Strength training can be intimidating to many. Maybe you’re one such person, maybe you’re completely new to fitness, maybe you only use the CV machines at the gym or maybe you’re a seasoned runner who only focuses on their cardio.
It can be especially intimidating if you’ve never wanted to set foot in a gym or, if you’ve got that far, taken one look at a resistance machine and thought “oh hell no!” and then looked at that bit with all the mirrors and the grunting people known as the free weight area and decided to go to the café and have a nice piece of cake instead.
The problem is strength training just can’t be ignored. It is a crucial piece of the fitness puzzle and I promise you cardio alone just won’t do it. Please understand this, to include strength training into your fitness routine, you do not have to use the scary machines or enter the intimidating free weight area – you don’t even need to get yourself to a gym – although in time you may want to, as your knowledge and confidence builds.
Adding light strength training to your fitness routine for a few days each week can do amazing things for your health and of course, your physique. The benefits of strength training are vast – it builds muscular strength and muscular endurance, it increases your body’s resting metabolic rate, which means you burn more calories throughout the day. It also decreases blood pressure, decreases your risk of osteoporosis, and improves your balance.
So we’ve covered the why. However, if you are a strength training beginner you’re probably now wondering about the how – well, my 7 handy tips below will help you get started.
You must raise your heart rate before starting your strength-training routine. Begin with a 5-minute cardio based warm up of brisk walking/marching, light jogging (on the spot if short of space) and some dynamic stretching. I hear you… Dynamic what now? A dynamic warm up uses exercises that allow you to stretch and move at the same time. A quick YouTube search will show you what I mean. It has myriad benefits including improving your range of motion, enhancing muscular power and performance and proper activation of your muscles meaning they are ready to exercise. The days of static stretching during a warm up are over!
Injury prevention is key so learning the proper form and technique is crucial. Using the proper technique will make sure that you’re working the right muscles without straining. A trainer (i.e. me!) can show you the correct positions, grips, and motions to ensure you are getting the best workout possible and maximising the benefit of each exercise.
As I said in the beginning, you don’t have to set foot in a gym to do strength training. If you do go to a gym you may think strength training is all about dumbbells and barbells but these aren’t your only options, there are many modes of strength training both at the gym and even in your own home. First and foremost you can use your own body so no equipment is necessary at all! If you did want to introduce some equipment you could use resistance bands, kettlebells, medicine balls, slam balls, TRX… the list goes on!
Working out how much weight to use for any given exercise requires a bit of experimentation. Keep in mind that in the beginning it’s definitely better to go a little bit too light than a bit too heavy. Say you’re doing 3 sets of 12 reps of bicep curls, whether that’s with a dumbbell or a resistance band, your arms should feel fatigued by the last set but you should be able to finish the set. You should be able to feel your arms working hard, they might even be a bit shaky and that’s ok. When it is not ok is when you feel in extreme discomfort. If you plow through your three sets without any trouble, you need to up your weight. If you’re done by the second set, you need to drop down in weight.
Nearly everyone is stronger on one side of their body than the other. Therefore it’s important that you do exercises that isolate each side of your body so they’re worked equally. For example, single-leg squats will ensure that you’re relying solely on the muscles in your working leg, instead of getting both involved and letting your stronger leg do more of the work. Having balanced strength on both sides of your body is a true indicator of overall fitness. Always start on your weaker side. If you hit your point of failure (where you cannot complete another rep), this should be the maximum number of reps you do one your stronger side. This will ensure you keep everything in balance and don’t increase your strong side even more.
Variety is the spice of life, and your workouts! As you gain more confidence with strength training and become more familiar with the different options available to you, it’s important to start incorporating new exercises and equipment into your routine. Changing things up means neither you nor your muscles are getting bored. As well as mixing up the exercises in your programme, make sure you record your weights for each exercise so that you can see your progression as you get stronger.
The average person needs 24 to 48 hours of rest in between workouts so make sure you give yourself adequate rest time to heal and recuperate. The key is to listen to your body, especially if you are new to this sort of programme as you may get all a bit too enthusiastic and this can sometimes mean you overdo it. Listen to your body. Soreness is fine, pain is not. Finally, I want to explain a word you may or may not have heard: DOMS – it stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, it usually occurs 24 to 48 hours after a particularly intense session and, as its name suggests, it can be extremely sore! It is caused by micro tearing of the muscles, which then heal to become stronger.