answering some questions about strength exercises

What is strength training? Why should I do it? How often should I do it?  What exercises should I do?  How heavy should the weights be?

I can’t give you detailed answers to all of that — it’s too individualized and would take too long — but I can give you the gist.

What is strength training?

Any exercise that you do that increases the strength, size, or anaerobic endurance of one or more of your muscles.  You’re going to need a force for your muscles to push or pull against.  This includes lifting weights, doing body weight exercises (for example: push ups, where you’re not using extra weights but are just using your body), some types of yoga and Pilates.  (I am not terribly familiar with either yoga or Pilates, so if you see errors, please correct me.)

Why should I?

Short answer: because it’s good for you.  Longer answer: beginning at around age 30, we lose 3 to 5% of our muscle mass per decade.  Many people see this as an inevitable part of aging, but if we work to maintain or increase strength, we counteract that loss.

Beyond muscle strength, strength training also strengthens joints and bones, enhances cardiovascular performance, and aids in fat loss/weight control.  Muscles at rest burn more calories than fat at rest.  The answer to “How many calories do I burn sitting on the couch?” is different for two people of equal weight whose body compositions are different.  More muscle = more calories burned by sitting on the couch.

How often should I?

The goal of strength training most often is to build strength.  (Don’t laugh — building strength and building big showy muscles are not necessarily the same thing.)  Muscles get stronger in their recovery period, or the time in between workouts when you aren’t using them.  This means that you need to give them time to recover.  But not too much.

A general rule to follow for resting is leave a day in between for the same muscle group.  So if you are working out your arms and shoulders today, you should not work them out tomorrow.  This gives you three workouts per week.

The most efficient way to strength train your whole body three times per week is to do a full-body workout three days per week.  (This would be in contrast to doing an upper body workout today, followed by a lower body workout tomorrow, upper the next day, and so on.)  Three workouts per week can easily be achieved while leaving a day or two in between.  Just remember, if you’re using a weekly calendar, that Saturday and Sunday are consecutive days.  (You might be surprised how many people forget that, since those little boxes are not next to each other…)

What about abs?

There is some “common knowledge” running around that says while you do all other muscles not more than every other day, you can work abs every day.  False.  Abs are muscles just like the others and need rest to recover.

A note about resting:

Your current fitness level will dictate what requires a day’s rest.  For example, when I first started exercising, taking a spin class would count as a lower body workout.  Today, that is not true, and I can easily lift and spin on consecutive days.

What exercises should I do?

The answer to this depends completely on your current state of health and fitness, your goals, what tools you have at your disposal, and what you like.

If you’re working out at home, it’s probably going to look different than if you have a fully equipped gym at your disposal.  Does that mean the gym is better, since there’s more stuff?  No.  You can do everything you need to do at home, but if you like the machines, then the gym is a better bet for you.

Be sure to hit all the major muscle groups on a regular basis.  Include exercises to strengthen your core (abs, lower back) on a regular basis.  Do exercises in different planes of motion (forwards, sideways, twisting) because in real life, when we move, it’s in all different directions.

Make sure you use good form.  It is too easy to injure yourself.  Get information from a reliable book, a reliable web source, or a trainer.  Use a mirror.  Our kinesthetic awareness is often not top-notch.

Try out different exercises until you find some that you like.  If you don’t like what you’re doing, it’s not sustainable.

How heavy should the weights be?

Again, this depends on many of the same factors as above.  Do you want to get strong or tone up?  How much are you capable of lifting?

You will use different weights for different muscles.  Your biceps can’t lift as much as your hamstrings.

Makes sense?  Questions?  You know where to leave ’em.  I’m happy to answer 🙂

Tomorrow: how to get more bang for your sweat.  Monday: soreness, stretching, and foam rolling.


3 responses to this post.

  1. […] answering some questions about strength exercises « Change Is Possible […]

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