The Telegraph

The 20-minute strength plan every midlifer should follow

In the second part of our mini-series on midlife strength, we bring you the workouts for each decade – and ability. For more on the series, click here. So you’ve been convinced of the benefits of strength training. The next question: where do you start? There are dozens of plans and programmes vying for your attention, from the intimidating (powerlifting, strongman) to the just-a-bit-too-basic (doing press ups and squats). What all good plans have in common, though, is that they provide a balance between the simple, functional movements any healthy body should be able to do. These include: Pushing: This means anything from a dumbbell press to a press-up. An ideal plan provides both horizontal pushing and vertical, so you’ll never be stymied while putting things in cupboards – and it will keep your shoulders healthy enough to do both. Pulling: This is what many programmes miss, as it’s tricky to do without equipment: but it’s essential as it redresses the balance from all the forward-hunching you do at your desk. Ideally, you’ll do as many ‘pulling’ moves as ‘pushing’ ones, or even more. Squatting: Simple but crucial. If you’ve ever seen a toddler pick up a toy you’ve seen perfect squat mechanics in action – the upright torso, shoulder width feet and weight on the heels – but years of slouching on sofas and in office chairs wreck our mobility. Fix it with some squats and you’ll benefit from healthier hips and knees. Hip-hinging: Sounds complex, but you see it everywhere: a deadlift is a hip hinge, but so is a kettlebell swing – or the explosive movement that starts a standing broad jump. Carrying: This is the element that’s often left out of strength programmes – partly because gyms aren’t conducive to it – but, among other things, carrying things will keep your core strong, without endless sit ups. The basics of strength training: Unlike cardio, which is usually done continuously or in high-intensity bursts, strength training demands proper recovery between sets. Normally, you should focus on one or two moves at once: power lifters might do a single set of squats and then rest for up to five minutes before trying again, to let their bodies recover. If you’re lifting less weight you don’t need to do this, but it’s still important to lift with good form and think quality over quantity. Strength athletes sometimes joke that anything over five reps counts as cardio – you can do up to 12, but after that it’s time to up the weight or pick a harder movement. Stop before you ‘fail’: Though bodybuilders often wax lyrical about training to ‘failure’ – the point where your muscles literally won’t allow you to lift another thing – it’s not a useful approach because strength training is at least partly about teaching your muscle fibres to coordinate among themselves better (as the saying goes, ‘what fires together, wires together’) and by doing messy or unfinished reps, you’re ‘teaching’ your muscles the wrong movement pattern. A good rule of thumb: however many reps you’ve planned to do, stop the set once they start to slow down to the point that you’re grinding them out. Keep your movements controlled, and you’ll also reduce your risk of injury. Your 20-minute strength plan Strength is built over the long term, but if you’ve got 20 minutes spare a couple of times a week, you can make a start. Begin with the below: do the workout that’s appropriate for your age group 2-3 times a week, making sure you rest for at least a day between sessions. If moves are marked 1A and 1B, do them as a ‘superset’, which means doing both moves back to back before resting. For the weighted movements, pick a weight that’s manageable and increase it once you find hitting the upper end of the rep range easy. If you don’t have dumbbells, try these moves with water bottles or cans. Rest around 60 seconds after each set, or longer if you need to. If you find your age-group workout too simple, move to a ‘younger’ option and if you find it too hard, move to an ‘older’ option until you get stronger. And of course, if you have any concerns, consult a doctor before starting on a strenuous workout plan. In your…40s

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