If you’re curious about strength training (also known as resistance training or weight training), but have yet to give it a shot, there’s one thing for certain—you don’t have to be a professional bodybuilder or hardcore athlete to get involved and reap the benefits. While strength training can appear intimidating, it certainly doesn’t have to be. We’ve rounded up some great tips to make the most out of your journey into weight training, so keep reading and get inspired to partake!
What are the benefits?
Strength training is physical activity designed to improve muscular fitness and strength by exercising a specific muscle or muscle group against external resistance, including free weights, machines, or your body’s own resistance. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions out there about this type of training like it’ll turn you into the Hulk or it doesn’t burn as many calories as cardio. Regular strength training is key to preventing the natural loss of lean muscle mass that comes with aging and actually helps provide a boost in your metabolic rate (meaning your body will continue to burn calories even when at rest.) Other benefits include improved physical performance, cardiovascular health, movement control, walking speed, functional independence, cognitive abilities, and it might even assist with easing low back pain and discomfort associated with arthritis.
Where exactly do I start?
Dillon Kelleher, a personal trainer with RightFit, makes a thoughtful suggestion in terms of where to begin with strength training if you’ve never done it before. “I like to start with mindset—take some time to think about what you want to get out of fitness, how much time can you commit, and then set specific goals accordingly,” he says. “It’s important to be honest about what is motivating you and what changes you are trying to make—this awareness will give your workout programing direction and fill you with passion.”
What equipment should I use?
You don’t necessarily need a gym membership to start weight training which is good to know as many fitness locations continue to remain closed due to the pandemic. “You can honestly make do with many items you likely have lying around the house,” notes Kelleher. “Lamont Lynn, PXM gym co-owner and one of my personal coaches, assigned a home workout last year where we used a backpack full of books in place of a medicine ball, and another time, I was using a broom stick to practice my Olympic lifting technique—it’s all about how motivated you are and what you are trying to accomplish.”
He notes that it’s worth looking over those fitness goals before purchasing a bunch of equipment and determining what you can do with what you already have, adding that bodyweight exercises like burpees are challenging and require no equipment at all. “If you are thinking about getting a few items, bands are a great place to start—loop bands, full body, and mini—most movements can be performed or modified with these and they are rather inexpensive,” points out Kelleher. “Additionally, if you’re performing compound movements (squats, deadlifts, swings, cleans, or snatches), a kettlebell or dumbbell would be another useful purchase.”
How often should I be strength training?
In terms of how often you want to be strength training, Kelleher explains that depends on a variety of factors like your fitness goals, pre-existing injuries, medical history, etc. and that everyone is different. “As a general idea, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), agree on the health benefits of 150 minutes of intentional moderate exercise per week spread out over the course of at least three days,” he says, adding that the ACSM recommends engaging in strength training at least twice a week to reap the benefits.
It’s important to rest those hardworking muscles, too, and avoid exercising the same muscles two days in a row. “You might work all of your major muscle groups at a single session two or three times a week, or plan daily sessions for specific muscle groups, for example, work your arms and shoulders on Monday, your legs on Tuesday, and so on,” writes the Mayo Clinic in an article about the do’s and don’ts of weight training.
How much weight should I be lifting?
Another significant factor to keep in mind is to make sure you’re lifting the appropriate amount of weight when using equipment. The Mayo Clinic suggests starting with a weight you can lift comfortably 12 to 15 times, highlighting that for most people, a single set of 12 to 15 repetitions with a weight that fatigues the muscles can build strength efficiently and be as effective as three sets of the same exercise. As you get stronger, you can gradually increase the amount of weight you’re lifting.
What about form?
Learning to do each exercise correctly is also key when it comes to strength training—proper form can not only help you achieve better results, but it’s crucial for injury prevention. “When weight training, focus on form and the intended stimulus—completing repetitions with full range of motion, proper loading, stability, and developing the mind-body connection,” says Kelleher. “If form ever breaks in an exercise, be sure to stop and recalibrate.” If you’re at the gym and unsure about proper technique for a particular exercise, don’t be afraid to ask a trainer for help and remember that proper form matters even when it comes to picking up and replacing weights on the racks.
Anything else I should keep in mind?
Before starting a strength training workout, take time to warmup with some kind of aerobic activity like a brisk walk, jog, or jumping rope, and complete your workout with a bit of stretching. It’s also essential to breathe—breathe out when you are lifting or pushing; breathe in as you slowly release the weight. Don’t rush through the movements, overdo it, and certainly don’t ignore any pain you’re feeling associated with exercises. Always keep a close eye on technique, hydrate, and enjoy moving that fabulous body!