Lift The Nation: Why weight training works for women

The weight rack at any gym can often pose as an intimidating figure. Strength training, unlike cardio, isn’t such a self-explanatory task and for most will require stepping out of your comfort zone to begin with.

Fernwood’s week-long Lift The Nation initiative kicks off on Monday June 20 with it’s 69 clubs around the country open free of charge for women to give weights a go.

I’ve long been a campaigner for lifting weights after first taking up a strength and boxing class at my former gym in Adelaide. I can’t remember a time where I was in such good shape as regular weighted workouts resulted in tone unlike I had ever seen or felt before!

Since starting back up at Fernwood I’ve embraced the weights and am already seeing signs of improvement in my shape. Last week I jumped into a pump class to launch Lift The Nation and had the opportunity to ask Fernwood Tuggeranong trainer Ashley Ikin everything you need to know about strength training in time for Lift The Nation.

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Why do you think some women avoid lifting weights?

A lot of women speak to me about avoiding weights as they are worried it will make them ‘bulky’. This is so far from the truth, regular weights training has such a range of health benefits, from helping to maintain a healthy weight to looking after our bone health and much more!

A balanced program together with fuelling your body with nutritious foods will not create the ‘bulky’ look I hear so much about. Getting bulky should be the last thing we think about, the focus should be on feeling and looking strong and capable, and feeling healthy empowered.

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What are the key health benefits of lifting weights regularly?

By lifting weights regularly, we are improving our health with every repetition! Some of the key health benefits of lifting weights regularly include…

Improved metabolic function

The body is an energy powerhouse, but it will only spend energy maintaining something if its needed, the ‘use it or lose it’ principle really does exist!

Muscle mass takes a considerable amount of energy to maintain, so when we lift weights regularly, we are constantly reminding the body that the muscle is still required, while building a stronger body. By adding just 1.4kg of muscle mass, we can increase our metabolism by up to 7%! With greater muscle mass, we also improve our insulin sensitivity and stability of blood glucose levels.

Building and maintaining bone health

When we stress the body with resistance training, we are also stressing our bones, and just like your muscles adapting and building to better cope next time, your bones do too. We stimulate bone mineralisation, thereby working to build and maintain our bones. Up until mid 20s, our bones are reaching their peak bone density.

This is a real window of opportunity to build our bones as strong as possible, to literally set ourselves up for life. After we reach this peak, bone density does begin to decline. With regular weights training, we work to maintain this bone density by stressing the body, again with the ‘use it or lose it’ principle.

Reduce stress, anxiety, and improve cognitive function.

Weight training has also been shown to play a key role in reducing stress, anxiety, and improving cognitive function. Exercise has been shown to increase levels of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, a protein produced by the brain but also by exercising muscles. This protein helps growth and maintenance of cells in the brain.

Exercise is also known for the release of ‘good endorphins’, and increased production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine which give use that good feeling after a workout. Its almost like the body’s rewards system, releasing these substances makes us feel good about doing something positive for the body, making us want to do it again!

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What’s the best way for someone to start incorporating weights into their workout ahead of Lift The Nation?

A great way to start incorporating weights into a workout is to begin with large movements that use major muscle groups, such as a squat, or a lunge. These exercises cross multiple joints, recruiting as much muscle as possible.

Take a look at your schedule and what you are currently doing in your workouts. Set aside some time each week to focus on weights training. Enlisting the help of a personal trainer is also a great idea, they’ll be able to help you put together a balanced weight training program that fits in with your goals and your schedule.

What’s the most effective way of working out with weights?

This really depends on what you are looking to achieve with your workout, this is where it comes down to training smart for your goals. The body will adapt to how it is stressed.

Heavier weights with low repetitions are used by people looking to gain muscular size and strength. Lighter weights with higher repetitions are often used for building muscular endurance. With either approach to your goals, consistency is key! Each major muscle group should be worked twice per week.

Lift The Nation

How have you seen women transform once they start using weights?

I have seen some incredible transformations in women once they have started weight training. Not only do I notice them physically becoming more defined and their body shapes changing, they seem more mentally strong and capable. Weight training, and increasing our strength, gives us a sense of empowerment.

The results we see are directly related to the effort we’ve put in towards building our strength. That alone is one of the most rewarding things, knowing that you are doing something positive towards your health and fitness, and living the benefits.

Describe an ideal pre and post weight workout snack or meal.

Eating a small balanced meal pre weights training is the best way to go, such as a good mix of low GI carbs and lean protein 90 minutes prior to a workout. However if you’re weights training in the morning and eating a full meal isn’t ideal with timing, a simple piece of fruit such as a banana or apple before you leave for the gym is a fantastic idea, and will help provide your body with the energy you need in your workout.

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After the workout, try to consume a meal or snack again balanced with both carbohydrates and approximately 20-25g protein within 2 hours of the workout, ideally 20 minutes. The body doesn’t get stronger during a workout, during the workout we tear muscle fibres to build them back stronger AFTER. Directly after a workout, blood flow to the muscles is at its greatest, and they are most receptive to absorption of the nutrients they need to rebuild.

This ‘window of opportunity’ for nutrient absorption will last a different amount of time for everyone, but try to get this post workout meal in as soon as possible. A good tip with timing meals and workouts into your days, try to schedule a workout right before when you would normally have a snack either mid-morning or mid-afternoon, or before your main meals.

Ideally, how often should women exercise with weights per week?

Ideally every major muscle group should be trained twice per week. This may look like two long whole body sessions per week, or perhaps four shorter sessions split up into upper and lower body sessions, depending on how it fits into our busy schedules! In each session, aim to try 2-4 sets of each exercise, in each set challenging yourself with those final repetitions.

Lift The Nation

For more information and to download Fernwood’s Weight Training Workout Guide eBook visit Lift The Nation here.

By Anne Fedorowytsch

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