It’s a natural reaction to think you need to join a gym to gain muscle but it’s not necessarily true. Yes, the fastest way to build muscle is to lift heavy weights and a gym, under the watch of a trained instructor is the best place to do this. However, I think we’re missing a trick and overlooking simple things we can all incorporate into our normal, daily, gym-free lives. There’s no need to feel guilty if you don’t own a pair of dumbbells, a set of kettle bells or a resistance band! Here’s a reminder as to why we need muscles, followed by 6 every day activities we all can use to build muscle. You might be doing them already …

Why we need muscles

The message is getting out that we need to build and maintain our muscles, especially as we age. It’s an important message. The more we learn about muscles the more we understand what a crucial role they play in keeping us healthy. Not only do they keep us stable and strong but they also reduce inflammation in our body which reduces our risk of serious medical conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. The body naturally loses muscle after about age thirty and by age fifty we can be losing as much as one per cent per year. We’ll be heading towards a state of low muscle mass called sarcopenia. We need more muscles!

How much strength work do I need to do?

The Chief Medical Officers’ physical activity guidelines state that everyone should aim for two sessions of muscle strengthening activities per week. There’s no recommended length of time for these sessions but around 20 minutes is reasonable.

This twice a week strength work is in addition to aiming for 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. That’s activity that makes you feel a bit out of breath when you’re doing it – you can talk but you can’t sing. Read on to find out about strength work and vigorous activity.

What counts as strength exercise?

You need to work a muscle with some kind of weight until it feels so tired that you need to give it a rest before you resume the work again, for it to count as true strength exercise. That weight can be your own body weight.

I wanted to remind you what counts as strength work. Not everyone wants, or is able to go to a weights class or a gym session twice a week. Not everyone wants or is motivated to use home gym equipment. And for those that do, there are still extra ways to gain muscle in your day to day life.

6 ways to get your strength work done

I bet you’re doing some of these already but not considered them as strength work:

  1. Climbing stairs. Have you ever tried to climb up a church tower or to the the top floor of a tower block? That burn in your leg muscles is fiery! Take the stairs rather than the lift whenever you can. Go to the toilet on the floor above the one you’re on. Don’t leave things on the stairs at home to take up next time you go up – make a trip each time. It’s easy to add some stair climbing into most days of the week, even if you live in a bungalow!
  2. Vigorous exercise. You might not realise it but if you’re doing vigorous exercise such as running, playing football or dancing, then you’ll be ticking off your muscle strengthening activities at the same time as your cardiovascular workout. That’s not to say there aren’t extra gains to be had by doing some focused strength and conditioning work. You should aim for a minimum of 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.
  3. Walking up hill. In the same way that climbing stairs counts as a muscle strengthening activity, so does walking up hill. Don’t always choose the easy route and don’t get the bus to avoid the hill. An ideal way is to go for a hike. Walking on uneven ground will work your leg muscles more than being on the smooth pavements. Carrying a rucksack or bag will add to the demand on your muscles too.
  4. Gardening. It was a morning of digging in the garden yesterday that prompted me to write this post. Heavy gardening is a great muscle builder. I can certainly feel my workout in my arms and back this morning. Digging, lifting, pulling out roots, it all makes you sweat and challenges your muscles.
  5. Shopping. Use a basket rather than a trolley in the supermarket if you’re only getting a few things. Park the car at the furthest point from the shops so you have to carry your heavy bags for longer. It’s a great arm work out. Stopping and putting your bags down for a quick breather and then starting again is the same as doing reps in a gym. Simply carrying something makes whatever we’re doing harder for our muscles.
  6. Cleaning and tidying. I don’t mean yielding a feather duster. I’m talking about lugging your hoover up and down the stairs. Moving the sofas to clean underneath them. Lifting the big rugs over the washing line so you can give them a beating. Rearranging the garage. Lifting boxes up into cupboards. Hard core cleaning that makes your muscles ache.

Don’t forget that you need to work all your major muscle groups each week. Runners beware, you need to work on your upper body too!

Incorporating strength work like this makes it much more achievable and also helps us to lose the guilt about not doing specific strength work sessions. Making our everyday harder can give us huge health benefits in the long term. Get the most out of what you’re already doing and look for opportunities to do a bit more.

Strength work not only improves muscular strength but it helps to maintain and build bone strength too. There’s lots more about strength and conditioning, the role of muscles in your body and bone health in my latest, best-selling book, Run Well: Essential health questions and answers for runners published by Bloomsbury and available from all good book sellers.

Featured image: Gratisography

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