With strength training being such a crucial part of anyone's fitness progression, PT and Media Fitness Expert, Carly Yue, explains how you can build muscle both with equipment and simply your body weight alone...

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What are strength exercises?

A strength exercise is any activity that makes your muscles work harder than usual, which in turn increases their strength, size, power and endurance. The activities involve using either your body weight, or working against a resistance with equipment. You should aim to do two sessions or more of muscle strengthening exercises per week.

Strength training is important for everybody

Strength training is excellent for both men and women, though you may be one of the many people who has been influenced by those common myths that strength training will make you bulky. You’re not alone in thinking that, but the good news is that strength training is more about toning muscle than building it up, and lean muscle is more compact than fat, so strength training can actually make you smaller – not larger.

Examples of strength training activities include:

  • Using your own body weight to do push-ups, squats, etc.
  • Using resistance bands.
  • Using weights or objects around the house for exercises like bicep curls.
  • Using weight equipment at a gym such as a leg curl machine.
  • Lifting weights or heavy objects such as furniture.
  • Vigorous cleaning activities such as vacuuming and scrubbing.
  • Heavy gardening such as digging and shovelling.
  • Climbing stairs and uphill walking.
  • Fitness activities such as cycling, dancing and yoga.

How do I know I'm working hard enough?

For an activity to be muscle-strengthening, it needs to work your muscles to the point where you may need a short rest before continuing. For example, if you're lifting weights you would have to put the weight down after doing a number of lifts before carrying on.

My top tip

A good weight loss diet plan helps more than you might think, preferably a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, good fats and lean protein. A simple muscle building meal that I love is chicken breast, avocado and sweet potato with broccoli.

Example exercises with and without gym equipment

While gym and fitness equipment is great to incorporate into your routine, body weight exercises can be just as effective as an occassional alternative. Here are two examples, one with equipment and one without, both of which you can do with ease in the comfort of your own home...

Overhead Press using a weighted gym bag.

Muscles Worked: This exercise works your triceps, deltoids, and traps, making it an excellent way to strengthen your arms and back. You also need to tighten your core to successfully complete this exercise.

How to: Stand straight with your feet positioned shoulder-width apart. Push your chest up, as if you’re puffing it out. Grab your gym bag by its ends and position it across your front shoulders so that it’s resting on your collarbone. This is the starting position. Next, squeeze your glutes as this helps stabilise you, and push the bag up in a straight line. You may have to move your head back while pressing it up to ensure it goes up in a straight line. Hold the gym bag above your head with your arms straight for a couple of seconds before lowering the bag back to your shoulders. This is one repetition. Continue for up to 12 repetitions.

Chair Dips using a sturdy chair.

Muscles Worked: This exercise primarily works the triceps, as well as the pectorals and deltoids.

How to: To begin, place a sturdy chair behind you. Face away from the chair seat and put your hands on the edge of the seat, spaced about shoulder-width apart. Keep your arms straight and bend your knees so you’re almost in a seated position in front of the chair. This is the starting position. Next, slowly bend your arms to a 90-degree angle, lowering your entire body. Once you reach this angle, hold it for a second before straightening your arms again and resuming the starting position. This is one repetition. Aim for at least five repetitions to start, but don’t exceed a dozen. To increase difficulty, place a heavy textbook or gym bag in your lap.

[caption id="attachment_641" align="aligncenter" width="150"]Carly Tierney Personal Trainer Guest post by PT & Media Fitness Expert Carly Yue.[/caption]