Strength training

Strength training

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There are many benefits to gained from adding strength training to your exercise regime. But are there downsides? And how do you get started? Exercise Physiologist Andrew Cate gives you the real answers and offers some helpful advice.

What is strength training?

Strength training (also known as weight training  or resistance training) is the type of exercise where your muscles lift, push or pull against a resistance. Resistance can be added to a variety of different movements using body weight, dumbbells, barbells, pin loaded weights, rubber straps and water.

What are the benefits of strength training?

There is a wide range of health benefits associated with resistance training, including:
  • Improved heart health
  • Improved weight management
  • Increased bone density
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Reduced risk of sports injuries
  • Improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity
  • Improved self-esteem and self confidence
  • Improved posture

Will my muscles get bulky?

The thought that your muscles will bulk up often deters some people from starting strength training, while it may actually encourage others. The thing most people don’t know is that there’s a difference between muscle size and strength.

Getting stronger does not necessarily mean increasing the size of your muscles. The results that come from strength training, vary considerably based on gender:
  • Strength training and muscle size in women – Lifting weights can help to achieve significant improvements in strength without increasing the size of your muscles. In fact, few women have the hormonal or genetic potential to gain muscle bulk from strength training.

    The training tips below are designed for beginners using lighter weights. Your muscles will get denser, firmer and stronger, but it’s extremely unlikely they will get bigger
  • Strength training and muscle size in men – Men naturally have higher levels of testosterone, and may experience greater increases in muscle size from strength training. However, the level of intensity, and the type of dietary and training program required to achieve muscle bulk is far beyond the scope of beginners.

    The training tips below are designed to get you started and boost strength. You may experience small increases in muscle size, but strength is the primary focus.

Strength training for beginners

The following tips and guidelines are designed to help you get started on a resistance training program that will build strength and improve your wellbeing.
  • Warm up
    Perform a cardiovascular warm-up for 3 - 5 minutes before doing resistance training exercises, such as a fast walk or slow jog.
  • Ease in
    Ease yourself gradually into a new strength training program. It's normal to feel a little sore within 24 hours of your first 3-5 workouts.
  • Build up
    Aim to perform between 10 – 15 repetitions of each exercise, performing one batch (set) when starting out. After a few weeks, increase the repetitions, sets and weight, and vary the type of resistance and exercises.
  • Focus on form
    Always perform strength training exercises in a controlled manner, keeping good posture and the abdominals contracted. Good technique is vital.
  • Target large muscle groups
    Include exercises that target the large muscle groups in your legs, chest, arms, back and abdominal muscle groups, such as push-ups, pull-ups, squats, dips and lunges. For legs, build up to jump split squats  - a great explosive strength exercise.
  • Stretch afterwards
    Stretch after resistance training, making sure to target the muscle groups you have worked.
  • Frequency
    Aim to perform resistance training exercises 2 - 3 times a week
  • Rest
    Don't perform resistance training exercises on the same body part on consecutive days.
Safety first
Before starting a new exercise program, it would be wise to discuss with your doctor how strength training can fit into your lifestyle.

This is especially important if you have any chronic health or heart conditions, are pregnant, are over the age of 50, or are recovering from an injury.

A personal trainer or exercise specialist can also guide you on the best exercises and training programs that may suit you best.