According to the American Council on Exercise, women who opt against strength training can gain 10 pounds of fat over 20 years. Exercising with weights can improve your body composition and ability to perform everyday tasks, prevent injuries and certain diseases, and increase calorie burn. Hand weights -- also called dumbbells or free weights -- can be an inexpensive, effective and versatile strength training option for women of all fitness levels.
Pulling, pushing and lifting motions improve when biceps and triceps are strong. Bicep curls work the front of your arm. Choose either a standard grip -- palms forward -- or a hammer grip -- palms facing each other. Start with your arms down at your sides, then bend at the elbow to bring the weight toward your shoulder. Slowly lower back to the starting position. Arms can work alternately or simultaneously. For the back of your arm, try lying triceps extensions. Begin on your back, a weight in each hand. Position the arms up so your elbows are pointed to the ceiling. Keeping your upper arm stable, extend your arm against the resistance of the weight. Lower weights back down to complete the rep.
There are more benefits to having strong shoulders than looking good in a tank top. They also improve your ability to push and pull. The shoulder press does double-duty by working both the front and middle deltoid. Grab a weight in each hand and bring them to shoulder height with palms forward. Press the weights overhead, keeping a slight bend in your elbows. Bring the weights back down to shoulder level to finish the rep. You can perform this exercise sitting or standing.
Strong back muscles can dramatically improve your posture. Single-arm rows work both the upper and middle back, along with the rear shoulder and lats. Grab a weight with one hand and place the opposite hand and knee on a flat bench for support. Keep your back flat and your head in natural alignment. With your palm facing in, pull the weight up along your side. Return back to the start for a completed rep. Once you finish a set, switch sides. A step with four to six risers can also substitute as a bench.
A strong chest will help with lifting and pushing movements and improve posture. To work the large front muscles of the chest, the pectorals major, try a bench press. Lie flat on a bench with a weight in each hand. Start with your arms up, elbows parallel to the bench and palms facing out. Your feet remain flat on the floor. Without arching your back, press the weight up, fully extending your arms. Bring the weights back down to chest level, and you've completed the rep.
Improved lower body strength can help your gait and take pressure off your joints. Squats will work the hips, thighs and glutes. For a weighted squat, start with a weight in each hand down at your sides. Stand with your feet apart and shoulders back. Palms are facing in. Hinge at the hips, sending them behind you. At the same time, bend your knees. Keep your knees facing forward -- don't let them go out to the sides or in -- and behind your toes. Heels stay down. To finish the rep, straighten your knees and bring your hips back to the starting position.
Things to Remember
Choose weight that is light enough to prevent injury, but heavy enough to challenge muscles by the end of the set. Aim for one to two sets of eight to 15 repetitions for each exercise, allowing one minute of rest between sets. Your movements should be slow and controlled, going through the full range of motion but without locking your joints. Exhale when lifting the weight and inhale during the return. Proper form when lifting weights will avoid injury and allow you to do more reps without fatiguing. Keep your wrists straight and when doing standing exercises, have your feet shoulder width apart and maintain posture in proper alignment. Strive for balance between opposing muscle groups. Building muscle requires constant challenge. So increase weight by approximately 5 percent once you can easily complete 15 reps. Strength train at least twice a week, with a day of recovery between workouts.
- ACE Personal Trainer Manual (4th ed.)
- Womenshealth.gov: Fitness and Nutrition
- President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans