Strength training

Posted by Maria Lennartz on Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Australian physical activity guidelines recommend we do at least two muscle-strengthening activities a week but fewer than one in six of us do.

Strength training's benefits are huge: strong muscles are a key to weight control, as well as a defence against type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis – and future dependence on a Zimmer frame.  

So why do only 15 per cent of us bother to pick up a set of weights, a resistance band or even sink into a simple squat using our own body weight?

This low figure comes from new research based on Australia's National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, which aimed to find out just how many of us are sticking to all Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for adults, which recommend muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week, along with "regular moderate to vigorous physical activity".

"It's the 'lost' part of the physical activity guidelines – the message hasn't been loud enough," one of the study's authors, Stuart Biddle, a professor of active living and public health at Victoria University's Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living.

Strength training also suffers from stereotypes. It's wrapped up with the idea of lifting very heavy weights and there's also a mythology around injuring yourself if you train with weights.

But you can injure yourself swimming or doing gymnastics. Why would weight training be any riskier than golf, where people often go on to a golf course and swing a club without warming up.

Besides, with fewer opportunities to use muscles both at work and around the house, it's become easier to gain surplus fat around the middle – which in itself can increase the risk of back injury.

Perhaps the most harmful myth of all is that older adults and strength training don't mix. Maintaining muscle should be a lifelong habit, because the sharp end of losing it is frailty and loss of independence. 

So instead of shying away from using muscle, let's embrace it. That goes for lifting in everyday life – as long as you remember the rules for safe lifting: bend your knees, keep your back straight and keep the weight you're lifting close to your body.

You can use Bar, Dumbbells, kettlebells or your own body weight.

But at least one myth about strength training is biting the dust – the one that says women are best suited to a pair of light dumb-bells. Anecdotally, the number of women picking up barbells is growing.

There's a significant shift towards more women working on their strength. They are becoming more empowered and more educated about strength-training options.