In this series, we want to explore the importance of strength training.
What is strength training?
To put it simply, strength training involves using either your own bodyweight or tools (dumbbells, resistance bands) to build muscle mass, strength and endurance.
There are so many great benefits to strength training--but unfortunately, it is not uncommon to face resistance (pun intended) to it, especially amongst women. We think it might make us look big and bulky, or we might think that cardio is a better way to lose weight/ fat. Today, we'd like to debunk these myths.
We had a chat with Swee--a yoga teacher and personal trainer.
Swee was a competitive rhythmic gymnast through her school years, and started yoga as a way to reconnect with movement and flexibility.
Swee was doing high intensity cardio workouts for 5-6x a week, with some weights for intervals. When the results started slowing down, she looked to Instagram and Youtube to educate herself on the importance of strength training.
Could you share with us how you started going into strength training?
After 1 year of doing only yoga, I started exploring group HIIT, spin, boxing, weights classes as a way to gain strength and change my body composition. I did 1 year of that, realising that progressions in strength and body composition came and left or progressed too slowly for the amount of time I spent doing it (5 45minute sessions weekly!), because of 2 pitfalls:
1) an inconsistent workout programme whereby the exercises were different every day, and
2) the exercises programmed in a group class often are not targeted and optimised for an individual's strength and muscle growth.
Once I understood these inefficiencies I was making in my training, I looked to IG and YouTube to educate myself on the topic of strength training, and purchased my first 3 month strength programme from a renowned bodybuilding coach on IG.
It worked -- I grew much stronger in a shorter amount of time and learnt how to change my body composition through food, training and daily activity. I've become more disciplined and confident in my ability to persist through fear, hardship and excuses as well, which is a key result of strength training I hope more people, especially women, can experience.
Could you share with us the importance of strength training?
1) You lose what you don't use/need.
We aren't weak by biology, but because we don't alert our bodies to our needs for more energy, more muscles, more strength. By lifting heavy things and practicing to lift heavier over time, you stimulate your body to build strength and muscle from the food you eat.
Muscles need more calories to maintain. At rest, you burn more calories and it'd make a big difference over time.
The converse is true: you lose muscles over time if you stop stimulating your body to grow/keep your muscle mass. The food you eat no longer needs to be used for muscle-building, and any excess is stored as fat. With time, we become weaker, our body fat percentages rise, and how much we can eat without gaining fat decreases, and we have less energy. Older people may also become more injury-prone with less muscles to stabilise joints and absorb shock from the impact of daily activities.
2) Strength training also increases your cardio abilities with less injury risk.
Repetitive activity may lead to strengthening specific muscles over others/ overuse of some body parts. If you don't strengthen/ stretch opposing muscle groups, stronger muscles may often compensate for weaker ones & the imbalance may cause postural/ movement pains and issues.
3) Strength training is incredible for building mental and emotional resilience.
Strength training requires you to lift heavier each session to build strength and muscle, and much of the training is hard work and pushing yourself close to failure. Doing this daily helps you become better at owning your fears and pushing to do more, rather than any less than you're capable of. When you become competent at what you were once intimidated by, your confidence shines too.
Personally, for yourself, what drives you to stay active?
My body composition goals, and the fitness educators and coaches I look up to on IG because I know that effort defines their successes more than any other factor.
How would you advise women who just embarked on their strength training journey? Do you have any do's and don'ts to share?
Treat it as a personal growth journey.
Fear of weights and the gym can be eliminated by doing your research, learning how to do it correctly, and practicing until you become competent at it. Go to the gym at an off peak hour.
Familiarise yourself with the weights and equipment, ask for help from friendly staff or fellow people at the gym, or engage a personal trainer. If you enjoy group classes, go for them and ask the trainers to watch out for your form.
Supplement anything you're unsure of by searching them up on YouTube/IG. Many things are free nowadays, but the best results often come from you learning from the pros what's best for your unique self. Do not shy away from spending on your fitness -- everything you learn is yours to keep and apply for life.
Don't seek out quick fixes and shortcuts; seek sustainable practices and results. Try to enjoy the (tough) process and you'll love yourself so much more for it.
If you'd like to learn more, you may reach out to Swee on her Instagram page or find her at One Personal Trainer SG.