The numbers reflect this — according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, just one per cent of Australian women train with weights regularly. This is a shame, because there’s a long list of wins associated with this workout approach.
“We know that heavy strength training can offer significant health benefits for women. When appropriately designed, it has the ability to protect against osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, lower-back pain, cancer and other disabilities,” says Accredited Exercise Physiologist Alex Lawrence.
Here are seven things you mightn’t know about it.
1. Weights aren’t strictly necessary.
No gym membership? No weights? No stress. These aren’t a pre-requisite for enhancing your strength.
Alex Lawrence says body weight exercises — i.e. using your own weight to create resistance during a workout — can “pose a significant challenge” and are a great alternative to lifting weights. “There are extensive benefits from utilising body weight exercises. Not only is it an inexpensive alternative to a gym membership, it’s also an effective tool to meet your strength goals,” he explains.
Body weight exercises include things like squats, lunges and pushups, which can all be performed in the comfort of your own backyard or living room.
2. It burns calories like crazy.
Strength training increases your muscles, and in turn, your metabolism. This means your body will blaze through calories at an elevated rate, even when you’re at rest later in the day.
“It has been suggested that a pound of muscle burns six calories at rest, compared to two calories burned by a pound of fat,” Lawrence explains.
“Not only that, but lifting heavy weights can give your metabolism a prolonged boost long after the workout has finished.” (Post continues after gallery.)
3. Yes, you can strength train while pregnant.
Although there’s a persistent belief that strength training during pregnancy is unsafe, Lawrence says this generally isn’t the case.
“It really comes down to the mother and her capabilities and training experience. While it is not advised going from one extreme to another, this doesn’t mean that a mother cannot begin a weight training program while pregnant,” he explains.
Melbourne-based obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Joseph Sgroi says women are encouraged to exercise during pregnancy, telling The Glow: “There’s absolutely no research to say exercise, and even high impact exercise will in any way damage the baby, lead to miscarriage or premature labour.”
That said, it's important for expectant mums to check in with their GP or obstetrician throughout their pregnancy to make sure their exercise regimen is appropriate. Lawrence also recommends seeking professional guidance from an Exercise Scientist or Accredited Exercise Physiologist.
4. That "burn" you feel afterwards? It's actually a good sign.
A good strength training session can leave you sore for days afterwards, especially if you're new to it. This seems alarming, but Jennie Calleja, a fitness coach and personal trainer at Fernwood Fitness, says the pain — which is known as delayed onset muscle soreness — is actually a sign of a good workout.
"Your muscles are made up of millions of fibres that run down the muscle. When you do a strength training session, if you feel sore the next day it's a sign those tiny little fibres have actually ripped," she explains.
It sounds dramatic, but don't be concerned — this actually leads to your muscles becoming stronger and more toned, because those fibres will regenerate and repair themselves. Clever little guys. If you are concerned though, speak to your doctor. (Post continues after video.)
5. It's good for your bones.
Yes, your muscles will benefit from strength training — but so will your skeleton.
"People who exercise regularly are more likely to achieve greater bone mass than those who are more sedentary," Lawrence explains. Women acquire approximately 90 per cent of their bone mass by the age of 18; however, Lawrence says some studies indicate that in just six months, strength training can enhance bone density by 13 per cent.
"People with existing osteoporosis can also benefit significantly from starting an appropriately-prescribed strength training program, to prevent further deterioration and, in some situations, reverse disease progression," he adds.
6. Your balance could benefit.
Here's some good news for those of us who are, well, a little unsteady on our feet.
"Strength training will give you better balance and biomechanics," Calleja says.
"That means you'll have less chance of injury and your performance of day-to-day tasks is much easier, like pushing heavy doors and lifting shopping bags and things like that. Your muscles are stronger."
7. It can help fight depression.
In Australia alone, it's estimated that in any one year, one million adults will be living with depression — and for many people, physical activity offers an effective management technique.
"While we cannot categorically identify the exact mechanisms underlying the antidepressant effect of exercise, there are a number of established theories. We know that exercise, including strength training, is an important tool in preventing and managing depression," Lawrence explains.
Getting active won't just improve your mood; it'll give you a burst of energy, too. "When you do an exercise session, you promote bloodflow to the muscles.
So it removes a lot of the toxins in the muscles and strengthens them, which is why you have more energy," Calleja says.
Do you strength train? What do you love about it?
This week, Fernwood Fitness's Lift the Nation campaign is spreading the word about strength training. From August 20-26, they're offering free strength training for all women - non-members included - at all Fernwood Fitness clubs around Australia. To get involved, register your interest here.