Last week, you may have seen reports covering Public Health England’s recommendation that everyone should find the time to fit in a couple of resistance workouts a week. Yes, pick your jaws up off the floor – it’s not a new idea, but a review of the evidence has reconfirmed its importance.
That’s on top of the 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity). Hitting your aerobic activity target each week is great for your lungs and heart, but there are distinct benefits to strength training that you might be missing out on. Maintaining strong bones and muscles becomes especially important as you get older, and you’re well advised to build up your muscle and bone mass as a young adult to help avoid issues later in life. It’ll also help satisfy NHS guidelines that state that a casual acquaintance should comment “Have you been working out?” at least once per lifetime.
For more info on the importance of strength training, plus a beginner routine that works all the major muscle groups, we spoke to Andy Page, strength and conditioning coach at Pure Sport Medicine’s clinic on Chancery Lane in London.
Why is it important to include strength training in your exercise routine?
There is no substitute for strength as you age. At Pure Sport Medicine we see a high proportion of clients with joint overload issues and difficulty recovering from traumatic injuries because they have poor strength to start with. Bone strength is related to load applied, which means if you don’t load your skeleton, it becomes weaker and more prone to fractures. If you load your skeleton with higher force than it’s accustomed to, it will become stronger and more resilient, just like our muscles when you lift weights.
Finally, if nothing else, muscle is an active tissue, unlike fat, so just having more of it will burn more calories throughout the day, even if you are just sitting at your desk.
What kind of strength exercises should beginners use?
Strength training should initially be multi-joint movements based around normal daily tasks. If the aim is to maximise your time, focusing on one isolated movement or one joint will be counterproductive. Using more muscles in a compound (multi-joint) movement will be more transferrable to movements you make in everyday life, burn more calories, and produce more endorphins to help elevate mood and relieve stress.
Strength Workout For Beginners
Beginners should not work with heavy loads, so light weights that allow you to do between eight and 12 reps of each exercise are perfect. Aim to do between two and three sets of each exercise twice per week.
The best starting point for any lower-body programme should come from the ability to squat. The goblet squat is the ideal way to perfect the movement before moving on to more complex squats. Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell close to your chest and squat down slowly, pushing your hips back, until your thighs are parallel to the ground. From this position, drive back up to standing, leading with your chest. Working in front of a mirror will help you make sure you keep your knees in line with your feet and your torso upright.
The step-up is an ideal entry point into the world of single-leg exercises and using dumbbells makes it easier, mobility-wise, than using barbells. Set the step at a height that ensures your thigh is parallel to the floor when you place your foot on it. Holding dumbbells at your sides, plant your foot on the step securely and drive up powerfully, focusing on contracting the glute in your leading leg. Finish standing on the step with the opposite knee raised, then step back down.
The glutes are often overlooked but they’re a key muscle group. One of the most common causes of lower back pain is poor glute activity, and strong glutes will make everything far easier, from running to squatting to avoiding injuries. The simple bridge is a great way to work on them. Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on floor, squeeze your glutes and push your heels into the floor to raise your hips. Your body should form a straight line from knees to shoulders, with your torso straight and your abdominals tight.
For upper-body strength you can’t go too far wrong with the simple press-up. Focus on keeping your abdominals tight and try to keep your hips at the same height as your shoulders. Make sure to lower your body in a controlled manner and drive powerfully back up to the starting position.
The row is a key compound movement to develop your back muscles. You can do the seated row on a bench facing a cable machine or with a resistance band. Pull the handle or band towards you at rib height, keeping your arms close to your body and taking your elbows back as far as possible, then slowly return to the starting position. Actively squeezing the shoulder blades together at the top of this exercise is great way to develop the upper back and promote healthy posture.
Power is an aspect of training that’s often overlooked, especially by beginners, but it’s a great way to develop strength in everyday movements. You can begin to develop power by jumping onto a box at least 20-40cm in height or, if at home, by jumping forwards as far as possible. Jumping and landing has a positive effect on bone health too, so power/jump training has a place in any workout.