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How to build strength safely to avoid injury

I regularly get asked questions about the gym, whether they be about which exercises to do for certain injuries, getting back into exercise after time off or even starting right from scratch. A common theme among my answers is to start small and build up in barely noticeable increments to avoid injury.

Muscles take time to build strength. Each time we exercise, particularly in weight training, we cause microdamage to our muscles that takes time to repair and rebuild. Part of the purpose of the rebuilding process is to make the muscle stronger, to help prevent higher levels of damage occurring next time you workout. The repair and rebuild process takes anything from a few hours to 2 days depending on the nature and intensity of the workout, which is why it’s so important to have rest days between workouts.


To demonstrate how muscle strength can be built up very effectively with small increments, I challenged myself to be able to do 50 push-ups within six months.

Six months may seem like a long time, but as I couldn’t do a single press-up at the start of my challenge, I thought that was fairly reasonable.

I’m 2 months in, and on 20 push-ups. Hooray! How did I do it? I added one push up every 2 days, once I’d mastered the art of doing one at all. So on day one and two, I did one push up. By day 3 I was doing 2 push-ups, and by the end of the first week I could already do 3 push-ups, a huge achievement for someone like me, with roughly the upper body strength of overcooked spaghetti after an injury took me out of the gym for a couple of years.

Muscle strength doesn’t not equal muscle size, so anyone can do weights without fear of getting big bulky muscles. Any body builder will tell you that it takes a huge amount of effort to get your muscles big and chunky.

Give it a go! Whether it be push-ups, bench presses, squats or a planking, set yourself an attainable goal and add tiny increments (1-2 reps, or 5 seconds) each day or two, and you might be surprised by what you can achieve.


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