How to improve your strength and flexibility

4 min read

Strength and flexibility exercises will help you increase muscle strength, maintain bone density, improve balance and reduce joint pain.

What are strength exercises?

A strength exercise is any activity that makes your muscles work harder than usual. This increases your muscles' strength, size, power and endurance.

The activities involve using your body weight or working against a resistance. You should try to do two sessions or more of muscle strengthening exercises a week.

Examples of muscle-strengthening activities include:

  • lifting weights
  • working with resistance bands
  • heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling
  • climbing stairs
  • hill walking
  • cycling
  • dance
  • push-ups, sit-ups and squats
  • yoga

What exercises are good for preventing falls?

Exercises that improve leg strength, balance and co-ordination can help people maintain and improve their muscle strength and avoid falls as they get older.

Examples of leg-strengthening exercises include:

  • tai chi
  • yoga
  • dance
  • walking up stairs
  • hiking
  • lifting weights

How can I tell if I'm doing enough?

For an activity to be muscle-strengthening, it needs to work your muscles to the point where you may need a short rest before continuing. For example, if you're lifting weights, you would have to put the weight down after doing a number of lifts before carrying on.

What are flexibility exercises?

Flexibility exercises are activities that improve the ability of a joint to maintain the movement necessary for carrying out daily tasks and physical activity.

Examples of flexibility activities include:

  • stretching
  • yoga
  • tai chi
  • pilates

What are the benefits of strength and flexibility activities?

Muscle-strengthening activities help maintain the ability to perform everyday tasks and slow down the rate of bone and muscle loss associated with ageing. Such exercises can also help reduce your chances of falling.

Health professionals believe that improving your flexibility can improve your posture, reduce aches and pains and lower your risk of injury. Good flexibility can also help you to continue carrying out everyday tasks.

How often should I do strength and flexibility exercises?

It's a good idea to do muscle-strengthening activities that work all the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) on two or more days a week. No specific amount of time is recommended, but a typical training session could take less than 20 minutes.

Exercises should be performed to the point at which it would be difficult to do another repetition without help. A repetition is one complete movement of an activity, like lifting a weight or doing one push-up or one sit-up.

Try to do 8 to 12 repetitions for each activity, which counts as one set. Try to do at least two sets of muscle-strengthening activities, but to gain even more benefits, do three sets. Remember to start gradually and build up over a period of weeks.

There are no specific recommendations for how much time you should spend on flexibility exercises.

Do strength exercises count towards my 150 minutes?

No, time spent doing strength exercises does not count towards moderate aerobic activities. Aerobic activities such as walking or cycling do count towards your 150-minute weekly target.

But don't some aerobic exercises include an element of strength?

Yes, some aerobic exercises, if performed at a vigorous intensity, will also strengthen your muscles.

Examples include:

  • circuit training
  • dancing
  • martial arts
  • football
  • hockey
  • rugby

For general health, try to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week, and in addition, muscle-strengthening activities on two days a week.

However, if you're doing vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, you should be able to get all your week's aerobic and muscle-strengthening requirements from 75 minutes of activity.

  • Download the Strength and Flex plan.

Need more tips on how to get active? Try out our 28-day

get fitter plan for all the latest hacks on how to work more exercise into your daily routine. Currently available on iOS only.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.