Strength training for girls and young women

Strength training for girls and young women

The most frequently heard comment from girls, staff and visitors to the Artemis Centre when they enter the building for the first time is “wow!” It’s the feeling I experience every day as I walk through the doors. As the activity levels increase and the breadth of programs grow, there is a hum of energy that is both inspiring and comforting.

One particular space that has captured the girls’ interests is the Fitness Hub. When we first opened the doors to this room in early term 3, there could have been no better feedback than the sheer delight evident on the girls’ faces combined with their positive comments and excitement… “Awesome – we have a gym!”

The Fitness Hub has been equipped with commercial grade free weights, lifting platforms, CrossFit-style rigs, multi-station jungle gym, indoor cycling spin bikes and a range of supplementary training tools and testing devices so that a range of training methods can be employed to bring about desired physical fitness outcomes. The space has been designed to cater to the needs and interests of all girls, from those aspiring to optimise their health and fitness potential to the emerging and elite athlete. Our vision is to create a welcoming and inclusive environment that encourages endeavour and a strong work ethic for continued improvement; and to value physical activity, health and wellbeing for all.

Over the month of August 2017, our “Strong is the New Pretty” campaign was about encouraging our girls to be themselves, to be honest, and to take confidence in celebrating who they are and what they stand for. Strength – as both a physical attribute and human virtue – comes in many forms, and this was beautifully represented in a series of images over the month. We all have our own definition of what it means to be strong, but I would imagine that for most of us, the mind-body connection is inextricably linked.

I’d like to talk about “strength” in a very physical sense because our muscular strength is not something we should take for granted. It’s critical for survival. Age-related degenerative processes of sarcopenia, osteopenia, metabolic slowdown and fat gain (Galvao et al, 2005) lead to losses in strength and power, sensory functions and balance (increasing risk of falls), psychological factors (relating to self-confidence and independence) and health conditions (associated with various forms of cancer, cardiovascular diseases and metabolic syndrome). Resistance training plays an important role in reversing these processes (Westcott, 2009) and therefore considered vital in improving an individual’s quality of life and functional capacity.

Raising the issue of “ageing” to a community geared towards children and adolescents perhaps seems off-topic. To the contrary. If poor levels of strength have such significant implications to the quality of life in adults, it holds true that low levels of strength impact on developing bodies also.

Strength training for children and adolescents is central to their physical development. Improved levels of strength can increase bone health, improve motor performance and skills, increase cardiovascular fitness, increase resistance to sports-related injuries, and improve sports performance. A 2014 meta-analysis (Lauersen et al.) investigating the effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries found that strength training reduced sports injuries to less than one third and overuse injuries could be almost halved.

It’s an exciting time for girls and young women in sport and activity. More than ever, there is a tangible push for opportunity and a groundswell of support for equality and to simply have a go. The uptake of females in sports like cricket, AFL, netball and soccer is a testament to this. It’s our responsibility to ensure that our girls are physically prepared to meet the demands of these games – for fun, quality experiences and performance – and the continued development of our Fit for Life program will target this.

The “Strong is the New Pretty” campaign has come to a close, but the message of empowerment, embracing individuality, and moving beyond our comfort zone will continue through our actions, words and programs.


Faigenbaum et al. (1996) Youth Resistance Training: Position Paper Statement And Literature Review. NSCA.
Faigenbaum et al. (1999) The Effects Of Different Resistance Training Protocols On Muscular Strength And Endurance Development In Children. Pediatrics, Vol 104, Number 1.
Soligard et al. (2008) Comprehensive Warm-Up Programme to Prevent Injuries In Young Female Footballers: Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial. BMJ 2008;337;a2469.
The ASCA Position Stand – Resistance Training for Children and Adolescents (
Galvao, D. A. and Newton, R.U. (2005). “Review of Exercise Intervention Studies in Cancer Patients”. Journal of clinical oncology, 23 (4): 899.
Galvao, D. A. and Newton, R.U., and Taaffe, D.R. (2005). “Anabolic Responses to Resistance Training In Older Man And Women: A Brief Review”. Journal of ageing and physical activity, 13: 343-358.
Lauersen, J.B., Bertelsen, D.M., and Andersen, L.B. (2014) “The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.” Br J Sports Med; 48:871-877.
Westcott, W. (2009) “ACSM Strength training guidelines: Role in body composition and health enhancement.” ACSM Health and Fitness Journal; 13(4): 14-22.


Sally Bailey, Director of Artemis Programs