Why YOU need to be doing strength training
Perhaps even more daunting for most people than lacing up their trainers for their first run, or going along to an exercise class, is the thought of doing strength training. Lifting weights, using machines or just doing body weight exercises should be incorporated by everyone wishing to remain healthy into old age, yet not enough of the population do it. I will outline my top reasons why you should find out more, and start toning those muscles!
- Muscle wastage with age
If like me you don’t have the athletic physique you enjoyed as a young gun, then listen up. My favourite stat is that adults lose 1% of their lean muscle mass (guns to a bloke, toned legs to a lady) after the age of 35 without regular strength training. So even if you can run a decent marathon, the muscles around your weakening bones will be diminishing without weight-bearing exercises. The good news is that just 1-2 sessions per week are enough to stave off the wastage. Guidelines vary depending on age, with the emphasis shifting to higher-reps and bodyweight exercises the older you are.
- Injury prevention
Let’s say you are a runner: this means that you are very good at effectively hopping forward and landing on alternate legs repeatedly. This is fine if you only ever travel in one plane of motion (forwards), but life isn’t this simple. If you play a team sport, or have to dodge sideways rapidly to avoid a ball, dog, etc, you are moving laterally or transversely (rotationally). If you do not work the supporting large and small muscles required for your sport and general life, you will be more prone to injuries or imbalances that can cause long term issues. Anyone who knows a runner will have heard them moaning about various niggles! All athletes should prioritise core and stabilising muscle workouts to keep them in good shape.
- Strength = Power
Many serious athletes are scared or unwilling to give up one of their sacred weekly swim, bike or run sessions to train specifically for strength; surely this will make them slower? Another fear is bulking up from weights. Let me assure you that even endurance athletes benefit from heavy weight lifting. All of the long, sport-specific sessions you do will keep those body builder biceps at bay!
By building power in your large muscle groups (legs, chest and back) you will surge up hills more easily, or past your competition when it matters. By building strength you will maintain proper form and technique for longer, fatigue less rapidly and ultimately become quicker. I have personally maintained running PBs through the winter on just one run per week combined with 2 heavy weights sessions, predominantly focussed on leg power exercises (squats, deadlifts, step ups, lunges).
- Weight maintenance
Muscle burns more calories than fat. By keeping or building your lean muscle mass your body’s basal metabolic rate (BMR) will be greater ie your body will need more calories every day.
Strength training also seems to give a different post-exercise endorphin rush compared to pure cardio workouts. Mix it up, and give your body a different kind of stimulus to pounding the pavements. Plus, you want to look good when you’re forced to take your t-shirt off…
I will round out this blog with my top tips for including strength training into any weekly schedule, from stay at home mums to age-group athletes:
- Buy some light dumbbells (5-8 kg women; 10-15 kg men) and do it in your own home. Concentrate on exercising large muscle groups: squats, deadlifts, cleans, pull ups, press ups etc.
- Aim for 2 short and intense work outs (30-45mins) per week; increase in the off-season.
- Add core work before/after another session to reduce “admin” time.
- Ask a knowledgeable friend or colleague to set you a circuit, and demonstrate the exercises: most athletes love talking about their routines and tips they have picked up.
- Sign up to a personal training session with a friend: let the expert show you both the ropes, have a laugh, and then train together for motivation.
- A bodyweight suspension system (eg TRX) comes with DVD tutorials and detailed pictures of routines to follow. They are a great investment and can be carried and used anywhere – no excuses whilst you are away!
- If all else fails, concoct your own “bodyweight circuit” and just crack on: there are so many free resources out there, and everyone can find 15 minutes in their day to do some simple push ups, planks, squats etc. If I can do this in a tiny cabin on board a Navy ship, you can do it in your hotel room, living room or office. In fact, I think only passenger airplanes and submarines are sub-optimal spaces for personal circuits.
As always, feel free to comment or challenge my suggestions, or get in touch if you would like more coaching or nutrition advice.