Of the four key components of fitness – endurance, balance, flexibility and strength training – strength training is the most effective for enhancing muscle strength and increasing muscle mass. As we age and our body fat percentage increases, learning how to improve strength is vital for keeping us fit and healthy.
Before you start learning how to improve strength, here are some key safety tips to consider:
- Speak to your doctor, especially if you’ve had hip or back surgery
- Don’t hold your breath while you’re doing strength exercises. Breathe in slowly through your nose and out slowly through your mouth
- Breathe out as you lift or push and breathe in as you relax
- Use smooth and steady movements to prevent injury. Don’t thrust weights
- After starting strength training, you can expect to experience muscle soreness and slight fatigue lasting a few days. If either of these persist, discuss with a doctor or certified personal trainer
- Question: What are the benefits of strength training?
- Building and strengthening muscle, which burns calories even when you’re resting
- Increasing bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis
- Question: Do I have to do a gym workout or can I exercise at home?
Although some people prefer to go to the gym to use resistance equipment, other people prefer to exercise at home. Most strength exercises can be done from home or anywhere that’s convenient for you.
- Question: How can I improve my strength?
If you’re new to strength training, you can use your own body weight by doing pushups (or box pushups), crunches and squats. You might be wondering how to improve strength by doing these exercises but in doing them consistently, you’ll build up your muscle strength and can then progress to incorporate either exercise bands, which offer resistance when stretched, or free weights, which come in various sizes for all different levels of fitness.
- Question: For how long and how often should you train?
It’s recommended that you do strength exercises at least twice a week for each of the major muscle groups (arms, legs and core), with sessions lasting at least 30 minutes each. Your muscles need time to recover in between sessions, so don’t do a full upper body workout or a killer leg workout 2 days in a row, alternate between muscle groups to maximise muscle building and progress.
- Question: How will I know if I'm building muscle and improving strength?
To benefit from strength exercises, you need to challenge your muscles. So if you start out doing bodyweight exercises, gradually build up to using weights to really maximise your training. It should feel hard for you to lift or push a weight but if you can’t do more than a couple of repetitions, the weight is too heavy. Do each movement slowly so that your muscles are activated for as long as possible, take 3 seconds to lift or push the weight into place, hold for 1 second and then take another 3 seconds to return to your starting position.
To build strength, gradually increase the weight you use. Start with a weight you can lift 8 times and use it until you can comfortably do 2 sets of 10-15 reps. This increase in repetitions is what demonstrates that your strength is improving. Then, you should increase the weight so that you can only lift it 8 times again. We recommend repeating these steps and setting a goal to work towards to measure your progress.