Strength training is at the top of many "New Year's Resolutions"
and “to do” lists. However, if you do not have strength
training experience and try to initiate a program on your own,
you may end up with injuries, poor results, wasted time and
a sense of failure. In order to make your resolutions a reality,
you must plan ahead to make necessary changes to your lifestyle
and seek out information to prepare yourself mentally and physically
for your challenge.
article outlines the basics of beginning a strength
training program. The information provided is for new
exercisers, and although we cannot demonstrate the exercises
for you, the information should help you get started! Remember
to consult your physician before
beginning your program. She may have important recommendations
for you depending on your health and medical history.
you’ve decided you’d like to start strength
training, the first thing you MUST do is look at your
schedule. Where and when will you exercise? Luckily, an
initial program can take as little as one half hour, two
or three times a week. If you have even less time per
day, you can split your time up to 15 minute segments
twice a day. In addition, you can create a very effective
program that can be done in your own home, thus saving
time and energy.
need to buy some free weights, 3, 5 and 8 pounds depending
on your baseline strength, and perhaps some additional
fun tools like rubber bands and tubing and the very “hot” new
prop, the physio-ball. Used in physical therapy for decades,
these large balls are superb for stability and balance
training as well as strengthening muscles. They can even
be used as a “bench” for some of the exercises
in which you may traditionally use a weight bench.
muscle groups should be worked prior to small muscle
groups, so the order of exercises is important. I like
the natural progression from legs, up through your core
(the muscles that attach at your torso) and then to
your upper body. I recommend the following order:
with the large muscles of the legs,
to your middle body (or "core"),
on to your upper body
order is important, you may find certain exercises challenging
for your current fitness level, so you may choose to
do those first. For example, abdominal and low back
exercises can be done first (or last), as long as you
are not too tired to do them well. Form is important
to obtaining successful results.
a weight that produces fatigue in the muscle after 10-15
repetitions of the exercise. If you choose a weight that
is so heavy that you can only lift it 6-8 times, you may
risk injuring yourself - stay with “high
reps” and lower weight to start.
with one exercise per body part, performing only one “set”
of that exercise. Rest between sets if you feel out of breath,
or if the muscle becomes very fatigued.
For the large muscles of the legs like
the quadriceps (front of thighs), and gluteals (buttocks):
a modified squat or lunge exercise first. Weights
can be held at your sides during these exercises.
You could also add a “wall sit” for
stability and strength by sitting against a wall
(like you are sitting in a chair) and hold this
position for 10-30 seconds. This is much harder
than it sounds!
these large exercises with exercises for the inner
and outer thighs such as side lying leg lifts
or inner thigh lifts, to provide balance and support
for the hip area.
For your “middle body” or
need to do an exercise to strengthen the rectus abdominus,
or the ab muscle in the center of your belly, as well
as an exercise for the obliques, the muscles at your
waistline. The obliques are very important for good
(half a sit-up) will target your rectus abdominus,
while crossing one shoulder to the opposite
knee will get your obliques. Traditional situps,
where you curl all the way up to your knees,
are no longer recommended due to the risk
of back injury.
addition, I always include a core stability
exercise such as a “plank hold”.
Plank hold is a yoga variation in which you
rest on your forearms, with the rest of the
body in a traditional pushup position (knees
off ground, body “straight as a plank”,
curl up on toes) and hold this position for
10-30 seconds. Keep your belly button drawn
up into your spine and breath steadily as you
hold this superb exercise.
Your upper body consists of your chest,
back, shoulders and arms, and this is a good order to
your chest muscles:
a pushup, modified on bent knees, or straight leg.
This is a very difficult exercise. Proceed carefully
and don’t overdo it. Keep your abdominals very
tight as you perform the pushup so as not to strain
your back. A pushup works not only your chest and
arms, but also your “core”
muscles, so it is very valuable. Those with shoulder
or neck injuries should consult with their doctor
or a physical therapist prior to trying pushups.
Next, try a bench
press or fly. Lie on your back and use free weights
over your chest. (Think about the opposite of a
pushup - weights are lowered slowly to chest and
then pushed back up).
your back muscles:
arm row, upright row or lat pull down (performed on
a cable exercise machine) will target these all important
postural muscles. I always tell my clients to do more
back than chest exercises, as it is very important
to have the back be strong enough to hold our posture.
Low back exercises are also important, and a plank
hold, as described previously, is one way to start.
An overhead press and lateral raise work the middle
shoulder. A lateral raise is a more difficult exercise
and should be done with light weights. Additional
exercises for the back of the shoulder and the rotator
cuff are very important, as again, we need to create
strong postural muscles which will prevent chronic
pain and injury. The shoulder is the most frequently
injured body part from strength training, so consult
an expert if you have any concerns.
We generally work the biceps, located on the front
of the arm, and the triceps, on the back of the arm.
A basic bicep curl, curling the weight up from the
thigh to the shoulder, will work the biceps. The triceps
are usually weaker than the biceps, so use lighter
weights. Overhead extensions or
“kickbacks” work these muscles well.
A basic program as outlined above can be done
for 6 weeks before you need to add more. Because your body will
adapt to your exercise program, you’ll need to increase
weight, or double all exercises in 6 weeks or so. Change your
program by changing exercises and adding more work every 6-12
weeks, depending on how quickly the program becomes easy for
you. Be careful as you increase weights lifted - only increase
by the smallest increment possible. Do expect delayed onset
soreness from your exercise program, but do not tolerate any
unusual aches or pains that do no subside quickly. Contact your
doctor immediately if this occurs, as you may have an injury
that needs attention.
that we have provided some basic ideas for you to get started,
it’s up to you! There are many excellent books outlining
strength training programs to assist you as well. Of course,
consulting a certified personal trainer is money well spent,
as you will avoid errors which could result in injury.
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