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strength training

Your guide to muscle strength – warm-ups, muscle fuel and muscle recovery

Muscle strength is important for everyone, not just weightlifters and those looking to gain bulk.

What is an example of muscle strength?

Someone may seek to increase their muscle strength for any of the following reasons:1,2
  • better alignment and support for the spine
  • an enhanced ability to perform daily tasks (such as lifting heavy bags)
  • more self-confidence
  • being able to achieve personal goals in the gym
  • a reduced risk of injury
  • improved appearance - stronger muscles generally mean a more defined, lean and healthy look
  • better balance from a stronger core
  • a higher metabolism – muscle tissue burns more calories at rest than fat.

What is the meaning of muscular strength?

When we talk about muscle strength, we are talking about the amount of force your muscles can exert. Being able to apply greater force to objects makes them easier to lift or push.

Further, the more times you can perform a task without becoming too tired to continue indicates a greater muscle strength.

How do you increase muscle strength?

The gold standard for muscle strengthening is resistance training. This involves repetitively using a muscle group with resistance added – thus increasing the force your muscles must exert to carry out the movement.

This causes muscle hypertrophy, when micro-tears form in the muscle fibres. These micro-tears then get repaired by the body as it creates new muscle fibres at the site of the micro-tears.3

As you rest and the micro-tears repair, muscle fitness increases and the muscle grows.

Paired with muscle building supplements such as protein shakes, you can see serious muscle growth in a matter of weeks

How to look after muscles while resistance training

Although it’s true you have to push your muscles past their comfort zone to make them stronger, your muscles still need to be looked after. This helps get the most out of your training and minimises the risk of injury.

  1. Warm up
Warming up is key for reducing stiffness, stimulating blood flow and raising the temperature of the muscle groups prior to training.4 Your warm up should include stretching. This increases the range of motion of the joints during training. One study of athletic young men found that 10 minutes of stretching prior to a weight training session indicated a clear improvement in stability and balance during weightlifting.5

Remember, better stability and balance means better form during weight training. This leads to fewer injuries and increased ability to push your muscles and stimulate growth.

  1. Recognise the difference between ‘the burn’ and pain

Some personal trainers might tell you that if your muscles aren’t hurting during resistance training – you’re not doing it right.

There is some truth to this, as muscles must apply a challenging force in order to strengthen.

However, trying to train through an injury can leave you with muscle sprains and tears.

As a general rule, the muscle group you’re working on should feel warm and with a mild, even burning sensation across the muscles as your reach the end of your reps. This is a sign that you’ve pushed your muscles the right amount.

Sharp pains, twinges or any direct pains in the joints are all signals that you should pause your training and re-assess your form – or sit this one out.

Enlisting the help of a good personal trainer will help you get your form right from the beginning. They should be able to perform a muscular strength test on the gym floor and help you push your limits safely.

  1. Muscle recovery

Drinking lots of water and refuelling with a vitamin and protein-rich meal will help your muscles recover after a hard session.

Protein contains the amino acids we need to stimulate protein synthesis – the creation of new protein fibres.

Try a piece of watermelon to help beat delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Watermelon contains l-citrulline – an amino acid. One study showed that drinking 500ml watermelon juice after hard exercise helped reduce recovery heart rate and muscle soreness after 24 hours.6

Also, don’t underestimate the importance of rest days in growing stronger muscles.

It’s during these ‘down days’ (2-3 per week) that the micro-tears in your muscles have the chance to heal. As they heal, new muscles fibres are formed, and the muscle strengthens.

5 of the best exercises for stronger muscles

  1. Deadlifts

With a straight back, lift a weighted bar from the ground to hip level, then placing it back on the ground.

Strengthens the lower back, legs and core.

  1. Squats

From a standing position with feet hip-width apart, bend the knees until the thighs are parallel to the ground. Keep a straight back and don’t lean toward over your knees.

Strengthens the glutes (bottom) muscles.

  1. Bench press

Lying flat on a narrow bench, with your feet on the floor. Using a barbell held at shoulder width, lift it above your torso until your elbows are almost (but not quite) straight. Bring the barbell down towards your chest in a controlled movement.

Strengthens the arms, chest and shoulders.

  1. Pull-ups

Suspending yourself by your hands with a firm grip at shoulder width on a bar, bend your arms at the elbows to pull yourself up until your chin is elevated just above the bar.

Strengthens the back, arms and abdominals.

  1. Farmer’s walk

Stand tall with a weight in each hand. Then, with a straight back, simply walk carefully holding the weights steady where they fall naturally around your upper to mid outer thighs.

Strengthens your arms and core.

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Last updated: 9 December 2020

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ExerciseFitnessSports Nutrition
Donia Hilal

Donia Hilal,
Nutritionist

Joined Holland & Barrett: Jan 2018

Bsc in Nutrition, Registered Associate Nutritionist and Certification in Pre and Post Natal Nutrition

Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018.

Donia has over 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.