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9 Amazing Benefits Women Can Expect from Strength Training

9 Amazing Benefits Women Can Expect from Strength Training

You’re a motivated go-getter. Your alarm probably went off before the sun rose. You got up, got dressed and got to the gym before most people even began to finish their last REM cycle. You are already an empowered and amazing woman, but if you’re not doing strength training, you’re probably not as amazing as you could be.

Strength training can seem intimidating but in reality, it can benefit women in so many ways. No, it doesn’t make you “too big,” so set that worry aside.  Before you start on your usual routine, here are nine reasons you should head toward the free weights instead of the elliptical.

1. Calorie Afterburn

When you add weight training to your routine, even if it’s only a couple of times per week, you’re adding the potential for your body to burn more calories even when you’re resting. You might see online that a pound of muscle burns some crazy number of calories, but the reality is that one pound of muscle burns somewhere between 6 and 13 calories a day while you do nothing.

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2. Increase Flexibility

There’s still misinformation floating around in the competitive world that strength training will cause your body to become more inflexible over time. That “old wives tale” has been repeatedly proven wrong by research. Among many other examples, The University of North Dakota studied static stretches vs. strength training exercises and found those with a full-range of motion in resistance training workouts can help improve flexibility.

3. Beat Buddha Belly

It’s true what they say: you can’t spot reduce. There’s no magic way of targeting a certain area with strength training and weights to lose fat. Also, put down the pills that make promises that could also be delivered by eating right and working out. They’re a waste of money.  According to Harvard Women’s Health Watch, “Core strength training can help reduce your waist circumference. Even if you don’t lose weight, you lose visceral fat and gain muscle mass.” Training the obliques and abdominal muscles with weighted core strength moves will result in getting rid of your buddha belly—eventually.  There’s no quick fix, and seeing visible results in this particular area has every bit as much to do with how much weight you lift as it does with what food you put in your mouth.

4. Be Less Tired

The physical fatigue you get when you strength train has a really positive side effect: you should get better sleep! Most people who deadlift on a regular basis report having more restful sleep cycles, and average over seven hours of sleep per night. Between the ages of 26 and 62, you should try to get between seven and nine hours a night. Your body may not still be developing hormonally, but your fine motor skills and judgment rely on adequate rest.

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5. Perform Better

The strength you gain from developing the large, visually defined muscles (biceps and triceps in your arms, for instance) is balanced by the control developed in the smaller muscles like the supraspinatus and subscapularis (two of the four muscles in the rotator cuff that keep your shoulder stabilized). The agility and capability increased by weightlifting can enhance your performance in every activity you do.

6. Happier Outlook

Elle Woods said it best in Legally Blonde: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands; they just don’t.” It’s a comedy, but that’s also a completely true statement. Endorphins are the ‘feel-good’ chemicals that the brain releases for several reasons, one of which is during strenuous exercise.  All jokes aside about spouses, having a happier outlook on life is what helps us weather the storms that inevitably come. The extra rainy day that makes the week feel too long, the spilled red wine, the baby that won’t sleep—these are all stressors that can be “the straw that broke the camels back” for a person without a positive outlook. Strength training, in a way, gives you emotional fortitude along with physical fortitude.

7. Feel Successful

Every time you work out with weights, you get a release of endorphins. You feel successful with each repeated muscle contraction. Completing a set of close grip bench press is a win. Walking to the shower sweaty from pushing through and finishing every set feels good. Success has many forms, but every single one of the times you’ve ever felt successful, your body gives you a reward in the form of a hit of dopamine. That tiny bit of euphoria you feel is dopamine, and seeking that feeling is what motivates us to succeed. Physical performance in the gym lets us build those feelings of success and the feelings of euphoria bleed over into the rest of our lives. Feeling successful becomes more of a natural state, giving us the confidence to set bigger and better goals.

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8. Positive Body Image

Let’s face it: people who work out look good. One glance at the people around you and you can tell who takes care of themselves and who doesn’t. When you look in the mirror, you can see the same qualities in yourself. If you’re picking up heavy things and putting them back down again, you regularly give yourself the opportunity to feel strong and capable. That feeling is then reflected; by feeling strong and capable, the person you see in the mirror is strong and capable. Having a positive body image means you’re less likely to spend time mentally picking at flaws that only you can see.

9. Have Better Sex

Out of all the positive side effects received from hitting the free weights in the gym a few times a week, the best has got to be having a better sex life! First, having an orgasm releases more endorphins, which enhance that beautiful body image. Second, having sex causes the brain to release dopamine and oxytocin—the Love Hormone—that causes each person to feel happier, more attractive and to develop strong bonds with their partners.

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Ladies, it’s time to start cracking the weights.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via pixabay.com

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Published on August 16, 2019

15 Strength Training Exercises Specifically for Runners

15 Strength Training Exercises Specifically for Runners

When you choose the right exercises, and make strength training a priority, it will have a great payoff to improve your running. Studies have shown incorporating a strength training program to your running routine improves running economy.[1]

Here are 15 strength training exercises specifically for runners.

1. Planks

The plank is a very important core exercise that will help give you more control and balance while running. Having a strong core will also keep you more stable and in control if you have to navigate uneven surfaces.

The plank is a simple exercise and involved balancing on your forearms and the tips of your toes, so that your back is “straight as a plank”. You want to focus on keeping your abs tight and imagine sucking your belly button up into your spine to have them properly engaged.

Aim for 30 to 45 seconds for a few rounds. Ultimately, you want to hold them as long as you can with proper form – so every time you perform a plank you want to go a little longer than previous ones.

2. Side Planks

The same concept is applied but you are now engaging your core in a different manner and engaging your oblique muscles too. This time, you are going to lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of each other.

You will lean on your right forearm and lift your hips off the ground keeping your head lined up with your torso and ankles. Keep your other hand on your hip to help ,and control balance, and focus on not moving or swaying. Keep your abs tight to engage them and hold for 30-45 seconds, or longer if you can.

3. Clamshells

For this exercise, you are going to need a simple resistance band. Start with the band wrapped around both legs just below the knee. Your starting position will be on the ground lying on your side with your top hip and shoulder pointing towards the ceiling. Your hips will be on the ground, keep your back straight and your feet together, and lift up with your top knee as far as you can with the resistance.

Pause for a second at the top and lower back down under control. You can do 10 reps on this side before switching over and doing another 10 reps and aim for 2 to 3 sets.

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Clamshells are going to help strengthen your abductor muscles giving you stronger hips and more stability while running.

4. Single-Leg Bridge

You will start lying on your back with your feet on the ground, shoulder-width apart with knees bent. You will straighten out one leg so it’s out in front of you in the air and lift your body up by pushing with the leg on the ground.

You want to flex your abs and glutes while pushing upward and try to keep your hips level throughout the motion before returning to the ground. You can also hold your body in the upright position for 5-10 seconds before returning to the ground to get more engagement before switching over to the other leg.

The single-leg bridge will help strengthen your glutes which are crucial for running power and stride strength.

5. Standing Calf Raises

This is a simple exercise but one that is very important for strengthening the calves. The stronger they are, the less fatigue you will experience during running. You will need to find an elevated step or platform for this exercise.

Stand on the platform with your heels hanging off the edge. Find something stable to hold on to for balance and start by lower your heels down until you feel a stretch in the back of your calves. Then, stand upwards like you are trying to see over a fence. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

6. Arch Lifting

You will start out standing with your feet directly under your hips, and this is best done without shoes. You will rotate the arch of your foot upward while keeping your toes and heels in contact with the ground.

Don’t let your toes tighten and you want to hold for a few seconds at the top before returning to the ground. You can do 3 sets of 10 repetitions and this is going to help strengthen the arches of your feet.

The stronger your arches are the better it is to keep your running stride strong and prevent less fatigue in the feet.

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7. Half-Kneel Hip Flexor Stretch

Strong hips are paramount for running and the hip flexors can easily become strained and overused. This exercise will help to strengthen them and provide more power and stability while running. You will start kneeling with one foot forward and the other knee bent underneath the hip.

Keep your abs tight, your back straight, and shift your body weight forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your hips. Hold this for 20 to 30 seconds before switching over to the other leg.

8. Alternating Lunges

These are going to develop power and strength in your quads and glutes to help give you a more powerful stride. You will start standing with your hands on your hips looking straight out in front of you.

Step forward with your right leg and lower down just before your opposite knee touches the ground. Then, push through your heel to return to the standing position before performing the lunge with your left leg. Alternate between the right and left leg so that each one has done 10 reps and you can perform 3 sets of this.

9. Jump Squats

These can be done just with your bodyweight and help to develop explosive power in the lower body. The jump squat is handy for when you have to run hills and need more power for harder stretches of your run.

The best way is to start in a squat position with your feet shoulder-width apart. You will drive through the heels of your feet and explode upwards. As your bodyweight brings you back to the ground, control your weight as you go back into the squat position to fully engage the muscles.

Make sure not to let your knees move inwards and keep your abs tight, your head up, and your chest out. Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps.

10. Skater Hops

This will help to build leg and core strength, along with improving balance. You will start standing upright but then bending the knees slight like you’re about to sit down. You will then drive off your right foot, jumping a few feet out to the left.

You will land on your left foot while your right foot swings behind your left leg. Then, drive off the left foot using the momentum of your right foot swinging back to land back on it. You will keep doing these side hops for ten times each leg and the motion should look like a speed skater shifting side to side.

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11. Bulgarian Split Squat

This will be similar to the lunges but, will really ramp up the resistance for the quads and is a great strength training exercise for runners. You are going to need an elevated surface or bench to stand in front of. The starting position will be standing upright with your head up and hands on your hips.

Start with your right foot behind you supported by the bench. You will start by lowering your hips to drops your left leg down to around a 90-degree angle, stopping just before your right knee hits the ground.

Next, push up through the heel until you are back at the starting position and perform ten reps, under control, before you switch over to the right leg. Perform 3 sets of this.

To make this even tougher, you can hold dumbbells in your hands hanging at your sides.

12. Arabesque

These will help in activating and controlling your hips. You will start off by standing on one leg, hands on your hips, and making sure your hips are level and balanced. You can then put your arms out to the side to give you more balance.

Start by tipping your torso forward as your non-weight-bearing leg extends out behind you. You can slightly bend your knee to help with control and you want to have your back and extended leg as level as possible. You should end up basically parallel to the floor with your shoulder, hip, and ankle should be in a straight line.

When you’ve gone as far forward as you can, return to the starting position and perform 8 repetitions before switching to the other leg.

Perform 2 to 3 sets. These are all about quality over quantity so if you can only do 4 or 5, that’s fine.

13. Hip Bridge

This is another great exercise to target the glutes which are the source of your running power. Start by lying on the ground with your feet flat on the ground and your knees bent. Squeeze your glutes and then lift your hips up towards the ceiling.

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Your hips, knees, and shoulders should be in a straight line. Hold at the top for a second and then lower back down under control. Perform this 12 times and then, you can do 3 sets. If these get easier, you can hold a weight across your stomach for more resistance.

14. Push-Ups

A classic exercise, and for good reason. As much as you want to focus your strength training on the lower body, you can’t neglect your upper body. Your arms are helping drive and propel you while running and a strong upper body helps with your overall balance and stability.

You can start laying facedown on the ground with your palms facing downwards and elbows tucked into your sides. Focus on pushing through the heel of your palms upward, stopping just before your elbows lock out. Lower back down under control and stop just before your chest touches the ground.

Focus on keeping the elbows tucked into your side and avoid having them flail outwards. You can perform 10 reps for 3 sets of these.

15. Squat to Overhead Press

This is a full-body motion that works a majority of muscles, builds power, explosiveness, and coordination. You will need two dumbbells and you will start standing, feet shoulder-width apart, with the dumbbells, held up by your shoulders – palms facing forward.

Send your hips back and lower down into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. As you stand up, press the dumbbells overhead and return them to the starting position. Go for 10 reps and three sets.

The Bottom Line

As much as you’d like to, you can’t be running all the time. It can lead to overuse, injuries and burnout. The perfect way to offset this is with strength training, making sure you perform your training with proper form and technique, avoiding mistakes which can lead to injury.

There are many other strength exercises such as the deadlift, which works the back and leg muscles which are vital for running economy improvement and injury prevention.[2] These exercises will make you a more efficient and resilient runner allowing you to improve your distances and times.

Even if you’ve been against strength training for runners, you can see now how it’s necessary in order to improve your overall running ability and performance.

Featured photo credit: Stage 7 Photography via unsplash.com

Reference

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