Womens' strength training

Is iron deficiency the cause of your fatigue?


Iron is the essential element for energy production and optimal athletic performance. Did you know that almost half of women in Singapore could be iron-deficient but are unware of it? UFIT’s Head of Nutrition Wendy Riddell was recently surprised to find out she was one of them in an Iron Panel Test.

“Nutrition isn’t just about weight loss or weight gain. It’s not about macro counting or calorie counting. It’s not about how you look or how cut you are. It’s about your health, it’s about your strength, it’s about your quality of life, and it’s about your self esteem. You get these things right, and everything else will follow.

The wealth of knowledge on nutrition out there can be very confusing. Everyone has a different opinion, the world wide web is often full of deceptive information. At UFIT Nutrition we pride ourselves on continuous learning from the best in the industry. So when I got the opportunity to speak to the experts at The Iron Suites to learn more about iron’s impact on personal fitness, I jumped on it immediately.

Iron is essential for carrying oxygen through the blood cells to every parts of our bodies. It is a vital component of our metabolism and is crucial for energy production. Iron deficiency often results in fatigue, which is often mistaken as a consequence of a busy life. I’m a health professional, so of course I’m fully aware of the importance of having sufficient iron in my diet, along with magnesium and zinc etc. I eat well. I work out. I also have 4 children, 2 dogs, and a full-time job, so being tired is part of the deal.

While looking around the clinic, I was offered the opportunity to have an iron panel test done. I thought, why not? I’m perfectly healthy. So I was a bit shocked when I got the call to tell me that my iron levels were pretty low, and I should come in and see the doctor. It turns out that I’m tired because I’m iron deficient. Oh the irony!

Source: The Iron Suites

Source: The Iron Suites

And it appears that I’m far from the only one who is unaware that this could be an issue. A recent study done on a group of athletic women aged between 25 to 45 years – all of whom were eating well and training to run a race, showed that a third of them were tested iron- deficient. Iron deficiency is an especially common problem in women (due to regular periods) and young athletes. If you work out regularly, you may be depleting your iron stores and stand at a risk of being iron-deficient. One of the main reasons that people who exercise regularly need more iron is that they lose it faster through perspiration. You can experience anything from fatigue, irritability, and even lose interest in exercising altogether. This can have a huge impact on your training programme.

Iron is an essential nutrient which the body doesn’t produce by itself, it must be obtained from your diet. If not enough iron is consumed, or if your body has trouble absorbing it, iron deficiency can occur, which impairs your body's ability to transport and utilise oxygen. Considering that dietary iron recommendations for people who work out regularly are 1.3 to 1.7 times higher than usual, if your diet does not provide you with sufficient iron, your performance will take a direct hit.

In another yet unpublished study about the impact of iron deficiency on athletic performance, a visiting professor from the UK shared with us that one of his patients, a key contender in the London Marathon had initially dropped out of the event due to fatigue. The professor treated her with an iron infusion, and not only did she feel well enough to participate in the marathon (due to a new burst of energy), she even improved her personal best timing by a staggering 13%!

The doctor at The Iron Suites gave me a couple of options. Eat 1 kg of meat every day for 18 months? Tempting, but expensive. Another option is to take oral supplements, but they are not well absorbed by the body,  and may present side effects such as constipation and bloating. It will also take 6 months to a year to get my levels to what they should be. So I decided I would have an iron infusion, which is the quickest and most effective remedy.

The iron panel test and iron infusion treatment is done in the cosy clinic of The Iron Suites.

The iron panel test and iron infusion treatment is done in the cosy clinic of The Iron Suites.

This was a super simple procedure that took all of 10 minutes, and I was on my way back to work right after. I did not notice much difference immediately, but within a week my energy levels went through the roof! I found my workout timings improved (to the extent that my CrossFit coach filmed me to prove that I wasn’t cheating), and I was able to lift heavier weights. But more importantly, I wasn’t as tired at the end of the day and was able to spend more time with my children.

One month after my infusion, my endurance and run times have improved along with my strength. My iron levels were measured again, and I’m now in the normal range. For female athletes out there who feel that you are not performing to your best ability, I highly recommend you do an iron panel test to check if your fatigue is due to an iron deficiency.”

Iron Suites Promotion

The Iron Suites is offering a free iron panel test (worth $52) to the first 400 sign-ups from the UFIT community!

Step 1: Click HERE.

Step 2: Select your preferred date and time

Step 3: Key in your contact details, and enter promo code <UFIT-Fe> under "Purpose of Visit"

A representative from The Iron Suites will be in contact to confirm your visit. You can also call in at +65 6702 1929 during office hours to make an appointment.

About the author:


Wendy Riddell is a degree-qualified nutritionist with 18 years of experience. She runs the highly popular UFIT Clean & Lean Challenge, which successfully helped thousands of people lose weight and develop healthy eating habits. 

Wendy is also a fully qualified personal trainer and bootcamps coach, with experience in running fitness programs in Australia and Singapore. A regular CrossFitter, she has competed in multiple obstacle races, half-marathons and cycling races in Singapore and in the UK. Wendy is a great believer that anyone can achieve anything with the right support. “I can, and I will.” is one of Wendy’s favourite phrases. She has four young children and understand first hand the challenges of balancing a healthy lifestyle with the demands of daily life.


Why women should strength train (part 2)

Strength training for women - that very term often conjures up images of women looking like male bodybuilders, or hard-core weightlifting workouts that turn your biceps into blocks of steel.

Here is Part 2 of this two-part series following Part 1, where three of our female trainers from UFIT Orchard share their views on strength training for women.

What are some great strength exercises for women

Anna Melman, from Israel

Long gone are the days when women wore jazzy pants and did aerobic classes for hours to get in shape. Women in this century now embrace their curves with strong shoulders, a great set of glutes and robust back muscles whist walking tall towards the weights area, once unfamiliar to our gender. 

Men want biggest chests, but women on the other hand want a better bum (gluteus). That's easier said than done because squats will build a nice set of glutes only if they're active. If the glutes aren’t firing up, other muscles such as the quads would compensate and do the work for you. Once you've engaged your glutes properly, be prepared to feel the burn in every single squat.

The perfect squat for great glutes

  1. Make sure your knees are shoulder-width apart

  2. Place arms in front and engage your midsection and upper back

  3. Keep your weight on your heels

  4. Push your glutes behind and sit down, slowly making sure your midsection is engaged. If you can sit below parallel then go ahead, and if you can’t then find that sweet spot where you are still holding yourself upright and feeling your midsection (braced core)

  5. Drive up with the heels, thinking about your glutes as you ascend and stand tall

And over to the chest, bench presses don't make your boobs smaller and if you want a Pec-tacular chest then ladies listen up - you need to add bench presses into your regime. Since the chest is such a large muscle area, training it will burn more calories than training smaller muscle groups. 

Brilliant bench-pressing for a great chest

  1. Adjust your bench in-line with the bar at around eye-level and lay down on the bench (imagine lying down with the bar directly over your eyes)

  2. Find the lines on the bar and make sure both your hands are in similar position, I like to use the “one thumb rule” (thumb on the line and once in perfect position lock that thumb around the bar)

  3. Pick up the bar from the rack and place it in front of your body with straight arms. Move the bar over your shoulders with your elbows locked and press your shoulder blades onto the bench ensuring your chest is upright

  4. Lower the bar to your mid-chest whilst keeping your elbows close to your body and keeping your forearm vertical.

Moving up the body, a great way to build solid shoulders is the military press (shoulder press). It’s a simple, easy to learn movement that allows for the safe lifting of heavy weights.

Stronger shoulders with shoulder presses

  1. Start by placing a barbell around chest height on a squat rack, grab the barbell using a pronated (palms facing forward) grip. Make sure to grip the bar wider than shoulder width apart and use the lines as a guide, aiming to keep the vertical forearms perpendicular to the ground

  2. Unrack the bar and place the barbell on your collarbone. Push the barbell upwards, incline with your body and lower bar down

  3. Always make sure your core is engaged throughout and locking out at the top to ensure stability of the bar

And finally - for the entire body - the deadlift is the king of all workouts, and when done right it doesn’t isolate but incorporates every single muscle group in the body, repeat after me; every single one of them!

Deadlifting blast for the entire body

  1. Whilst standing hip-width apart, move closer to the bar until your shins come in contact with it

  2. Reach forward with your arms, engage your core and reach out for the bar below, it should be within the lines of the bar

  3. Making sure your shoulder blades are retracted and your core is still engaged, pick the bar up whilst moving the bar long the body without breaking the flow of the bar, moving from A to B in a straight line

  4. Stand up straight and ensure your neck is in-line with the spine lower down the bar, pretending you are shaving your legs and never want to miss a spot, whilst keeping every posterior chain muscle tight and engaged


What I love about working on strength training with my female clients

Devina Pronolo Tan, Singapore Powerlifting Champion, Mum of Tobi, aged three

Most females who are not familiar with strength training come to me with the mindset of just losing weight. But as time passes by, they discover something else (on top of losing weight). They realise they're getting stronger, despite being at a lower body weight, and they no longer limit themselves to the light dumbbells and they actually aim to be stronger. 

They feel empowered and begin to understand that strength training is about being healthy, and the number on the scale is not the only thing that matters. I get text messages from my clients telling me they receive compliments from their family members, friends and partners that they look better. I truly hope that words will get around - being strong is a necessity for all women!


My own strength training

Terri Forward, from the UK

I remember my first experience of walking into the free weights room at my local gym and feeling completely intimidated, looking around this definitely didn’t look like somewhere I belonged, but thankfully I didn’t let that stop me. After years of relentless cardio and back-to-back exercise classes, strength training finally gave me the key to a fitter, leaner, stronger me. Since then I’ve never looked back. 

For my own strength training I typically try to schedule a minimum of three sessions a week. I love to incorporate different equipment which adds variation and a fresh challenge, such as the kettlebell, resistance bands, battle ropes and the exercise ball. 

I typically build in big compound moves (deadlift, squat), functional exercises that translate to real life (like a kettlebell suitcase carry) and unilateral exercises to ensure I challenge my core stability and address muscle imbalance to prevent injury (dumbbell single-arm shoulder press)

Proper form and technique are crucial as this ensures I work the intended muscle groups that I want to develop and grow. Trying to master the deadlift has been one of my more recent feats and is one of the more difficult lifts to learn. I'm feeling my body grow stronger and more efficient as the exercise difficulty and weight load have increased which gives me a huge sense of achievement.

Why women should strength train (part 1)

Strength training for women - that very term often conjures up images of women looking like male bodybuilders, or hard-core weightlifting workouts that turn your biceps into blocks of steel.

Take a look at our fabulous female Personal Trainers from our UFIT Orchard gym - who, along with their clients do regular strength training - and have toned, feminine bodies.  In Part 1 of this two part series, here’s what Tsvety, Jasmine and Ellie have to say about the effect of strength training on the female body, health and mind - balanced out with the way a male sees it all (thanks Nathan Williams). 

UFIT Orchard Female Personal Trainers, &nbsp;&nbsp;L to R: Ellie Halse, Anna Melman,&nbsp; Devina Pronolo Tan, Jasmine Danker, Eunice Chiu (Community Manager), Tsvety Ivanona.

UFIT Orchard Female Personal Trainers,  L to R: Ellie Halse, Anna Melman,  Devina Pronolo Tan, Jasmine Danker, Eunice Chiu (Community Manager), Tsvety Ivanona.



Tsvety Ivanova - from Bulgaria, mum of Isla aged 16 months

It lowers body fat - When you do strength work your body composition will change and resting metabolic rate will increase which will burn more fat

It increases physical strength - You'll be less dependent on others. Nothing makes me feel more invincible than picking up my own stroller in one arm, child and diaper bag in the other and going down a flight of stairs. As you get older, that strength will keep you independent and able to take care of yourself for longer

It improves athletic performance and increases energy - You'll be stronger, more powerful and faster in any sport you do, but not just that. Doing things around the house or with your kids will be much easier. The daily chores won’t feel nearly as tiring and you will feel much more capable

It reduces the risk of injury Just ask most of my runner clients how much less knee pain they’ve had after strengthening their glutes. Weight lifting not only builds stronger muscles but also builds stronger connective tissues and better joint stability

It decreases the risk of osteoporosis It's been proven that to stop, reverse and prevent bone loss you should add strength training to your workouts. It protects bone and muscle mass.

It decreases the risk of diabetes Your body may improve the way it processes sugar, which could reduce the risk of diabetes 

It improves mood and fights depression The best stress relief in my opinion is smashing a strength training session. Strength training releases endorphins that naturally make you feel better.

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What are the myths?

Jasmine Danker, from Singapore

There are so many myths! I’ve heard it all since I picked up my very first dumbbell when I was 15:

  • Don’t lift anything more than 3kg! Your arms will get massive.
  • Don’t train legs or you’ll develop thunder thighs.
  • Don’t do over your head to heavy or you'll get bulky
  • Only run on the cardio machine and do a lot of abs.

I once believed all this malarkey and it hindered whatever benefits I could have gotten if the people around me told me the truth about strength training, but it's never to late to discover it yourself. This is what I still hear:

"I don’t want to have muscle I want to be toned" - There isn’t a difference between both; being toned or defined only means you have low enough body fat so your muscles can be seen. Therefore the less fat you have covering your muscles the more toned you are, and the fatter you are the less defined you will be. So to get toned you've got to build some muscle, and to carry less fat around your body, strength training obviously can do just that! Boom !@#!

"Bench presses will make your boobs flat" - Every woman’s dream body happens to be a six-pack and maintaining their chest size thanks to all the fitness/bikini models on social media (roll eyes).

What actually causes breast reduction is extremely low body fat. Your breast tissue is mostly fat and any chest exercise won't cause your body fat to dwindle low. As long as you keep eating enough. The American Council on Exercise says that "10 to 13 percent body fat is the minimum amount you should have to be healthy, so a percentage of 10 or more should keep your breast size normal”.

"Muscle will turn to fat if you take a break from lifting" - Both are made up of very different types of cells that have different functions. The muscle cells simply shrink when someone stops exercising after a long period of time to conserve energy. The reason behind weight gain is failing to adjust their food intake to compensate for their decrease of caloric needs and continue to devour the same amount as when they were lifting.

"It’s dangerous". Everything is dangerous, walking in heels is way more dangerous then weightlifting, but we still do it. The benefit outweighs it all and if you want to learn the proper technique on lifting we are here at your service! 💪🏾

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What do we mean by strength training?

Ellie Halse, from the UK

Strength isn’t just a physical state, it's also a mental state. Strength can be defined as being able to withstand a force, and for a lot of women that can mean a lot of different things. I believe it's best explained by if you feel strong you are strong. 

Strength training for females has so much variety!

1. For lean muscle and endurance: 
Use lighter weights and higher reps - and perform high numbers of the same movement.

2. For hypertrophic muscle: 
Add weight, decrease reps - for a mixture of endurance and strength.

3. To get big bursts of strength for short periods: 
For pure strength/power training, increase the weight and do smaller rep ranges (1-5).

In short, there is something for every woman out there. Woman also hold their strength differently to men. We're able to build lower body strength much easier than males, however having less testosterone males will build bigger muscles much easier than females. 

Thankfully today more and more women are strength training than ever before and at UFIT Orchard our team of powerhouse women bring their own style of strength training to the floor, whether it’s for the perfect booty, lifting heavy, or movement efficiency.


We’ve heard from the women - hear it now from Nathan Williams

Over the past five to ten years there's been a huge change in the mentality of strength training by females. 

Within the fitness industry I believe this trend was popularised by the amazing female physiques forged by the ladies of the world's most popular fitness company CrossFit. CrossFit has made female strength training sexy and achievable. This trend is now mainstream and all good coaches know that to get your female clients a lean and athletic physique - of different degrees - that strength training is absolutely essential for training success. 

UFIT has always attracted slightly more females than men in terms of clients (around 50-55%) and this  seems to be even higher at our new Orchard location - the women really are taking over the gym floor! 

Ask any coach, there's no better feeling when your female client is rocking relatively big weights with impeccable form and the whole gym can't help but stop, look and says “Wow!” No ego, just consistent progress, hard work and long term dedication to getting stronger and better.