview.com/community/dashboard/does-weight-training-make-you-bulky#:~:text=One%20of%20the%20biggest%20misconceptions,have%20a%20different%20hormone%20profile.
  4. https://integrisok.com/resources/on-your-health/2022/august/benefits-of-strength-training-for-women
  5. https://canada.humankinetics.com/blogs/articles/13-benefits-of-strength-training-for-people-older-than-50
  6. https://intermountainhealthcare.org/blogs/topics/sports-medicine/2019/04/why-women-should-strength-train/#:~:text=Help%20keep%20your%20bones%20and,and%20decreased%20lower%20back%20pain.
  7. https://inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/why-every-woman-should-be-strength-training-according-to-science/
  8. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/strengthen-your-mood-with-weight-training

About the Author

Maggie Chesser
Maggie Chesser has over ten years of experience writing and editing in educational and professional settings throughout the US and Canada. She is currently researching the science behind longevity, including lifestyle best practices for exercise, nutrition, and mental wellness. She resides with her family in colorful Colorado, where she enjoys all things outdoors.

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Exercise & Fitness
Exercise & Fitness