Contributor: Tom Iannetta, ATC, CSCS
Most exercise programs consist of aerobic conditioning, flexibility exercises and strength training. In strength training, you add resistance to a particular movement to overload your muscles, which makes them work harder and become stronger.
Strength training can offer many benefits, including increased muscle tone, strength, endurance and bone density. Strength training also improves balance and coordination and decreases the risk of injury when you are active.
As we age, we lose muscle mass, which decreases metabolism, so establishing a strength program will not only increase muscles, it will boost metabolism. Finally, a strength program will make daily activities such as doing the laundry or yard work easier, and of course, it will increase your performance in your favorite sport.
The most common strength training routines involve free weights such as weight plates added to barbells, fixed barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and medicine balls to name a few. Weight machines are another option as well as body weight exercises such as push-ups and pull-ups.
The No. 1 factor to consider when beginning a strength-training program is safety. So check with your physician before starting a strength training routine. While you can reap many benefits from strength training, performing the exercises incorrectly will put you at risk for injury.
If you are a member of a fitness center, health club or recreation center, ask the staff for guidance on how to use the strength machines. Many people prefer to do their strength program at home, so before beginning, it would be beneficial to consult with a strength and conditioning specialist. He or she can help you develop a safe program that uses the proper lifting techniques.
A general guideline for improving strength is to exercise each major muscle group at least twice a week. This could be performed as a whole body workout or by doing a split routine performing upper body exercises twice a week, then lower body exercises twice a week.
Be sure to give yourself proper rest between strength training sessions. Always begin with a light warm up such as riding a stationary bike or an elliptical machine; five to 10 minutes should be sufficient.
Three sets of an exercise with eight to 12 repetitions has been a long-time standard for an effective strength program. However, finding time to exercise may be a challenge. Recent research shows that many people see results with one or two sets of eight to 15 repetitions of a particular exercise.
Pushing the muscle to fatigue is a key factor. Choose a weight that is heavy enough to fatigue your muscles in eight to 15 repetitions. As exercise becomes easier, you can progressively increase the amount of resistance.
Finally, as you get stronger in your strength-training program, try varying the exercises you perform. Different exercises or varying the weight training equipment in your routine should keep your program fresh and exciting.