Monday, May 20, 2013

Strength Training for Beginners

     You’ve heard it here before: exercise is king. While there are countless benefits to aerobic exercise, strength training sometimes gets pushed to the back of the burner. But the old adage “use it or lose it” accurately describes our body’s muscles. “We don’t lose muscles as we age, we lose muscles when we stop using them,” explains physical therapist Karla Trotta of Total Rehab Care. 

     Strength training—sometimes called resistance training or weight training—puts more than the usual load on your muscles to make them stronger. Your body, free weights, exercise bands/tubes or specialized machines can be used as a form of resistance.

Why flex your muscles?
     Strength training helps you become leaner, adds tone to your body and builds strong muscles and bones. It also gives you the strength you need for everyday activities—like picking up toddlers, climbing stairs, getting up from a chair, reaching an overhead cabinet or participating in your favorite sport. And, as you gain muscle, your body begins to burn calories more efficiently—what’s not to like about that? “Strength training is great for all ages of adults and can begin at any age as long as you progress slowly,” says Karla.

     Best of all, resistance training doesn’t require a trip to the gym. With a little preliminary coaching, building your muscles can be done in your own home. Aim to strengthen all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms) at least twice a week and give your muscles 48 hours to recover between strength training sessions.

Strength training for beginners
     For beginners, an ideal strength training workout includes eight to ten exercises targeting the major muscle groups. Use three-to-five pound weights, an “easy” resistant tube/band or your own body weight. Perform one set—usually 8 to 12 repetitions of the same movement—per session and then increase two to three sets going forward.

     Karla recommends starting with low weights, then slowly adding reps and more weight. She notes, “If there’s any pain, stop!” Karla and Angie Davis, physical therapy assistant and certified personal trainer from Total Rehab Care, recommend the following exercises to maintain muscle mass:

  • Dumbbell chest press (pectorals). Lie on the floor, elbows bent at 90 degrees out to your sides; straighten arms and return to a 90-degree position. 
  • Pushups or wall pushups also strengthen the chest muscles and can be done anytime and anywhere. 
  • Bicep curls (top of inner arms). Stand with arms extended, palms forward and curl weights toward the shoulders. 
  • Tricep extensions (back of upper arms). Stand with your legs hip-width apart. Lean forward from waist, elbows bent 90 degrees at your sides and straighten your arms behind you. 
  • Tricep dips from a chair. Sit on a kitchen chair; slide your bottom off the chair seat while your hands grasp the chair seat, knuckles facing forward. With your knees bent, lower your body up and down with your arms bending to about a 90-degree angle. Keep your back close to the chair with your torso remaining straight throughout the movement. Remember, your arms—not pelvis—do the lifting. 
  • Lateral raise (shoulders). Stand with arms down by your sides, palms in; raise straight arms to shoulder height and lower. 
  • Basic squat (legs and butt). Stand with legs hip-width apart and toes forward. Bend and straighten legs in a natural movement, making sure that your knees do not come over your toes during the squat. Angie recommends chair squats, a sit-to-stand movement, for the senior population. 
  • Bicycle (abdominals). Lie face-up on floor, legs extended. Bend opposite elbow to knee, then switch sides. 
  • Planks (abdominals) are another great option for strengthening the core. Start on the floor, lying down on your stomach. Raise your body up using your toes and forearms. Keep your buttocks level with your shoulders and hold the movement for 30 seconds. For a side lying plank, start on your right side, legs extended. With your elbow in line with your shoulder, lift your body and hips off the floor, forming a diagonal line from your shoulder to your toes. For beginners, keep the lower leg bent with the knee supporting some of your weight. Repeat the movement on your left side. 

Tips for a safe and effective workout 
     To help you achieve proper form and avoid injury, Karla and Angie recommend getting help. “Personal trainers can challenge you and keep you safe when starting out,” says Angie. Videos are an option says Karla, but make sure they’re for beginners. People can hurt themselves by attempting workout videos that are too advanced too soon in their strength training program. “If you can afford it, try a wellness program or a personal trainer for individualized instruction,” suggests Karla.

To safely strength train, follow these tips from our fitness experts:
  • Warm up. Walk around your house or climb the stairs for five minutes before strength training. 
  • Concentrate on form and watch online videos of resistant training for safety tips. Use slow, smooth movements and focus on using the muscle, not the body, for momentum. 
  • Think tempo. Count to three while raising the weight up and count to three again when lowering the weight back down. 
  • Breathe correctly. Exhale as you lift, push or pull and inhale as you release. 
  • Challenge yourself by slowly increasing weight or resistance. When it feels easy to complete the set, add more weight (1-2 pounds for arms, 2-5 for legs) or add another set of repetitions to your workout. 
  • Make time to strength train. Work the major muscle groups of your body two to three times a week. 
  • Take a day off. Give your muscles at least 48 hours to rest before your next strength training session. When we work our muscles, we cause microtearing. Muscles become stronger when those microtears heal. “It’s the body’s response to the stress imposed on it,” explains Karla. 
  • Drink water. “Water intake with strength training is a must,” says Angie. “Not only does it help keep you hydrated, but water flushes the body out and decreases muscle soreness.” 
     Whether it’s your job, fascination with all things electronic or the “I’m too old” mindset, physical inactivity can lead to muscle atrophy—not using your muscles enough. The good news: You can reverse muscle atrophy with 15-minute sessions of strength training twice a week in the privacy and convenience of your home.

By: Anne Gill

Sources: Fitness Magazine and Harvard Medical School’s HEALTHbeat.

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