Just when you think you're tough enough

Tough Takes

What Every Woman Needs to Know About Strength Training

More and more women are removing themselves from conventional aerobic classes and heading onto the weights floor to incorporate some form of resistance training into their workouts. The strength training zone of any mainstream gym is an intimidating environment, filled with ego and testosterone – it’s a big step for majority of ladies venturing into this territory. A clear signal that women are starting to believe “Strong is the new skinny”!

Most popular fitness magazines published in South Africa offer pages of scattered exercise programmes and make use of images showing skinny models balancing on one leg holding a 2kg dumbbell with the claims that these exercises are going to tone and define you. The reality is that standing on one leg is going to improve your ankle stability and balance. When it comes to toning and strengthening with a 2kg dumbbell – physiologically it’s not possible to make a change to your muscle definition, strength and power, nor will it change your body shape or help you lose weight.


It’s time to ditch the 2kg’s and start working toward lifting a force that will fatigue your muscles in 8-12 reps. If you can’t lift 8 reps the weight is probably too heavy and if you can perform more than more than 12 it’s probably too light. As a beginner to resistance exercise, you need to build up to this and condition your muscles and body to avoid injury – progression is still a key factor.

As things change on the gym floor for ladies so are things transforming in the corporate sector, women are holding more senior positions, combined with raising families and other responsibilities time management is of utmost importance to alleviate additional pressure – what I am saying is don’t waste your workout time with exercises that are going to have no real impact on what you are trying to achieve. Women, need to start lifting heavy and realise the significant benefits in doing so.

Maximise your time in the gym and make every rep count

There’s a myth going around saying that once you have developed some muscle, and if you stop training, muscle turns to fat. You can be rest assured that you will not turn into the incredible hulk because muscle cannot turn into fat! If you are gaining weight and growing in size; calorie intake is exceeding your calorie expenditure and it’s a result of poor diet not the weights you are lifting.

Get addicted to lifting heavy – it’s time to get strong and start pumping proper iron


There are plenty of reasons why women should start lifting heavy weights; below I have identified three which are particularly relevant to us ladies…

  • Getting Metabolic

As your body gets stronger and you increase your lean muscle mass, calories are used more efficiently. According to The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, when you build muscle you burn fat continuously. It is important to remember that muscle is also heavier than fat, so if your training is effective the results may not show on the scale but rather in your clothes and body shape. It’s a good idea to ask a personal trainer to assess you every 6-8 weeks using both circumference measurements and skin fold callipers to determine fat loss.

  • More Effective Weight Loss

When resistance training is contrasted against cardiovascular exercise, resistance training comes out on top when comparing the number of calories burnt both during and after your training session.

After a heavy session of strength training, you continue to consume additional oxygen in the hours and even days that follow. This is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC.

When your body uses more oxygen, it requires more caloric expenditure and an increased metabolic rate. This means that even at rest you are still burning more calories compared to someone who does not include strength training into their workout regime.

  • Bone Density

As we get older the risk of losing both bone and muscle mass is a reality to most women. Postmenopausal women are at a greater risk for osteoporosis because the body no longer secretes Oestrogen. Including resistance training as well as weight bearing exercises into your training program is an excellent way to decreases any risk of osteoporosis.


For a great workout and ultimate results combine high intensity interval training (HIIT) as a cardiovascular component to your strength programme. Build a strong body and benefit from the many factors that lifting heavy has on both your body and your mind!


Lisa Kowen has 20 years experience in the fitness industry in South Africa.Her passion is to raise the bar on fitness education and the level of personal training in South Africa and to assist qualified professionals to network.