More and more women undertake strength training now than ever before, which is great as this type of exercise gives an edge on belly fat, stress and even heart disease. It is an incredibly efficient type of exercise when it comes to developing a toned figure as you will lose pure fat rather than lose both fat and muscle – which happens when you stick to aerobics only. The amount of calories burnt through weight training also tends to be greater as this type of exercise leads to a phenomenon called Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), more commonly called the afterburn effect. This means your metabolism will stay elevated after you have stopped exercising to help the muscles to repair their fibres.
The minimum recommendation for strength training is twice a week, and you should develop a plan to reach your weight training goals.
Break your barriers
A common misconception about weight training for women is that it will make us look bulky and less feminine, when in fact it only improves our physique and simply make us look more toned. There is a whole host of performance-enhancing substances, supplements and hormones used by body building women to look the way they do and develop extreme muscles. They combine these with lifting exceptionally heavy weights and adding a considerable amount of excess calories to their diets. Unless you do all this, you will most likely just build a toned form and look healthier. This is because we aren’t made the same as men and have different hormonal balances.
The gym’s weights section can be intimidating, especially if it is your first time or if you are the only woman there. Kate Dale, strategic lead in the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, stated that ‘one of the barriers for women into sport is the fear of judgement, worrying that they won’t be very good’. If this is currently stopping you from strength training, gradually build your confidence towards the weights section. For instance, buy some weights and start training at home, then bring your weights to the gym and stick to a part of the gym you know until you are ready to use the weights section. Alternatively, you can ask a personal trainer or a knowledgeable friend to help your form, support you and encourage you to feel more comfortable.
Start small and learn the right form
Everyone’s strength levels are different, and you need to start small to find yours in order to avoid injury. It is recommended that you master bodyweight movements first to start building strength before jumping to the heavier equipment. Exercises such as walking lunges or push-ups are a great way to begin. Set a goal before you hit the weights, such as being able to do 20 squats in a row, 10 push-ups and hold a 1-minute plank.
Once you have a base level you are happy with, pick up small weights and gradually build your confidence. The heavier the weight, the higher your risk of injury – so start small and learn to know your body. Make sure you watch your form and learn how to complete an exercise correctly before reaching for heavier weights. Trainer Robbi Shveyd, owner of Advanced Wellness, recommends thinking S.E.A.K.: Stand straight, Eyes on the horizon, Abs tight, and Knees over your second toe (women’s knees have a tendency to turn in because of the acute angle created by wider hips). If you are still unsure of your form, ask a personal trainer to correct you.
Find the right intensity
You need to pick up enough weight to optimise the effects of your training and get the best aesthetic results. But what is the right intensity for you?
We all have different strength levels, so you need to concentrate on what works for you. If you are doing 10 reps, the last two reps should be tough and you should feel like you couldn’t physically do anymore. If you feel like you could do more, you need to increase the weights or number of reps until it is enough to exhaust your muscles. It is that intensity that will actually challenge your muscles and help you build a lean body. Make sure you keep increasing the load to continue to achieve that level of muscle exhaustion as you get stronger.
Whether it’s resting your entire body or specific muscle groups, rest days are essential to muscle recovery and growth, and to avoid injuries through over-training. It is recommended to take at least one day of rest for each body part, or more if your workout was of particularly high intensity.
Recovery is also aided by doing the appropriate warm ups and cool downs. Warming up properly will prepare your muscles and joints, which can be done particularly effectively with some active stretching. Cooling down and taking the time to stretch post-workout is equally as important to reduce pain and stiffness both when recovering and in the long term.