Whatever your reason for starting a strength training regime, you’re doing the right thing. Strength training not only builds fitness, burns calories and improves overall health, but it can also prevent osteoporosis and that dreaded middle-age sag. Besides, what’s better than getting fit with just two days per week of training? Nothing!
If you’re just starting out, it’s not a bad idea to get some tips from a true fitness professional to prevent injuries and make sure your form is correct. Alternatively, if you want more information on how to maximize your workout with a diet and fitness program, here’s a fitness course that might interest you.
If you’re just ready to put the pedal to the metal, let’s go. First and foremost, it’s not a bad idea to look at all the benefits of strength training, so you have something to keep you focused on those days when you’d rather push your fingers backwards than do a push-up.
Benefits of Strength Training
According to the CDC, some of the major benefits of strength training include:
- Maintaining or restoring balance. This is particularly important for preventing falls as we age and not embarrassing yourself on a Survivor balance beam challenge.
- Increasing bone strength. Strength training reduces the risk of fractures by improving bone density. Bone fractures are so not hot.
- Maintaining a healthy weight. Strength training increases your metabolism by up to 15%, and you know what that means: no more cabbage soup diet!
- Controlling glucose levels and diabetes—16 weeks of strength training produced results comparable to taking medication. Whoa!
- Getting out of a funk—When it comes to depression, strength training can again produce results that compare to taking medication. Perhaps it’s no surprise that getting stronger makes you actually feel stronger.
- Gaining aerobic capacity. Doing strength training three times a week has been shown to help your heart, and it may even help your odds on eHarmony.
Let’s just get this straight: If we can commit to strength training two to three times a week, the benefits can be physical, mental, physiological and possibly even spiritual? Well then, let’s get crackin’.
You don’t have to join a gym to get good strength training results, so when you’re just beginning it’s reasonable to do some exercises at home. Do whatever it takes to make it easier for you to get started on a strength training routine. Five minutes in the morning plus five minutes in front of the TV at night is plenty of time to feel the burn in the beginning. The key when you’er starting out is mostly to commit to doing it. Make it pleasurable, and give strength training the priority it deserves in your schedule.
You Are a Machine
Strength training is a progressive endeavor. As your muscles get stronger, you need to increase the resistance, but a great place to start is with your own body weight. Exercises like lunges, push-ups, sit-ups and dips will definitely make your muscles ache if you haven’t been doing two sets of twelve reps for the last ten years. When you’re just beginning, Pilates definitely qualifies as strength training —especially for your midsection. Skip the fees at the gym and opt for some quality fitness instruction at home. If you do decide to hit the gym, opt for the weight-lifting machines over dumbbells to help you get the right form.
How Much Weight?
Everyone begins their strength training at a different fitness level, so you have to determine where you stand. Generally speaking, if you can do thirty reps without too much huffing and puffing, you should probably increase the weight. You want your muscles to tire significantly after only eight to twelve reps. Rest your biceps while you do some lunges and then cycle through for another round. Experts recommend two to four sets of eight to twelve repetitions. Watch your form in a mirror to make sure you’re using your muscles and not swinging a weight with momentum, which can cause injuries. You should always be doing your exercises slowly, and with control—that’s the best way to develop your strength. Don’t zoom through your sit-ups just because you can. Doing it slowly gives much better tone. Again, get the right form from a guru to prevent possible injuries.
The Exercises in Detail
If you’ve got a couple dumbbells lying around (and I don’t mean the kids) there are a number of exercises to get you started. Generally speaking, sucking in your tummy and standing up straight (with slightly bent knees) will give you the correct posture to help ensure proper form.
- Chest Press—lie on your back, elbows bent at 90 degrees. Extend straight up and come back down—slowly with control. This strengthens the pectoral muscles of your chest.
- Tricep Extension—Hold the weights behind your head: elbows pointing up and arms relaxed. Elevate the weights as you extend above your head and return.
- Basic Bicep Curl—Anchor your feet hip width apart with arms down at your sides. Keeping your elbows close to your body, curl the weight up, and slowly lower back down.
- Lateral Raise—Keep your feet shoulder-width apart with your arms down at your sides. Elevate your arms simultaneously to shoulder height while keeping your arms straight. This works your shoulders.
- Lunges—To find the proper position, take a large step forward leaving your back leg behind. Your front knee should be at a perfect 90 degree angle—directly above your ankle. Using your thighs, elevate your body straight up and back down. This tones your thighs and bum.
- Squats—Keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down to a 90-degree angle and back up. For balance, you can extend your arms in front of you, or tuck them behind your back. Try to keep your spine straight.
- Shoulder press—Raise your elbows to shoulder height and bring them inline with your chest horizontally. Holding the weights at 90-degrees to your elbow, extend your arms above your crown and back down.
- Crunches—Lie on your back on the floor and elevate your knees. Keeping your stomach tucked in, gently raise and lower your shoulders using your abdomen to pull you up.
- Push-ups—Lie stomach-side down on the floor. Place your hands in front of your shoulders and push your body up. Balance your legs on your toes (or knees) keeping your back elevated (not dipping) and straight. Press your body down and back up in slow repetitions. This is a great exercise for working your arms and back.
- Planking—Again starting face down, rest your upper body on your elbows and forearms while you balance your lower body on your toes. Keep your back elevated and your belly tucked in. Planking is way harder than it looks, and it’s a great full body move to develop your balance.
Some folks even recommend combining a few of these exercises to maximize your time. Try doing a shoulder press while you lunge for a high-intensity workout.
That’s it. Fitting in those basic exercises will tone every major muscle group in your body. It’s quick and not too complicated. You can do most of those exercises on your lunch break without even getting weird looks from your coworkers. And the next time your bum is falling asleep in your office chair, you can relax knowing that your bigger muscles are burning more calories than before. But now that you’ve turned over a new leaf in terms of fitness, you might be interested in learning more about nutrition or some learning how to implement some high-energy cardio to complement your new fitness regime. Post workout, lots of folks recommend a bit of stretching and flexibility to keep those new, big, bulging muscles limber and relaxed. Don’t forget that while strength training is great for your overall fitness, if you want to lose weight, overhauling your diet is where it’s at.
In any case, be proud of yourself for taking the steps to prioritize your personal strength. You’re on the road to a fitter, happier, healthier you, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Whatever your age, the payoffs of strength training are huge and the time commitment is minimal. Now go check yourself out in the mirror—we know you want to.