Strength training has many health benefits, plus it gives you that lovely lean toned look and increases your metabolism, writes Susan Edmunds.
A lot of women worry about building muscle, thinking they will end up looking like body builders, says trainer Marcus Steward, of bodi.co.nz. But it is one of the best things you can do for your health.
Strength training improves your posture, helps with bone density and increases your metabolism. And he says any worries about getting too bulky are unfounded. Women do not have enough testosterone in their bodies to turn them into Schwarzenegger-lookalikes without significant effort.
The good news for people worried about having to slog for hours with weights in the gym is that most muscle building is done outside the workout. "Your body responds to the strain you put it under," Steward says.
Two or three half-hour weights sessions a week are enough to kick your body into muscle-building mode. He says it is important that you give yourself time to recover.
"Muscle is built when you are not at the gym." Weight-training is like a trigger.
"If you do it at the right intensity, your muscles tear a tiny bit and rebuild stronger and a bit bigger - as long as you are eating correctly."
Steward says muscle building is best done with a significant amount of sets. Find a weight that you can lift eight to 12 times, but then do five sets on each muscle group. As you build strength, increase the number of sets.
"To keep going forward, you need to keep pushing it. Increase the weight or the number of reps you do, or change your rest break."
You can work out whether you are progressing by adding up the weight lifted in a session. For example, if you did 10 sets of 10 reps of a 50kg weight, you would have lifted 5000kg in the session. If the next time, your workout adds up to more than that, but it was done in the same time, you have increased your intensity. Steward says it's important to make a note of your workouts so that you keep an accurate record of what you have achieved.
Steward says the most important thing when trying to build muscle is to make sure you are eating properly.
"Your body doesn't store protein, you need to eat it regularly."
He recommends anyone who is trying to build muscle has organised meals, and focuses on eating lean protein, such as chicken, lean beef and fish.
Getting an eating plan for training right can be a mathematical balance. Steward says: "A diet made up of 50 per cent carbohydrates, 35 per cent protein and 15 per cent fat is a good starting point." If you are not someone with the propensity to store much fat, you can increase your carbohydrate intake. But if you are prone to carrying extra weight, drop it a bit. Too low a carbohydrate intake, though, and your body will not build enough muscle.
People generally find their metabolism increases quite a bit when they put on muscle, because muscle requires more calories to run than fat. Even when you are sitting around doing nothing, a muscular body requires more calories to do it.
When you first start working out, it can be hard to know whether you are building muscle, especially if you see no weight change. Steward says scales are not helpful because muscle - while much smaller - weighs more than fat.
Skinfold caliper tests can be done fortnightly, "and if your weight is the same but your clothes are becoming looser, you know you're building muscle".