What the expert says …

Anita Bean is a former British Bodybuilding Champion, and author of The Complete Guide To Strength Training.

Select your moves There are countless strength-training moves, so which do you choose? Unless you are training for a specific sport, opt for movements that mimic the ones you use in daily life, as their benefits will carry over more. If time is limited, dispense with isolated moves and stick to multi-muscle lifts such as squats, deadlifts and bench presses.

Always push yourself Puny weights won’t work. Even if you don’t want to ‘build’ muscle, you still need to create overload to cause the muscle to get firmer and stronger. As soon as the weight you are using becomes comfortable, progress to a heavier one.

Work the whole body Working one area more than another can cause muscular imbalances – for example, too much chest work and not enough back can cause rounded shoulders. To prevent this, and to create a more balanced look overall, you need to exercise all parts of the body.

Don’t train randomly It’s best to do large muscle groups first, because smaller muscles tire more quickly. Also do ‘compound’ moves (those that work multiple muscle groups) before isolation ones. So, for example, you’d work the large quads and glutes before the smaller adductors. And you’d do squats and lunges before isolated adduction or abduction work.

Stick with it I can’t emphasise enough that you must be consistent if you want to get results. You need to train two to three times a week for a prolonged period to make progress.

Train with good technique Always take a muscle through its full range of motion at a controlled pace – never swing the weight or use momentum.

Go for free weights You will see faster results because they adjust to your individual build, limb length and any imbalances between sides, whereas a machine will ‘support’ these. They also build better core stability.

Eat enough protein If you are strength training three or more times a week, you need a more than average protein intake. But you don’t have to take supplements: a normal-sized portion at each meal, along with a small amount with your carbohydrate-based post-workout snack, will suffice.

Keep your programme varied Change it regularly to avoid getting in a rut. Every three to four weeks, try different exercises to target the muscle in a new way – for example, an incline bench press instead of a flat one. Experiment with different patterns of repetitions and sets, rest periods and weights.

Getting started

The most obvious place to get to grips with strength training is at a gym. To see what is in your area, check out the Gym Finder on the Fitness Industry Association’s website at fia.org.uk, or visit sportsbase.co.uk.

If you prefer one-to-one attention or have special needs or goals, consider a personal trainer. Contact the National Register of Personal Trainers (nrpt.co.uk, 0870 200 6010), or check whether your trainer is on the Register of Exercise Professionals at exerciseregister.org.

If you like the camaraderie of a class, try a group strength training class such as BodyPump, which involves a sequence of strengthening exercises to work the major muscle groups set to music and using barbells with adjustable weight plates. To find your nearest BodyPump class, go to fitpro.com. Alternatively, similar group strength classes are widely available.

Learn about the muscles and perfect your technique with a reputable book. The Complete Guide To Strength Training (A&C Black, £14.99) is comprehensive and beginner-friendly. One of my female-specific favourites is Lori Incledon’s Strength Training For Women (Human Kinetics, £12.99) Also fascinating, if a little scary (with its rather graphic illustrations), is Strength Training Anatomy, by Frederic Delavier (Human Kinetics, £14.99).

The gear

Lycra vests are decidedly optional for strength training, although it is helpful to be able to see what you are doing, so don’t go for the oversized tracksuit option. Breathable fabrics will help keep you cool.

If it’s just strength training you are doing, any decent cross trainer will suffice, but if you are combining it with running on the treadmill it’s best to look for one with a ‘running profile’, such as the New Balance 791 (£50) or ASICS Gel 100 TR (£50).

Training gloves will help you get a good grip, and prevent blisters. Try SK Sports leather and towelling gloves (£8.99, from UK Fitness Supplies, ukfitnesssupplies.co.uk, 01376 323344). The other thing you’ll need – for your own sake and everyone else’s – is a towel to wipe down or lay on benches, mats or machines. The rather nifty Comfi Sports Towel (£8.99, sportzwear.com, 01625 858582) has four popper-fastening pockets for your keys, phone and membership card.

If you’re thinking of training at home, check out the Physical Company (physical-company.co.uk, 01494 769222) for a huge range of dumbbells, barbells, benches, medicine balls and other strength-training equipment. For home gyms and workout stations, try the health club quality range at lifefitness.com.

The upside

Strengthens bones One study found that twice-weekly resistance training for a year increased bone mineral density in the spine by 6.3%, significantly reducing the risk of osteoporosis.

Improves body image Research from McMaster University in Canada found that 12 weeks of strength training improved body image in men and women.

Increases daily energy expenditure Aside from the calories burned during the session itself, a study in Medicine & Science In Sport & Exercise found that metabolic rate remained elevated for two hours after strength training, burning an additional 155 calories.

Reduces heart disease Resistance training can modify several heart disease risk factors, including cholesterol levels, blood pressure, glucose metabolism and body fat, according to the American Heart Association.

Improves body composition Strength training helps you shed body fat and maintain muscle without dieting, according to research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

The downside

Injury risk While dropping a barbell on your rib cage is one hazard, most weight training-related injuries are overuse ones, caused by excessive volume of training or poor technique.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness This is the post-exercise stiffness and soreness that follows heavy exercise, particularly weight training. It is usually worst two days after the activity, according to journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine.

It won’t improve your aerobic fitness While strength training has many health benefits, cardiovascular fitness isn’t one of them, so you still need to make time for it elsewhere.

Risk of exposure to anabolic steroids According to US research last year, the number of young people using steroids has increased six-fold in the past decade, as a result of pressures to have the ‘perfect’ body.

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