The term 'strength training puts the fear of god into most of us mere mortals, it conjures up images of standing in the dark corner of the gym with all the rippled men admiring themselves in the mirror doing deadlifts. Actually, it doesn't need to be like this at all. Let us tell you why/how you can get started with kit at home and get the same/better results...."
So, I’m not your stereo-typical gym bunny, whilst I have always been passionate about fitness I too was confused by the enormity of information and often conflicting opinions out there on what exercises were best to help improve my then problem areas, typically being the bum, thighs and tummy.
Do you jump from
one workout to another wondering why your body shape isn't changing? I too used to go to the gym and feel really uncomfortable not quite knowing if I was using the machines correctly or how many reps I should be completing and jumped from one workout to another from what I saw on Instagram thinking I too could have amazing glutes and wondered why my body shape didn’t change.
As the novelty wore off (and the belief) that my body along with my age (47) I just wasn’t capable of those results and turned to an easier alternative of running. Little did I know that my muscle imbalances and weaknesses would be highlighted through my running and would result in me frequently visiting a physio and massage therapist.
However, on my running journey I discovered my true passion and qualified as a Personal Trainer and a Leader in Running fitness. The many hours I spent pounding the streets starting from 5km gave me an understanding of why my muscles needed to be stronger. As I accumulated the miles, I became aware that whilst I was gaining mental resilience to push the body, my legs were negatively feeling the impact (with tight hip flexors, hamstrings and IT bands along with weak glutes, quads and calf muscles!). This required focus on SMR (self myofacial release) techniques before my workouts to help improve my range of motion followed by strengthening exercises and stretching.
The UK's NHS recommend adults over the age of 35 should aim to do muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days per week to reduce the rate of natural bone loss. Up until around your 30s you normally build more bone than you lose, after which bone breakdown occurs faster than bone build-up.
During the start of the lockdown, with my new-found knowledge and multiple races behind me from 10km to Marathon distance. I decided I would embrace a new challenge of getting ‘shredded’ for the first time in my life. This was during the start of the pandemic which meant I would be doing all my workouts from home.
Exercising from home not only saved me time and money but proved that I didn’t need expensive gym equipment to achieve a six pack!
I understood that the majority of the result would come from my nutritional choices. With no truer words said...’abs are not built in the gym (well in my case at home) but in the kitchen’.
Along with regular and consistent exercises using body-weight and minimal equipment, where I continually challenged my body (progressive overload), not only did I lose over 10lbs, but I felt stronger both physically and mentally when I finished. I could see my abs for the very first time (captured on camera in a celebratory photo shoot).
I learnt that after the age of 30 our muscle mass decreases known as sarcopenia (which literally means ‘lack of flesh’) losing approximately 3–8% per decade with this rate of decline being even higher after the age of 60, along with a gradual loss of bone mass, exacerbated for women due to menopause. I knew I wanted to continue with my strength (resistance) training but decided on a new goal with the aim of building more muscle (that would also in turn strengthen/load my bones).
So, with my little bit of gym equipment (dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine ball, resistance bands and a pull-up bar) and a gradual but consistent increase of calories to my plant-based diet, I entered into the first part of my gaining phase understanding that patience would be what I needed most. As it is much harder to gain muscle (depending on your body type - me being a typical ectomorph) than it is to lose fat!
It is undisputed that to gain muscle ‘load is king’ in the bodybuilding realm and would require the heavy weights that a gym has to offer. However, going through another lock-down it wasn’t an option, but I also knew there were other ways to achieve progressive overload. Especially if working out from home without a selection of heavier weights to choose from. You only have to look at calisthenics’ exercises (that use minimal equipment focusing on body-weight being the resistance).
Progressive overload can also be accomplished by the following variables:
Reduced rest between sets
Varying the tempo
Adding more sets
When you are moving heavier weights, your muscles are primarily being put under mechanical tension, as opposed to metabolic tension when lifting light loads to failure (which involves a very high level of fatigue). It is this peripheral fatigue that actually contributes to muscle growth. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger....only start counting the reps when the aching/fatigue sets in (as this is when the magic (growth) happens.
I haven’t focused on my scale weight but have used progress photos instead. By training (hard) which involved 4-6 sessions per week. I have not only fired up my metabolism (which burns more calories) but have been eating in a surplus of my TDEE (total daily energy expenditure). Who doesn’t like the opportunity of being able to eat more! (Obviously with the right foods!) Phase 1 is now complete, and I am happy with my results.
What you need to train at home
Dumbbells (2-5kg for women to start with)
This is definitely a long term goal for me as it takes years to grow muscle but I want to inspire and motivate women who want to do the same.
Lifting weights will not make you look like a bodybuilder but will contribute to a healthier but most importantly a stronger and sexier you and it’s never too late to start!