Health and Fitness Benefits of Lifting Weights


No disrespect to cardio, but if you want to get in shape and jump every hurdle that comes your way – both in and out of the gym – strength training is where it’s at. You can’t open a social media feed without a fitness professional or athlete telling you to get on board not only lifting weights, but lifting heavier those. And the experts agree: strength training has incredible benefits.

But what are the real benefits of bodybuilding? And should you give it a try if you’re already happy with your current workout routine? Here are nearly a dozen reasons that will convince you to pick up those heavy dumbbells.

The benefits of bodybuilding

Defines the muscles

Do you want lean and defined muscles? “If women want more definition, they should lift heavier because they can’t get bigger muscles due to low testosterone levels,” says Jason Karp, Ph.D., MBA, USA Track and Field certified running coach, exercise physiologist, and author. “So lifting heavier has the potential to make women more defined.”

Strength training can have a reputation for “bulking up” women. But this is not true. The more your weight comes from muscle (rather than fat), the leaner you will be. In addition, it is difficult for women to build muscle as a bodybuilder. “Women produce about 5-10% of the amount of testosterone that men produce, which limits our muscle building potential compared to men,” says Jen SinklerOlympic lifting coach, RKC-2 and KBA certified kettlebell instructor, and author of Lift weights faster. To get seriously taller, you would have to pretty much live in the bodybuilding room. (

Strengthens the bones

Weightlifting doesn’t just train your muscles; it trains your bones. When you perform a curl, for example, your muscles pull on the bones in your arm. The cells in these bones react by creating new bone cells, says Holly Perkins, CSCS, founder of Women’s Strength Nation. Over time, your bones become stronger and denser.

The key to this one is consistency, because studies have shown that lifting heavy weights over time not only maintains bone mass, but can even create new bone, especially in the high-risk group of postmenopausal people.

Targets body fat, not lean muscle mass

Build more muscle and you’ll continue to burn calories throughout the day – that’s why strength training targets more body fat than many other fitness modalities. “Lifting weights can increase your lean body mass, which increases the overall number of calories you burn during the day,” explains Jacques Crockford, CSCSspokesperson for American Council on Exercise.

Burn extra calories post-workout more to build up muscle ? It may sound too good to be true, but it’s actually backed up by research. In a study 2017 in overweight adults aged 60 and over, the combination of a calorie-restricted diet and resistance training resulted in greater fat loss than a combination of a calorie-restricted diet and walking exercises. Adults who walked instead of training with weights lost a comparable amount of weight, but a significant portion of the weight loss included lean body mass. Meanwhile, adults who weightlifted maintained muscle mass while losing fat. This suggests that while aerobic exercise burns both fat and muscle, weight lifting almost exclusively burns fat.

…and specifically targets visceral abdominal fat

ICYDK, there is more than one body fat classification. Subcutaneous fat sits just under the skin, and it’s the fat you can feel and see, while visceral fat sits deep in the body and lines your vital organ, according to a National Center for Biotechnology Information article (NCBI). Both types of fat are necessary parts of body composition, and both are distributed differently depending on many individual factors.

However, excess visceral fat can put you at increased risk of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes or heart disease, according to a Study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). But strength training can help: The UAB study found that women who lifted weights lost more visceral abdominal fat than those who did only cardio. Additionally, women who continued to do weight training were found to retain visceral abdominal fat for up to a year, even though they gained weight overall.

Burns more calories than cardio

Just sitting on your butt reading this is burning calories – if you’re lifting weights, of course. (See: The science behind the afterburner effect)

You can burn more calories during your hour-long cardio class than you would lifting weights for an hour, but a published study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that women who lifted weights burned an average of 100 more total calories for 24 hours after finishing their workout. Another study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Metabolism found that after a 100-minute weight training session, young women’s basal metabolic rate increased by 4.2% for 16 hours post-workout, burning about 60 more calories.

And the effect of this strength training benefit is amplified when you increase the load, according to a study in the magazine Medicine and science in sport and exercise. Women who lifted more weight for fewer reps (85% of their max load for 8 reps) burned almost twice as many calories in the two hours following their workout than when they did more reps with a lighter weight (45% of their maximum load for 15 repetitions).

Why? Your muscle mass largely determines your resting metabolic rate, that is, how many calories you burn just by living and breathing. “The more muscle you have, the more energy your body expends. Everything you do, from brushing your teeth to sleeping to checking Instagram, will burn more calories,” says Perkins. And it could be particularly beneficial depending on your goals.

Reinforce everywhere

Lifting lighter weights for more reps is great for building muscular endurance, but if you want to increase your strength, increasing your weight load is key. Add compound exercises such as squats, deadliftand Lines to your bodybuilding regimen and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll build strength. (Here is what really counts as heavy lifting and how often you should do it.)

This particular strength training benefit has a big payoff. Everyday activities (carrying groceries, opening a heavy door, hoisting a child) will be easier – and you’ll feel like an unstoppable powerhouse, too.

Prevents injuries

Sore hips and sore knees don’t have to be a staple of your morning jog. Strengthening the muscles that surround and support your joints can help prevent injuries helping you maintain good form, as well as strengthen joint integrity.

So go ahead, crouch low. Your knees will thank you. “Good strength training is actually the solution to joint problems,” says Perkins. “Stronger muscles hold your joints in position better, so you won’t have to worry about your knee pushing out on your next run.” (

Improves performance

This might be a surprising benefit of strength training for some long-time runners, but it’s one that shouldn’t be ignored. Stronger muscles mean better performance, period. Your core will be better able to support your body weight and maintain ideal form during other exercises (eg running), and your arms and legs will be stronger.

Plus, since weight training increases the number and size of the muscle fibers that fuel your performance, weight training might actually help you burn more calories during your cardio workouts, Perkins says.

Increases flexibility

Researchers from the University of North Dakota compared static stretching to strength exercises and found that full strength workouts can improve flexibility just as well as your typical static stretching regimen.

The keyword here is “full range,” Sinkler notes. If you can’t complete the full movement (i.e. going all the way up and down) with a given weight, you may need to use a lighter dumbbell and work up to that.

Improves heart health

Cardiovascular exercise isn’t the only exercise that is, well, cardiovascular. In fact, strength training can also improve your heart health. In Appalachian State University Study, people who performed 45 minutes of moderate-intensity resistance exercise lowered their blood pressure by 20%. This is as good as, if not better than, the benefits associated with most antihypertensives. (

Makes you feel stronger

Serious iron throwing doesn’t just empower people in movies. Lifting heavier weights — and building strength as a result — comes with a big boost in self-esteem, and that might just be the biggest benefit of weight training. Your strength will not only be seen in your body but also in your attitude.

“Strength has a funny way of bleeding into all areas of your life, in the gym and out,” Sinkler says. By constantly challenging yourself to do things you never thought possible, your confidence grows.

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