Strong muscles are about much more than looking good in clothes, or being able to lift more than the person on the next bench. Good toned muscles enable us to deal with everyday life without injury, and give us a higher chance of staying active and flexible in our later years.
Muscles also need more energy than fat, which means a muscular body is a great way to control weight. Here are the four main secrets to building muscle strength.
If you are a beginner to strength work, be patient to avoid strain. There’s no point in using oversized weights if you can only lift them once or twice. Start small and concentrate hard on technique (‘form’ in fitness speak). Never continue repetitions beyond the point where you cannot lift correctly.
Always, always warm up first – however fit you are. Get that heart rate up and those muscles warm before you pick up any weights.
More repetitions (‘reps’) with smaller weights is the way to build muscle endurance. This is needed for activities such as skiing, cycling and distance running. Go for weights that allow you to do 10-12 reps before you have to stop.
Bigger weights build strength, even with fewer reps. Lifting the heavier weight causes small tears in muscle fibres. These heal between workouts and increase muscle size. Don’t worry about counting reps here - just continue until you can’t hold form, then rest before the next set.
As mentioned above, muscle building is triggered by your workout but actually happens when you rest. As well as breaks between sets, plan your weights sessions with a 48 hour break between to let your body get building.
Muscles need protein to grow, so check your diet for this vital nutrient. Most people associate protein with meat, but there are plenty of ways to get your protein from vegetables and plants.
Plan your lifts, eat properly and watch those muscles build.
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Taking a break is an underestimated one. When I first started doing press ups years ago I committed to doing them every day, and ended up with chronic wrist pain. So take it steady and always give yourself rest days to let your muscles recover.
There is a different perception about muscles in the last few years. We don't just think about it being for bodybuilding men, but more for keeping ourselves strong as we age. I for one will never stop lifting weights now I know how important strength is.