Strength training: What is it, and should you be doing it?  

Strength training has many benefits for physical and mental health. We’ve got all the tips you need to get started.

The world of exercise is a vast and varied place, with many different sports and activities. Exercise in any form offers a range of health benefits for our physical and mental wellbeing. As we age, it becomes more important than ever to protect and preserve our bone density and muscle mass, and that’s where strength training comes in.  

You might have heard it referred to as resistance training, weightlifting, strength and conditioning, or simply ‘toning up’, but however it’s phrased, strength training means working against an opposing force to exercise the muscles in your body.  

It can take many forms, from the Olympic weightlifting you might see on TV, to exercises using your body weight. But however you choose to do it, it’s a good idea to make strength training an integral part of your workout routine.

Man getting ready to lift a barbellCredit: Shutterstock / Alfredo Lopez
Strength training has many benefits

The benefits of strength training

Strength training has a multitude of benefits, these are just a few of the best ones

Helen Hall, strength and kettlebell coach at Hels Bells, says: “First and foremost, strength training allows you to stay strong to manage the everyday tasks. It supports mobility, stability and flexibility.”  

Strength helps us in everyday activities, whether that’s lifting boxes out of the attic, digging the garden, or carrying the shopping. It also allows you to stay mobile and flexible, making things like getting up and down from the floor easier, or being able to bend to pick things up. Having strength for these things also decreases the risk of injury.  

It keeps your body in good shape; if you can move well, you feel well, and have the energy to keep up with those younger than you, as Hall points out: “I love skiing with my teenage sons. If I wasn’t as strong, I wouldn’t be able to keep up or keep going. What better reason is there to be strong than for your family?” 


It protects your bones

The risk of developing osteoporosis increases as we age, particularly for women due to hormonal changes associated with menopause. Weight bearing exercise helps strengthen joints and increases bone density. This decreases the chance of osteoporosis and fractures. If you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, it’s important to talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise plan.  


Man using a smith machine to lift weightCredit: Shutterstock / Kostiantyn Voitenko
Strength training builds muscle

Builds muscle

Strength training builds – and maintains – muscle. After the age of 30, we begin to lose muscle mass (known as sarcopenia), and the rate at which we lose it increases the older we get. However, that’s not to say we can’t continue to gain muscle during this time, you just need to know how to do it.  

The more muscle we have on our body, the stronger we are. Women, don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you’ll look bulky if you gain muscle. We don’t have the levels of testosterone in our bodies for that. But including 2-3 strength training sessions a week will keep you strong and help prevent muscle loss.  

Can help prevent many health conditions

Strength training doesn’t just protect bones. Studies have shown that training with weights for just an hour a week can help prevent heart disease and type 2 diabetes and lower your risk of stroke. In fact, research from the British Journal of Sports Medicine has shown weight bearing exercise is associated with a lower risk of death.  

Woman doing push-ups in the parkCredit: Shutterstock / Drazen Zigic
Strength training can help women during menopause

Aids women in menopause

Speaking to Exceptional, Kate Rowe-Ham, founder of Owning Your Menopause, tells us: “Strength training is fundamental for women as we age. Our bodies go through a period of transition as our hormones decline, which can put us at greater risk of osteopenia, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.”  

As well as helping to prevent all these conditions, weight training can help reverse other menopause symptoms, such as weakening pelvic floor function, increased sleeplessness and weight gain.

Increases testosterone for men

“Testosterone levels (T- levels) peak in men toward the end of adolescence,” Tim Harris from Goldster tells us. “As men age, however, these levels start to decline in the mid-30s by approximately 1% each year. To aid in the natural production of testosterone, men (and women) can strength train to help increase T levels.  

 “In short, the more muscle we have, the more testosterone is needed to help build and maintain these muscles.” 

Man doing bicep curlCredit: Shutterstock / Ground Picture
Strength training benefits mental wellbeing

Weight loss

Often a strength workout doesn’t involve getting as out of breath as a cardio workout (such as running or cycling) but lifting weights can really boost weight loss, if that’s your goal. As we gain more muscle, our bodies become much more efficient at burning fat and so we effectively use more calories throughout the day, even at rest.  

But the number on the scale isn’t everything. Contrary to popular belief, muscle doesn’t weigh heavier than fat, it just takes up less space. You could theoretically look leaner weighing 70kg (11st) with a lot of muscle, than weighing 65kg (10st 2lb) with less.  

Aids mental wellbeing

One of the best reasons to exercise is that it makes you feel good. Any exercise releases endorphins, helping to raise our mood, which can also combat depression. Physically working our bodies also helps us to sleep better. 

Aside from the scientifically proven benefits, there are intangible ones too. “Strength training is empowering and supports mental health,” Hall says. “You lift not only to get stronger physically but mentally too.  

“I regularly see the mood of people improve as the class progresses. You can park whatever else is going on in your day and focus on the task in hand.”  

Strength training is an incredible mood lifter. Not just for that immediate post-workout high, but for overall wellbeing. It makes you feel more confident, you hold yourself better, you feel more powerful, more determined, and more focused.  

Lady doing bodyweight squatsCredit: Shutterstock / Natta Port
You don’t need to lift weights right away

How to start

You don’t need to lift weights right away

Getting started with strength training doesn’t need to be overwhelming, and neither does it have to take a lot of time. Just two or three sessions a week, of 20 – 30 minutes, will bring notable changes. You’ll need to master the basics first, such as how to squat, how to lunge, and how to safely lift a weight from the floor.  

It’s best to work with a fully qualified personal trainer (PT) or fitness trainer, and check they hold the relevant qualifications for your needs. As ever, talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine if you have any pre-existing injuries or health concerns.  

Personal trainers should be qualified to a minimum of PT level 3. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions or injuries, check they also hold their GP referral qualification to ensure they’re qualified to work with you.

Bodyweight training is the best place to start for a complete beginner. PT and coach Dani Bearsby, from Peak Performance Fitness, has some tips if you’re brand new to weight training.  

“Even 20 minutes of movement is better than sitting in a chair all day,” she says. “I would recommend you start with bodyweight exercises such as getting up and down from a chair, low step ups (you can use the stairs at home for this), and some upper body work.  

“From here you can progress to using resistance bands or light dumbbells and kettlebells. The weight itself (as in how heavy) is not important, it’s all about moving and staying active.” 

Strength training can be tailored to your level of ability. Can’t do push-ups? Try the same movement against a wall instead. If you find it hard to squat down to pick up a weight, try it without a weight first.  

Rowe-Ham suggests the following circuit to try at home or in the gym: “Do 10 each of squats, pushups, walking lunges, side steps, and jumping/ stepping jacks. Repeat three to five times.”  

PT helping client to use resistance bandsCredit: Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia
Resistance bands are a great mobile option

Resistance bands

The mobile gym

Resistance bands, or loops, are a great tool for beginners, but they’re also suitable for advanced trainers too. Many PTs love these bands for their versatility as well as their ease of use.  

“Resistance bands come in all shapes, sizes and most importantly kilogram/pound equivalents,” Tim Harris says. “The principle of resistance bands is similar to weighted exercise in that it puts stress on our muscles through movement. Some even come with attachable handles that aid in certain exercises.”  

Some gyms have dedicated classes for using bands, and there are many workouts on YouTube as well. Bands are particularly useful for leg and glute (butt) exercises, as well as offering added support for more challenging moves, like pull-ups.  

 “Larger resistance bands can help with stabilisation and weight supported exercises. Just when people thought they would never be able to learn pull-ups… the resistance band is there to lend a hand.”  

 Resistance bands are also very portable, making them a great choice for travel or storing at home. They’re also a low–cost investment – look on Amazon for many options.  

Couple having a personal training sessionCredit: Shutterstock / Liderina
A gym workout is a great choice

Take it to the gym

Workout and class options

Joining a gym gives you many options when it comes to strength training, whatever your level of fitness. If you have mobility issues of any kind, many gyms offer classes tailored for this, such as chair fitness, which will offer basic weight training using bodyweight, bands, or balls.  

Alternatively, most gyms offer a comprehensive class timetable with a wide range to pick from. Classes such as BodyPump use lighter weights to a faster tempo, so you get a good cardio workout at the same time as building some muscles. Kettlebells are a very versatile tool for building strength and can be used in several ways, while circuit training offers a variety of exercises.  

If the class environment isn’t for you, staff will be able to teach you how to use the gym equipment safely and may also give you a basic programme to follow.  

Lady doing overhead pressCredit: Shutterstock / – Yuri A
Progressive overload will keep you strong

Progressive overload

Keep going!

When it comes to strength training, the important thing is to keep going. The term progressive overload is the process of gradually making your workouts more challenging over time. If you keep doing the same workout, with the same weights, you’ll stop seeing any improvement. That’s not to say you should leave every workout feeling like you’ve pushed to your absolute limit, but our muscles respond to stimulus, and that stimulus needs to keep changing. 

For example, you might use an 8kg (17lb) kettlebell for three sets of eight squats, twice a week for four weeks. Over time, you become comfortable with that weight. The squats are easy to work through and you know you could comfortably do more reps or sets. You could increase the weight, using a 10kg (22lb) kettlebell for the same sets and reps.  

But if you had only that one kettlebell available, another way to use progressive overload might be to do four sets of eight, or three sets of 10. You could also vary the tempo, lowering into the squat slowly, pausing at the bottom, and then driving up.  

There are many variables within strength training, so it will never get boring. If you’re attending a class, the instructor will build progressive overload into the class structure. If you’re using a gym, or working out at home, take note of when an exercise becomes too easy – and be honest!  

Over time, you’ll be amazed at how much you can do and how brilliant it feels to be strong.  

Becky Fuller

Written by Becky Fuller she/her


Becky Fuller is a fully qualified Personal Trainer, specialising in strength and conditioning for over 50s. Becky is passionate about Kettlebell training, and runs a regular kettlebell club in the local community. Prior to this, she worked as a Fitness manager in a local gym. Becky’s focus is helping people to become stronger both in body and mind, and to move well without pain.

Becky also has many years’ experience working as a freelance journalist, writing for a wide variety of publications such as Screen Rant, Geek Feed, and Daily Actor. She also regularly reviews theatre productions for UKTW.

Away from work, Becky unsurprisingly enjoys exercise, with a focus on lifting weights, kettlebells, and Olympic rings. She loves watching theatre, swimming, and reading a good book. She has three teenage children and enjoys spending time with them, preferably on a Cornish beach.

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