Of the common styles of exercise available, many people find strength training unnerving. Strength training, or “lifting weights” is often labelled as something for professional athletes or people who want big muscle bulk. However, building muscle strength through activity is something that holds value for all of us.
The muscles we use for moving about are the skeletal muscles and they create movement by contraction (muscle fibres contract and ‘pull’ on your bones). If muscles perform these actions often, against a resistance and for longer duration – they will adapt and increase in strength. It is by this notion that people ‘resistance train’ to build their muscle mass.
At this stage, it is good to remember that only a specific strength training program designed for “body-building” will increase your muscle “bulk” significantly.
You will be pleasantly surprised in the health benefits of regular activities that develop our muscle strength through resistance.
- Manage a healthy weight – building our muscle tissue lifts the efficiency of the way our bodies use energy from food
- Strengthen our bones – regular strengthening activities have a positive effect on our body – process of bone formation and bone turnover
- Improve our balance and agility – regular movements which develop muscles and bones, also develop our nervous system and the style in which our body moves and stays upright
- Improve our confidence in movement – all of these positive effects “add up” to increased confidence in the way we move. This can be especially important as we age.
While every type of physical activity is valuable to good health (and will strengthen muscles), there are certain styles that help build muscle better than others. That is why we are encouraged to enjoy a variety of ways to be active and aim for a lifestyle that develops whole-body fitness and strength (not one muscle group).
Following are some examples* of activities that offer muscle-strengthening opportunities;
- Activities that use your own body weight as a resistance. You can incorporate a series of fairly simple home exercises into your week that will build strength and endurance. For example, push ups, sit-ups or Pilates exercises etc.
- Lifting weights. Using a professionally designed program for free weights (dumbbells) or machine weights is a very effective way to build muscle strength**.
- Swimming and other water-based activities. Swimming is an excellent all-round activity because it develops long, lean muscles throughout the body and also builds cardiovascular fitness.
- Work around the house – specifically, digging, lifting and mowing (pushing). These simple, everyday activities can contribute to muscle strength.
- Rowing. While outdoor rowing may not be an accessible form of exercise for many of us, rowing can be an effective muscle building activity. Most gymnasiums have indoor machines, which simulate the activity of rowing, to build upper body, back and lower body strength.
*Seek assistance: We strongly recommend you seek assistance from a qualified fitness professional who will be able to design a physical activity plan that is suited to your goals and your current physical condition.
** Remember that only a specifically designed strength-training program will enable you to ‘bulk up’ or achieve a ‘cut’ physique – simply lifting weights will not necessarily result in huge muscles.