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Strength Training in Women & Exercising During Pregnancy

Strength Training for Women

Strength-training-womenThere are significant benefits for strength training in women, most of which far outweigh the benefits of cardio. Some of these benefits include:

  • Decreased risk of osteoporosis with enhanced bone remodelling to increase bone strength
  • Stronger connective tissues (ligaments, muscles and tendons) to increase joint stability and help prevent injury
  • Increased lean body mass and decreased body fat overall
  • Higher metabolic rate – compared to fat, muscle is metabolically active and increases the metabolic rate, fat oxidation and calorie consumption. This means that even at rest your body is going to burn more energy
  • Improved self esteem and confidence
  • Enhance mood and concentration levels

However many women are hesitant to to take up weight training for several reasons – fear they will end up bulky, are intimidated by the machines or testosterone-filled gyms or lack the knowledge to commence a structured safe program.

There are some significant differences between men and women physiologically which can have an impact on strength training. However it is interesting to note that when strength is calculated per cross-sectional area of muscle there are no significant gender differences. There are three significant hormones used in the body in order to create muscle growth. These include testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor. Of these, testosterone is most closely related to promoting the protein synthesis necessary to repair muscle tissue after exercise. Women have 10-20 times lower levels of testosterone and testosterone receptors than men so rely more heavily on secretion of growth hormone from the pituitary gland to help mediate the changes in muscle. This means that for women recovery is often not as quick as for men who have higher levels testosterone in their body, at the ready for muscle repair.

Women also have higher levels of stored fat than men (mostly for childbirth purposes) which means that less of the female’s bodyweight is made up with muscle so they have a decreased capacity to apply force during training. Alongside this, men have higher concentrations of type II muscle fibres which are more responsive to strength training, and women have higher levels of type I muscle fibres related to aerobic efficiency.

Exercise During Pregnancy

Exercise should continue to be encouraged in a safe way during pregnancy. There are significant benefits to exercising during this time:

  • easier delivery
  • better adaptation to pregnancy
  • weight and mood management
  • healthier baby
  • less pregnancy pain
  • improved strength and balance
  • quicker recovery post part
  • assist in insulin sensitivity – to help in avoiding gestational diabetes
  • assist in heat regulation

Interesting Physiological Changes During Pregnancy

Feelings of weakness and lack of energy – relaxation of the muscles of the blood vessels results in increased volume of the cardiovascular system (heart, arteries, veins and capillaries) causing a temporary vascular under-filling which accounts for feelings of weakness and lack of energy

Increased heart rate

Due to an increase in body weight there is an increase in strain on the cardiovascular system. This results in an increase in resting heart rate. It is then important that when exercising it is no longer a safe and valid measure to monitor heart rate changes – instead you need to use a difficulty level scale such as the Rate of Perceived Exertion scale.

Quickly becoming short of breath

The respiratory system (lungs) become more efficient at getting rid of carbon dioxide from the baby and from the mother. This means that oxygen consumption increases. The breathing rate can increase by up to 45%. Exercise and toning of muscles ensures that oxygen uptake is improved because of more optimally functioning muscles. In addition, it is important to facilitate horizontal diaphragmatic breathing because pregnant women have limited vertical breathing space because of the growth of the uterus/stomach.

Body temperature

During early pregnancy (first 12 weeks) the baby’s central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) is forming and even a 1% increase in body temperature may have adverse affects on the baby’s development. It is therefore important to modify exercise accordingly – women are recommended to avoid hot yoga, high intensity exercise in hot weather and hot hydrotherapy pools for exercise.

Increased joint laxity

Relaxin and elastin are hormones that effect the connective tissues of the body (the ligaments, cartilage and tendons) and the levels of these hormones soar during pregnancy. This reduces the structural stability of the joints, especially surrounding the pelvis. Considering the loosening of the connective tissues, it is vital that muscles are at optimal length in order to contract properly to stabilise the joints. It is common to experience musculoskeletal pain in the pelvis/lower back/pubic symphysis during pregnancy. Targeted exercises can assist in reducing and correcting these injuries.

If you have any questions regarding exercising during your pregnancy, or preparing your body for carrying a baby, please don’t hesitate to contact our strength and conditioning coaches or our physiotherapists. We’re here to help!


Head Strength and Conditioning Coach – Danny James

Having both personal trainer and strength and conditioning qualifications allows Danny to effectively work with people of all ability levels. He has guided many women through training programs before, during and after their pregnancy and loves helping keep women as active, strong and pain-free as possible through this time.

Qualifications include:

  • Certified Personal Trainer registered with Fitness Australia
  • Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach with the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association
  • Licensed State Weightlifting/Sports Power Coach with the Australian Weightlifting Federation
  • Accredited Sports Trainer with Sports Medicine Australia
  • Certified Functional Movement Screen Exercise Professional Level 2
  • Accredited Australian Sports Commission Coach
  • Member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association

Strength and conditioning coach – Matt Loudoun

Matt’s passion is to help people reach their goals both physically and mentally in a fun, safe and supportive environment.

He is a qualified personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach and is currently undertaking a 12 month S&C internship under Keegan Smith (NRL performance coach) and completing Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coaching Certification.

Danny and Matt both believe that a good coach employs an integrated model using the best current knowledge from all areas of exercise prescription to help clients achieve their goals.

Call us on +61 2 9280 2322 or email us if you have any questions or would like to book in with one of our strength and conditioning coaches.


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