You hear it more and more every day: Weight training can make you stronger, leaner and healthier.

The list of benefits is long. Studies from the National Center of Health Statistics list strength training as critical for functional fitness, preventing muscle mass loss, and injury prevention. The Mayo Clinic adds strong bones, weight control, boosting stamina, managing chronic conditions and sharpening your mental focus to the list of benefits.

With such compelling results, it’s no surprise that the American College of Sports Medicine, American Heart Association and U.S. Department of Health all recommend adults participate in strength training activities at least twice per week.

Despite the benefits, only about 22% of men and 18% of women participated in strength training in 2004, according to data from the National Health Interview Survey.

Jessica Hayden, a teacher at Rochester City School District, and Kristen Wilk-Moore, a teacher at Greece Central School District, are part of that 18%.

Casting aside stereotypes of bulked-up muscles, they have been enjoying the immense benefits that come with being long-time participants in the traditionally male-dominated activity of weight training.

Power up

For Hayden, weight training began as a way to improve her rugby game. She played rugby throughout college, was part of Rochester Renegades Rugby Club and played on the U.S. developmental team, Atlantis.

About seven years ago, Hayden says a friend suggested she take up CrossFit—a fitness regimen that combines elements from various sports and other exercise workouts—to improve her game.

CrossFit gyms use a variety of equipment including barbells, dumbbells, gymnastics rings and resistance bands.

Hayden began by downloading workouts. She started to feel more powerful. Within two years, she stopped playing traditional rugby to avoid getting injured.

“I wanted to be fit and not break anything else,” she says.

“CrossFit allowed me to remain competitive. It’s very motivating. I liked the way I looked. I liked the way I felt.”

Hayden went on to become a certified CrossFit instructor. Her efforts did not go unnoticed. Two years ago she was asked to be an ambassador for lululemon, a trendy activewear line for women. She still instructs occasionally at NOVA Fitness in Rochester.

Initially, Hayden says she saw more women than men attend her CrossFit classes. She believes it’s because the women who weren’t as knowledgeable about weight training were more open to learning through CrossFit, whereas the men who had exposure to weight training were more interested in working out on their own. But she says now there’s a balance.

Mix it up

When observing the balance between men and women in the traditional weight room, Wilk-Moore says she is also starting to see more women engaged in weight training. Wilk-Moore has been combining weights and cardio for 18 years.

“Originally, I was looking for a way to stay in shape and get active,” Wilk-Moore says. “I went with a trainer for a month, learned everything I could and have just never stopped.”

Wilk-Moore’s typical workout includes 40 minutes of cardio then 30 minutes of lifting. She prefers to use free weights and her own body resistance.

“Diet is also a big part. You have to eat enough protein to do all these things. Eat clean. The better you eat, the better your workout benefit will be,” she says.

CrossFit has also been part of Wilk-Moore’s workout but she always returns to the weight room.

“CrossFit is quick and intense. Weight training is your own pace. I integrate both in my circuit,” she says. “It requires self-motivation.”

Strength in school

Hayden and Wilk-Moore incorporate their weight training in the classroom. Wilk-Moore emphasizes the benefits of healthy eating and exercise. Hayden includes body movement into her behavioral plans.

“I’ll say, ‘Give me 10 burpees and then get to work,’” she says.