Strength training exercises –

Challenging your muscles with strength training (also called resistance training) exercises 2 or 3 times each week is all that is needed to improve the strength and tone of your muscles – as well as gain you several long-term health benefits to your muscles, bones and general metabolism. But like all forms of exercise, you need to undertake it on a regular basis. Why tone up?

Making the effort to have toned muscles will mean you have strong muscles. Strong muscles are firmer – they look better – and they help avoid potentially debilitating bone and joint injuries. Doing strength training exercises can increase your lean body mass (the non-fat parts of your body), which raises your metabolic rate, so helping with weight management. Having well-trained muscles also improves your ability to take up and use glucose which reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes.

What are strength training exercises?

Strength training exercises work your muscles by applying a resistance against which the muscles need to exert a force. The aim is to use an appropriate weight or resistant force that will work the target muscles to fatigue, over 8 to 12 repetitions of an exercise. A typical beginner’s strength training programme involves 8 to 10 exercises that work the major muscle groups of the body. These exercises are usually performed 2 to 3 times every week.

Whilst going to a gym will provide access to specific strength training equipment and supervision, as well as providing an environment that some people find supportive, it’s not essential and some strength training can be undertaken at home. For example, in many exercises, the weight of your own body is used as the resistance against which the muscles need to work, and a pair of hand-weights or even 2 soup cans can supply the resistance in some exercises. How often should you do strength training?

You can stretch the muscle group you have just used immediately after your set of strength training exercises – before you move on to the next exercise. The muscles will be warm and flexible at this time. For example, do a set of 12 reps of a biceps curl and then stretch your biceps muscle before moving on to a triceps strength training exercise. Cooling down

The exercises and information included in this article are general. If possible you should seek more personalised exercise advice and have your strength training tailored to your individual needs. If you have an existing injury or any health problems, or you do not already exercise regularly several times each week and you are middle aged or older, first check with your doctor about your suitability for a resistance training programme.

the number of times you repeat each exercise in a set. For exercises that work your arms or legs, you will need to count reps for one limb (say the right arm) then repeat these for the opposite side (the left arm), before moving on to the next exercise. The upper body is usually exercised for fewer reps than the lower body, e.g. 8 to 12 reps of a biceps curl compared with 15 to 20 reps of a lunge.

Beyond this. Once you can comfortably do 12 reps of an exercise you should look at progressing further. Options include increasing weight or resistance – thus increasing the intensity of muscular effort – or increasing the number of sets of each exercise to 2 or 3. The health benefits of strength training can be attained safely by most people if they do 1 set of 8 to 10 reps of each exercise each second or third day. If you have a particular sporting goal in mind and want to increase your level of fitness further, talk to a trained fitness instructor about how to increase the intensity and duration of your strength training programme gradually. Tips for strength training

1 rep = step one leg a generous stride length forward and bend this knee to make a right angle between your thigh and your shin. Allow the heel of the back foot to lift off the ground as you bend the back knee towards the floor. Hold for a few seconds, then return to standing upright. Do the same movement, this time moving the opposite leg to the front. Note: keep your back straight and head upright throughout; make sure that your front leg does not bend beyond forming a right angle between your thigh and shin, that is, don’t allow your front knee to extend over your foot.

1 rep = slowly lean closer to the wall and let your hands take some of your weight by allowing your elbows to bend. Keep your back and neck straight and in line with your legs; avoid bending at the hips. Lean as close to the wall as is comfortable and hold for a few seconds, then straighten your elbows as you return towards the upright position. Remember to keep your abdominals contracted to prevent your back from arching. Note: this exercise is really a standing ‘push up’. The exercise requires more effort the further that your feet are back from the wall. As you gain strength you may like to progress to a knee push up, which is performed on the floor in a face-down position, and then to a standard push up.

6. Triceps extension — to strengthen your triceps muscle (at the back of your upper arm). Lie on your back on a floormat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a small hand-weight in one hand, at arm’s length above your shoulder. Use your free hand throughout this exercise to support the upper arm that’s being worked, aiming to keep it in a vertical position, perpendicular to the floor. Avoid holding the weight over your face or head.

7. Abdominal crunches — to strengthen your rectus abdominus muscles (at the front of your abdomen). Lie on your back on a floormat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, shoulder width apart. Rest your forearms crossed over your chest with your hands on your shoulders. Tuck your chin into your chest to ensure the back of your neck is lengthened.

1 rep = raise your head and upper back off the floor as far as is comfortable, aiming to raise yourself to your knees. Concentrate on using the muscles at the front of your abdomen to achieve this movement, rather than bending your neck and upper back excessively. Hold for a few seconds, then gently lower your head and upper back to the floor.

8. Seated abdominal twists — to strengthen your oblique abdominal muscles (at the sides of your abdomen) and your rectus abdominus muscles (at the front of your abdomen). Sit on the edge of a chair with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, shoulder width apart. Place one forearm on top of the other and raise your arms in front of you, to shoulder height. Lean back slightly and tighten your abdominal muscles.

1 rep = while keeping your head, neck and back in a straight line, slowly raise one arm and the opposite leg off the ground, so that the elevated limbs are in line with your torso. Hold for a few seconds, then lower your limbs to the floor again. Repeat using the opposite limbs. Hold your abdominal muscles tight to prevent your back from arching.