I am a strength training addict. When I’m not training, I’m training other people, reading about training or daydreaming I’m training and, if I walk past a gym, I envy the people inside because they’re training and I’m not. But before I start coming across as a complete lunatic, I’ll tell you why weight training changed my life and it can change yours too.

Lifting weights has transformed my body shape. I’m now the proud owner of broader shoulders, a smaller waist and a perkier rear, plus I can eat five healthy meals a day without stressing about every morsel I put inside my mouth. When most women try to lose fat, they start jogging or some other form of cardio. If you want to lose fat, you must focus on burning calories, right? Wrong! By building muscle your body will become a fat burning furnace, using the food you eat for growth and recovery rather than feeding greedy fat cells.

But it’s not just the physical benefits of weight training that have been so important to me; it’s the mental benefits. Weight training gave me positive goals to work towards – my first pull up, 50 push ups, squatting twice my body weight. These memorable personal records gave me a far greater high than the hours I once spent jogging trying to burn off that third hobnob.

Proving my mettle in the gym has given me confidence and a will to succeed in every area of my life. It’s made me think twice when I say ‘I can’t’. When I’m tired, it gives me energy. When I’m stressed, it gives me positivity. When I feel like quitting it reminds me that, if I work hard, anything is possible. Here are a few secrets to succeeding in the gym and building your dream body:

  1. Feed the muscle. You can bust a gut performing perfect daily workouts, but if your muscles aren’t fed, they won’t grow. Diets and strength training don’t mix – hurrah! If you want to build your dream body, you must eat enough protein and calories to support your training.
  2. Make strength training your priority. Zumba, spin, pole dancing, sumo fitness…ok, I made that last one up! The fitness world offers a plethora of choice and it’s tempting to taste every flavour. However, if you want to build muscle, weight training must be your focus. Intense cardiovascular classes may even interfere with your muscle-building efforts, so skip the sweaty studios and head for the iron. Read The Basics: Cardio for more info
  3. Lift more weight. Progressive overload or lifting more weight is the key driver of muscle growth. Working to fatigue, changing your workouts or throwing in supersets or other fancy antics won’t benefit you as much as increasing the weight on the bar. With every workout, aim to slightly increase the load lifted or at least perform an extra rep. For those who lift regularly, working in the 4 to 6 rep range (80 per cent of your one rep max) has been proven most effective. Intermediate lifters should stick to 6 to 12 reps. Beginners should start at 12 plus reps and lower their numbers as they are able to increase the weights. When you reach your final rep, you should feel as if you can perform a maximum of one or two more. If there’s plenty still in the tank, you need to lift more.
  4. Focus on compound lifts. Squats, deadlifts and bench presses will help you reach your goals far quicker than sitting on the leg extension machine or performing endless bicep curls. These exercises have their place, but the bigger lifts activate multiple muscle groups, giving you more bang for your buck in less time.
  5. Don’t quit! Unfortunately two weeks in the gym will not transform your body. For your training programme to provide the results you want, you must perform three to five strength workouts every week, without fail. No matter whether you have had a bad day at work, you’ve stubbed your toe or the dishwasher needs emptying, your training sessions are non-negotiable.
  6. Rest. Just as you need to train, you need to rest. When you lift weights, you cause tiny tears in the muscle fibres which need time to repair and grow back stronger. If you don’t give your body sufficient rest, you will hinder this process. It takes the body two to seven days to fully repair muscles subjected to weight training. Three full body strength workouts or four upper/lower body split sessions per week is ideal. One complete rest day every week is essential.