Ladies, strength training is life-changing in all the best ways.
Commonly, it's only associated with weight lifting, but that's not entirely true, in simple terms strength training is the use of resistance to work muscle force (force generated by a muscle). So if you think about it, even yoga counts as strength training - albeit low-resistance - because it uses body weight.
In the same vein, Pilates, aerial yoga and kickboxing also fall under this training as they serve to strengthen muscles.
Though the conversation around strength training for women has changed considerably over the past few years and for the better, in our part of the world women still have misconceptions that are important to address.
Once you truly understand the benefits of strength training, you'll know that there's more to it than just lifting 50kg dumbbells. It even helps greatly in household chores like maneuvering a grocery cart, picking up and carrying kids and even opening airtight jars.
I asked 7 women fitness instructors to dish out myths they routinely hear about women taking on strength training and then debunk them. Read and learn.
1) Myth: "Strength training will cause women to become muscular"
Debunked by Sapna Amir Baloch: It irks me when women tell me they want to tone and tighten their body but not become muscular.
It is extremely sad when women prefer fragility over strength. What women need to understand is that we cannot have a toned and tight body without building muscle, and for that we need to lift heavy weights and eat right. It is the muscle that gives you definition and if you only have skin and fat then you will appear flabby.
Also, building and gaining muscle is hard, hard, hard work for us women. We really need to push ourselves and work on our nutrition to see some results. Unlike men whose bodies respond faster to strength training given their high levels of testosterone.
Sapna Amir Baloch is a mean weight lifting machine. She specialises in Crossfit and weight lifting. Don't be fooled, she looks soft, but she'll make you work.
2) Myth: "Strength training is for boys and if you’re not lifting heavy enough, you’re not really strength training"
Debunked by Kiran Jangda: This is obviously not true, strength training is for every human being on this planet.
It is not just beneficial aesthetically, but it makes you a more functional human being. I have clients who went from taking the elevator everyday to trekking peaks. Women come up to me and say ‘We changed the water bottles on the dispensers ourselves’.
It makes you more independent in every sense of the word. So no, it's not just for boys and it’s not just confined to the gym. Not everyone has the same goal of becoming a power lifter, so you don’t really have to lift an X amount of weight. It varies from person to person.
Kiran Jangda aka KayJayStrong does not kid when it comes to strength training, in fact she's aiming to be the human version of the 100% emoji.
3) Myth: "Women cannot do strength training during periods"
Debunked by Kehkashan Nadeem: I have been addressing this concern for years. Perhaps women think they are weak during their menstrual cycle but the answer is yes, they can.
Our body is well-designed and intelligent enough to function on its own. Anatomically, all the organs in our body work in unison, but they are also operating separately, so even if you're strength training, it is not going to affect your cycle. In fact, sometimes it even helps.
In 2% of the cases where women experience heavy flow or have severe pain and feel sick during periods, I'd say it's best to avoid exercise for a few days, but generally strength training is an amazing way for women to live their lives.
Kehkashan Nadeem is the first person to bring aerial yoga to Pakistan. She's been a yogi for 18 years and you best believe she'll challenge you while you hang upside down from the ceiling.
4) Myth: "A combination of light weights and high reps is the best way to tone up"
Debunked by Shagufta Palijo: I see many women avoid strength training due to misconceptions, but the truth is light weights and higher reps only increase muscular endurance but training with heavy weights burns extra calories and fat and makes your body firm and lean.
Shagufta Palijo is a one woman army. With four years of strength training she's ready to take on any challenge that comes her way.
5) Myth: "After hitting 30 or giving birth, women are too old and too weak to lift weights and it'll only harm them"
Debunked by Nadia Rasheed: Lifting weights has many benefits for women. You lose fat (it increases your metabolism so you lose weight faster), and gain muscle which makes you stronger.
You look more toned and sculpted and it also helps with bone density which is important especially because our bones become weaker as we age.
I always give my example, I started weight training in my mid thirties after having two kids and trust me I feel much more stronger, active and fitter than I was in my 20s!
Obviously everyone starts somewhere, we will never let a newbie lift a 10kg dumbbell or barbell in her first class, you build strength overtime and we make sure you are safely lifting the required weight.
Nadia Rasheed's fitness journey is one for the books. You'll usually find her at the gym training women to be just as strong and determined as her.
6) Myth: "Women should not take protein supplements, like whey"
Debunked by Maliha Naeem: Whey is a natural source of protein, not synthetic. A woman’s body is not designed to get bulky, unlike men who make way more testosterone than women.
For clarity, testosterone increases muscle mass! So unless you’re sneaking in testosterone those protein supplements will not make you bulky.
Maliha Naeem is a doctor by day and a Pilates instructor by night. When it comes to strength training, she will make sure you leave her class having worked every muscle.
7) Myth: "Strength training makes women heavier"
Debunked by Fatima Zara Mallick: When you're strength training you might notice that the number on the scale goes up, that's because you're developing more muscle and muscle weighs more than fat.
Sometimes women get scared when they see this happening. But a month or two into lifting, even light weights and their fat levels drop drastically, consequently their weight also drops and that's because their metabolism becomes faster as muscle is living tissue while fat is dormant tissue.
So whatever amount of calories you consume, if you have more muscle your metabolic rate, your basal metabolism becomes faster, and that will never happen with just cardio, you can only achieve that when you increase your muscle mass - a huge benefit of strength training.
Fatima Zara Mallick's motto is 'go hardcore,' and rightly so, she's got 52 training certifications under her belt and she'll push you to get strong and feel empowered every day.
This story was originally published on 24 September, 2019.