As a child, you are always taught to do things so that you can grow up to be “big and strong.” As an adult, the desire to be strong doesn’t disappear, and instead becomes something attainable to work towards. Strength is all about the muscles and power. Physical strength is the ability for our body to apply force against resistance. Being strong is great for a variety of reasons:
• If you are an athlete and need power for performance,
• If you enjoy recreational exercise and use strength to minimise injury
• If you are growing older and need strong muscles, bones and joints.
As the motto says, “Strong is happy.”
Muscular strength is working the muscles against either gravity or different weights (both types of resistance) and the force or strength exerted by the muscles when doing this. Muscular endurance is about exerting muscle function for long periods of time, without fatigue.
Many people, especially women, are intimidated by weight training, thinking it will make them look too bulky or that they will have bad form (technique). They fear a few weeks of lifting weights will have them looking like the Hulk …. but fear not. Some men (with higher testosterone levels than women) weight train for months and months, even years, with little or no big muscle gain. But weight training makes a huge difference to overall fitness levels by helping to burn calories, tone muscles, strengthen your core (the muscles around the spine), and improve balance.
Strength training, even for beginners, is not as daunting as it first seems – even if you feel as weak as a kitten, you’ll soon improve. No matter what your goals are, whether you want to build or define muscle or just add some strength training to your cardio routine, there are some basic principles to apply.
- Warm up: Did you know that a good warm up for weights is actually cardio? A good 10 minutes of cardio training, such as the rowing machine or treadmill, is ideal for warming up the muscles in the body and preparing them for the training session ahead. Make sure you do enough to get the blood pumping around the body and muscles loosened, but not too much so that you have fatigued yourself before even starting out on the weights. You don’t want to fall before you even begin! In each set of weights, start with some lighter reps. Doing so introduces the movement to your muscles gradually and acts as a built-in warm up.
- Use compound exercises: A compound movement basically involves moving two or more joints, rather than one in isolation. A squat, bench press or deadlift stimulates a number of muscles and joints, as opposed to a bicep curl which uses one muscle. These might sound difficult to a beginner, but once you know what you’re doing, they are easy moves.
- All over body workout: You may hear of people doing ’leg days’ or ‘back days’ at the gym, but the best way to set out at first is to work the whole body and muscle groups. Developing muscle balance makes sure you don’t have really big arms but small legs! Most of all, take time to strengthen your core (the muscles around your spine) – all your strength should come from your core/centre.
- Form: Having good form or technique is absolutely essential. A Personal Trainer can assist you with tips and advice if you are new to weight lifting. Having a firm stance and not curving your back, are two important factors. Lifting without bending your knees, for example, can do some damage and have you out of the gym for a long, long time – and that’s no good!
- Rest: Weight training is ideal two or three times a week, but scheduling rest days will help the body recover, as will cooling down and stretching after a routine. This is probably music to your ears! Not only do you need days away from lifting, but take a good few minutes rest between sets to regain composure and form and give the body enough time to pump blood back to the muscles. This is a great excuse to have a sit down at the gym!
- Push yourself: The idea is that the last few reps are almost impossible. A significant load on the muscles is the only way to make them stronger. Start small and make gradual increases to avoid injury. You need to push your body to gain results. One question people ask is whether muscle soreness is normal. It is, but any severe stiffness or joint pain isn’t and you should take a break or seek medical opinion. Use your common sense. Free weights are often preferred to machines, as they encourage better core balance, but if you are not properly in control of the weight – take a break, lower the weight or use a machine for starters.
- Track your progress and reward yourself: Jot down all the weights you lift and which body parts you work so that you can see results and this will boost your confidence. Remember to congratulate yourself on your successes along the way. On a rest day, have a nice day out with friends, tell them about your new-found strength and then forget about the training and enjoy your down-time. It’s all about balancing your lifestyle and taking the rough with the smooth.
- Support: It is worth taking a training partner along to the gym to help ‘spot’ you (support you) on the heavier weights and to help point out any form improvements needed. It also means gym sessions can become a social thing. It can help morale and achievement. Another worthwhile tip is to join various forums on the Internet for tips, advice, and support. Chances are, if you’re having a bad day, so is someone else who can share your thoughts and feelings.
- Be Patient: Results will not happen overnight, as it takes months and years to achieve desired body and fitness levels. There are a number of fad diets and articles that tell you “how to get abs in a week” in magazines and online, but these are usually nonsense. A lot of hard work, dedication, and sweat get results. Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix.
Strength training helps both men and women build their ideal body. When combined with aerobic exercise, it can often complete a workout plan for fat loss and toning up/muscle definition. You can work to burn fat and uncover muscle, while defining it and looking leaner.
Strength training has a number of benefits:
• Physical and mental strength (self-confidence)
• Helps re-align the body
• Improves posture
• Improves mobility
• Boosts metabolism and burns calories
• Helps reduce stress
• Promotes a good night’s sleep
Being strong can help with the aging process by slowing down the muscle wastage as you get older and helping your muscles, bones and joints fight against aches and pains. Additionally, weights help improve balance, which is important for older individuals who are more prone to falls.
Weight training/strength training is a great way to burn calories. Did you know that if you get a workout completed in the morning, your body will work to repair the muscles, meaning more calorie loss throughout the day? You can’t ask for better than that!
When dieting, people who cut calories tend to lose weight from their muscle mass. Weight training helps retain or build up the muscles, giving you a shapely figure that is bound to get you noticed and lots of compliments but above all, you’ll feel good about yourself.
Please note: It is not advisable to carry out strenuous strength training with a problem muscle or joint. Seek medical advice before carrying out any form of exercise if you are unsure and ask a Personal Trainer to show you the best exercises and technique, to work around any pre-existing problems and strengthen parts of your torso.
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