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One hour of strength training has huge benefits – here’s how to spend 60 minutes in the gym

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How to spend an hour in the gym, according to an expert personal trainer. 

A new study from the British Medical Journal found that just 30-60 minutes of resistance training a week lowers mortality risk by 20%. It’s a big claim, but it’s not the first time we’ve heard about the power of building strength for our long-term health. 

We know that resistance exercise wards off osteoporosis by improving bone density and the fact it improves sleep means it prevents cognitive and hormonal issues associated with getting less than eight hours. So, while we may not need more headlines to convince us that the training style is good for us, many of us do need support to actually start. Because if you don’t know what you’re doing, an hour in the gym can feel pretty overwhelming. 

If you need a helping hand, here’s an expert PT’s guide to spending (about) an hour in the gym. 

WARM-UP

Cardio: 5 minutes

Walk on a treadmill, gently get moving on the bike or use a cross trainer to start your session. “This is just to get the blood flowing and muscles warmed up to prepare yourself for exercise,” says Martena David, PT at Gymbox. Better yet, walk to the gym to enjoy the benefits of moving outside.

Dynamic mobility: 7 min

“A big mistake that people make is doing static stretches before exercise. Rather than holding stretches still, which relaxes the muscles, you need to be moving through them,” says David.

She recommends performing bodyweight variations of exercises you do in your main workout to mobilise the muscles you’ll be using in your session. “However, it’s very individual because everyone has different areas of tension or tightness. Focus on things that are specific to your own needs,” David adds. 

Resistance training: 45 minutes

Compound exercises: 20 minutes

“Start your workout with a big exercise, known as a compound movement. This is something that works the most muscle groups and requires the most energy, so needs to be done at the beginning of your session,” David explains.

These moves include deadlifts, squats, lunges, bent-over rows, overhead press and bench press

Choose two of these exercises – if you are doing one workout a week, David recommends choosing one lower-body focused and one upper-body focused; if you are doing a body part split (ie leg day), you can choose exercises that target the same area.

You can perform four sets of eight reps, with a one-minute rest break in the middle. 

Isolation exercises: 25 minutes

Now is the time for isolation exercises – those that target individual muscle groups rather than large areas. This might include machines as well as dumbbell or bodyweight exercises, says David. “For lower-body exercises, you might go for hamstring curls and leg extensions; for upper body it might tricep extensions.”

She recommends four isolation exercises, one of which is unilateral. “That means single-side movements, such as a single side row or split squat,” says David.

For each exercise, perform three sets of 10-12 reps (for the unilateral move, make sure it’s 10-12 each side), then rest for 30 seconds to a minute. 

Cooldown: 3 minutes

“I definitely recommend taking time to de-stress and stretch your muscles after training, but you don’t need to spend ages on your cooldown,” says David. She recommends a few static stretches, each held for 30 seconds, that target the muscles you just used – such as shoulder and chest stretches for upper body workouts or hip-releasing figure fours if you’ve done lower-body work. Then once a week add a longer, recovery-focused stretch session into your routine.

And you’re done. That’s one hour spent strengthening your body to improve your mental and physical health. 

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).