We all know by now that strength training is good, right? It’s great for boosting metabolism, maintaining a strong core and increasing bone density, amongst many other reasons.
We do, however, get some people coming through our door who started with all the right intentions but ended up doing more harm than good though lifting weights. Here’s our short guide to what to avoid the next time you hit the gym to make sure you’re getting the best from your workout.
I know the mirrors in gyms can be a massive distraction (who wants to see themselves a sweaty, grunting mess, right?) but the reason they are there goes beyond vanity. Use the mirrors to check your technique, making sure your spine is neutral with no over-arching or bending as you lift.
Particularly important if you’re doing free weights, you need to activate and engage your core muscles as you lift to protect your spine and avoid back pain.
It’s easy to ignore niggles when you’re warmed up and in the zone (I know this from experience) or to take painkillers if you have an injury and ‘train through it’ but pain is a warning sign that we mustn’t ever ignore. It’s our body’s way of telling us that something’s up, so listen, take a rest and come back stronger when you’re fully recovered.
It’s so common – especially as summer approaches – to only want to train the parts of your body which are on show, or which respond best to training. An imbalance of strength can lead to poor posture and leave you vulnerable to injury. Train your body as a whole unit, making time to include every muscle group (especially the core which is often forgotten) and you’ll reap the rewards with a strong, balanced body.
If you go too heavy without the strength to handle it, your form will suffer. Choose a weight which challenges you, but one at which you can also maintain a full range of movement without using momentum to follow it through.
Often, when people decide to embark on an exercise regime, whether for fitness, fat loss or rehabilitation, the first place they think of going is the gym (or pool, or their bike but you get the idea – sweaty exercise, grr). However, there is one form of exercise which is often overlooked in favour of its higher-octane counterparts.
Yep, I’m talking about walking. We do it pretty much every day without thinking about it, but it could hold the secret to achieving your health goals, and here are 5 reasons we should do more of it:
Making it the perfect exercise choice if you have joint injuries or pain. The weight-bearing element also means that it helps maintain muscle strength and bone density, leaving you less vulnerable to breaks.
Did you know that a brisk 60-minute walk (around 4.6 mph) can burn as many calories as a 30-minute jog? (around 6 mph) Walking is the underdog of the fat-loss scene and is much underrated. A brisk 60-minute walk 3 times a week can leave you just over 800 calories down, burning almost 1lb of fat in just a month (everything else being equal).
If you have cool clothing (I’m guessing you do) and a comfy pair of shoes (again, pretty much a given) then you’re good to go. No membership fees, fancy kit or expensive equipment necessary.
It’s very easy to fit walking into your daily routine. Consider getting up earlier and walking to work if you live close enough, walking the kids to school instead of driving, or setting aside some time each day for a stroll.
Another big tick is that the usual barriers don’t apply. No childcare? Take the kids with you (in a buggy or on a bike/scooter if they’re too little or reluctant walkers) No time? Go on your lunch break or talk your friends into a walk instead of meeting at a cafe/bar. Funds tight? It’s free – that excuse has no place here.
If you can recruit friends, a partner or kids, it can also help build your relationships. People find it easier to talk openly when they’re away from distraction and not in a face-to-face situation.
It’s very difficult to find a reason not to do it, and it’s fun and gives you headspace, making you less likely to want to make excuses in the first place.
Stating the obvious, right? But a recent study found that compared to people using the same amount of energy running, walkers experienced greater health benefits including reduced risk of heart disease, first-time high blood pressure and first-time high cholesterol. If that’s not enough encouragement to lace up your trainers and get out for a stride, then I don’t know what is.
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? “uh, put on your daps and leg it down the road”. Not so much. I remember when I started running about 8 years ago. I had not long had my second baby (new Mums: do your Kegels) and wanted something which I could do any time of the day and which wouldn’t waste my valuable time by having to travel to do it.
So out I trundled, calling “back in half an hour” behind me as I flounced out of the door. Now, if you’re new to running, or can remember when you were new to running, you’ll appreciate my crushing disappointment when 2 minutes into my ‘run’ I was pretty much ready to drop.
So, you see, it’s not quite as simple as trotting off for a brisk 3 miles when you’ve never run before. But I did persevere and in the following 12 months completed both a 10k and half marathon. If ‘Mrs-I-can-only-run-for-2-minutes’ can do it, anyone can. As today marks 2 weeks until Simplyhealth’s Great Bristol 10k, here are my tips for anyone just starting out…
Arguably the most important point, keep in mind when you first start that it does take time. You may be one of the lucky ones who can bang out a 15-minute run when you start but then again, you may not. Keep the faith, log your progress and focus on your achievements along the way (I was ON TOP OF THE WORLD when I ran for 5 minutes non-stop).
After a warm-up of a brisk walk, try running for 2 minutes and walking for 3. Next time, increase your run by 30 seconds and decrease your walk by the same amount. When you can run for 5 minutes (woo!) carry on with the intervals but this time only walk for a minute in between, increasing your running intervals until you feel comfortable enough to leave out the walking altogether.
It does take time. Don’t try to force it and do too much too soon, or you will end up with an injury which will halt your running career before it even began. Listen to your body and don’t push yourself too far beyond your capabilities.
Once you start making progress and feeling the benefit, you may be tempted to run more often. ‘Runners High’ is a thing, and people do get addicted to that rush of endorphins you experience when you exercise. Great, if you stick to 3-4 runs a week but any more at this stage and you run the risk of overtraining and injury.
All I would argue you need is a decent pair of trainers and some comfortable clothing (high-vis if you’re running in the dark. Safety first, kids). You don’t need to shell out on fancy gym-wear, but I would recommend the investment in a decent pair of running shoes, ideally from a specialist running shop but if not, aim for shoes designed for running (rather than cross-training). Getting the right support for your feet is important for both comfort and injury prevention.
We all have those days when the sofa is way more appealing than getting out and pounding the streets, but psyche yourself up by using a great running soundtrack, running with friends or giving yourself a little reward for completing a run (I’m not talking a Mars Bar though, ok?)
And finally, enjoy it! Running can be great for both body and soul, with benefits which are way too numerous to mention. Get into your stride – geddit? – and you’ll never look back. If you’re not signed up yet, don’t forget to sign up for Simplyhealth’s Great Bristol 10k here, and for those of you with families, they do a much shorter Family Run too!