During our Mountain Beach retreats we always spend part of the sessions focusing on strength and using weights to facilitate this as well as body weight. We work with clients who have varying goals from muscle hypertrophy (increase in muscle volume) right through to toning muscles and not wanting to bulk up. Weights can be used for both these goals and it is all about training in the correct manner to ensure the correct goal is reached for each person. The usual worry which arises especially for women is the fear of gaining big muscles, and below we explain the benefits of strength training and techniques to avoid this.
So what is strength training exactly?
Strength training is anything that places a demand on muscles and central nervous system and exerts a force against some form of resistance, such as free weights. Body weight training lies at the core of this and is the stepping stone to improving circulation, coordination, balance, bone and ligament strength.
But I’m a woman - I don’t want big muscles!
Old fashioned misconceptions associated with weight training are that women would produce bulging muscles and/or they would risk seriously injuring themselves lifting weights. However this idea is completely flawed as it is very difficult for a woman to produce large muscles due to the fact that women generally have high levels of the hormone oestrogen.
What are the benefits of strength training then?
Strength training is an important part of overall fitness and the fastest way to improve muscle strength and endurance. Allowing you to carry out daily tasks and cope with stress placed on the body. Key benefits are reduced body fat, increased lean muscle mass and the ability to burn calories more efficiently. We recommend stretching before exercise to prepare the joints for motion, help avoid injury and increases the range of motion of the area being stretched.
Techniques for Strength Training
Doing Too Much Too Soon. It’s tempting to think more reps, more sets, more weight. Gradual conditioning prevents injuries such as torn ligaments and tendonitis, because your muscles and connective tissues have time to adapt. Try a three-step progression. Initially use body weight. Do 15 reps with proper form, then add weight, stick to one set with light weights for two weeks or until you feel comfortable. When you can complete nearly all of your reps with proper form, add more weight or another set (increase weight by roughly 10 percent each time).
Correct body alignment is an important component of strength training. Focus on having equal weight in each foot and executing each rep with good technique. If you’re breaking form for those last few reps they are worthless and will cause you negative effects with increased risk of injury instead!
Proper breathing techniques are essential when training. Never hold your breath. Inhale at the beginning of the lift and exhale during the release of each weight.
Balance Opposing Muscle Groups - Strength imbalances can make you prone to injury. This can be a result of your lifestyle, hovering over a desk all day tightens and weakens your hip flexors while your glutes become overstretched and inactive. Or by not equally working the body, i.e. focusing on moves that rely on your quads but not your hamstrings. Ensure for every exercise that works the front of the body (chest, biceps, quads), you do an exercise that targets the rear (back, triceps, hamstrings). For example, pair stability-ball chest presses with dumbbell rows, or step-ups with deadlifts.