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How can you start strength training at home?

Strength training is a good way of building muscle, increasing your strength and improving your overall health. It can help you control body fat, protect your bones and reduce your risk of injury. However, if you're new to strength training and don't know where to start, it can be daunting. We explore the safest ways to get into strength training from the comfort of your own home.

Strength training can help almost anyone build strength. While it can help cut the risk of injuries, doing the wrong exercises can be damaging if you have existing problems with your muscles or joints. Before you start strength training, consult with a physiotherapist or qualified trainer, or speak to your doctor, if you have any muscle or joint problems.

In older people, exercising specific muscle groups and joints helps strengthen muscles, reducing the risk of falls, and protects against osteoporosis.

Strength training for beginners

Strength training for beginners does not need to be complicated, and it offers a wide range of both mental and physical benefits. Fitness expert Ollie Kerr says that you can ease yourself into strength training gradually by mastering simple exercises

Strength training exercises

These include:

Squats
You squat by standing with your feet hip-width apart, facing forwards. With your arms extended in front of your body and shoulders back, slowly lower your bum as low as you can. Keep your heels pressed into the floor with your weight on them, not your toes. Rise back up to your starting position and repeat.

Squats work both your legs and upper body. Once you get stronger and feel comfortable doing more repetitions, you might want to add in a dumbbell at each side.

Sit-ups
To do a proper sit-up, lie down on your back and bend your knees, with your feet firmly on the ground. You can place your arms across your chest with a hand on either shoulder, or behind your ears, as you slowly curl your upper body all the way up to your knees to reach a sitting position, exhaling as you do so. Inhaling, lower yourself to the floor and repeat.

Sit-ups target the abdominal muscles, as well as the chest, lower back and neck muscles.

Press-ups
To do a press-up (also known as a push-up), get down on all fours and place your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Straighten your arms and legs until you are resting on your palms and toes. Keeping your legs straight, bend your elbows to lower your body until your chest almost touches the floor, pausing before pushing yourself back up. If you are a beginner, you can keep your legs bent, with knees as well as toes on the floor to make the press-up slightly easier while you build strength.

Press-ups build upper body strength as they work the triceps, pectoral muscles and shoulders. They can also tighten the back and core when done properly.

Planking
Planking involves holding your body in a straight line position (similar to the starting position of a press-up) off the ground. Most experts suggest holding the position between 10-30 seconds is plenty of time.

The plank can aid with posture, balance and co-ordination, core strength and body alignment. It can also improve flexibility and metabolism.

Deadlifts
For a deadlift, you will need a weight. Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, grip the bar with your hands just outside your legs. Keep your back flat and lift the bar by driving your hips forwards. Lower it down in a controlled manner.

Deadlifts build muscle and burn body fat, providing they are done safely and correctly.

Rows
You will need to use dumbbells for rows. To do a one-arm dumbbell row, you will also need a bench or some sort of sturdy platform that is thigh-height. Lean one leg on the bench and grab the far side with your hand. Bend over so your upper body is parallel with the ground, reaching down to pick up your dumbbell. Hold it with your arm straight and bring it to your chest, concentrating on your back and shoulder muscles, not your arms. Lower the dumbbell until your arm is straight again, and repeat on both sides.

Rows are a good way of building a stronger back and muscles in your upper body, as well as improving your posture and increasing your grip strength.

Lunges
To perform a lunge, stand tall with your feet shoulder width apart and take a big step forwards with one leg, heel first. Lower your body so your thigh is as close as possible to being parallel to the floor. Hold the position before slowly pushing off your heel and returning to the standing position.

You can add dumbbells once you advance, and do bicep curls mid-lunge.

Lunges target your leg muscles, as well as your glutes. Adding weights can also improve arm strength and muscle.

Kerr recommends setting goals and creating a simple circuit structure, which is your number of repetitions and rounds. He says having this written down especially can help ensure you stick to the plan and don't get easily distracted.

How long should a beginner train for?

Kerr stresses that frequency is 'definitely' more important than duration when you are just starting out with strength training.

"It has been shown that short, high-intensity interval training is more effective than longer periods of less strenuous exercise. I would initially recommend two or three 20-minute workouts per week, ensuring that you allow plenty of time for rest and recovery between sessions. As you advance, you can look to increase the frequency and intensity of the workouts," he says.

Starting your workouts off at this length of time also decreases the likelihood of you losing motivation, or becoming tired and losing the correct technique - which may lead to injury.

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Strength training at home

Over the past 18 months, many people have been finding innovative ways to exercise at home, adjusting their original gym workouts when the pandemic forced gyms to close. Kerr says the pandemic has proven that you don't need a big, shiny gym and fancy equipment to perform effective exercise.

"People have shown amazing creativity with the spaces and everyday objects that are available to them in their own homes. There are lots of fantastic home training-related resources available online and video streaming services, such as YouTube, offer guided home workouts that cater for all ability levels."

Working out at home as a beginner can also provide you with a confidence boost, since you can sweat away in your living room and not worry about being judged by regular gym-goers.

To strength train at home, make sure you have plenty of space. This ensures you will be comfortable stretching out and lowers your risk of injury. Also, wear appropriate footwear, such as trainers.

Do you need equipment for strength training?

You don't need to fork out hundreds of pounds for the latest equipment to get into strength training. As Kerr mentions, there are hundreds of video workouts online for you to follow which help effectively build strength and endurance through a range of simple body weight exercises.

However, he also says that incorporating basic equipment can expand the possibilities available to you, which you might be interested in once you've got to grips with the basics. Equipment can also add variety to your workouts, ensuring you don't get bored.

Equipment you may want to use includes:

  • Dumbbells.
  • Kettlebells.
  • Resistance bands.
  • A yoga mat.
  • A stability ball.
  • A suspension training system.
  • A lacrosse ball.
  • Jump ropes.
  • Yoga blocks.

Warming up and cooling down for strength training

When you live a busy life, it can be tempting to just dive straight into your workout, but this isn't safe. Kerr highlights the importance of warming up before any workout, but particularly before strength training. When you are performing strength-training exercises, your muscles shorten and lengthen. However, if your muscles aren't warm or prepped, they are more prone to tears and pulls.

Kerr advises spending at least five minutes warming up before physical activity to gradually elevate your heart rate. You should initially start with small gentle movements, such as walking on the spot, before progressing on to jogging and dynamic stretching.

The cool-down process is equally as important as the warm-up, and the workout itself. After strength training, your muscles will be tired so the immediate period following exercise is crucial for muscle and tissue repair and strength building.

Some recommended ways of cooling down after a workout

  • Doing some cardio on the treadmill.
  • Stretching.
  • Hydrating.
  • Having a muscle massage.

How can you see results long-term?

It's only human nature to want to see results straightaway when throwing yourself into something new, especially something as physically demanding as strength training. However, you must be patient with yourself and remain consistent with your workouts.

"In order to see progression, it is important to keep your body guessing by continuing to alter and increase the intensity of the workouts. This can be done by manipulating variables such as the weight of your equipment, your number of repetitions, your frequency and exercise duration," says Kerr.

As well as improving muscle strength and definition, strength training can be a great way to increase your overall fitness, mobility and endurance levels, so these are things to aspire to over time.

The benefits of strength training

Kerr wants everyone to know that strength training has a wide range of benefits, and it isn't just about getting the biggest biceps. It can also make you feel generally healthier and mentally stronger.

"It is important for people to understand that absolutely everyone can benefit from strength training, and it's not just for people wishing to 'bulk up'. If you commit yourself to it and really put in the effort to learn the correct techniques, it won't be long before you start seeing and feeling the benefits. Most importantly, don't be afraid to ask for help from a fitness coach or trainer if you're struggling. It's much better to face that embarrassment than injure yourself," he says.

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