Exercise: Strength Training

Magazines of all kinds are full of articles about exercise. They proclaim its fantastic benefits – weight loss, relaxation, controlling blood sugar, lower bad fats and increasing good fats, more efficient immune systems, increased bone density and muscle strength, better sleep efficiency.

But too often everyone talks about exercising and never does anything about it. It seems that those who need exercise the most are the ones least likely to do it.

So here is a four part series on exercise – what to do and how to do it. Not in detail; plenty of articles outline the specifics. Just a reminder of the basic rules for each kind of exercise.

There are four basic exercise modes:

  1. cardiovascular, 
  2. stretching, 
  3. strength training, and 
  4. balance.

Strength training is the most neglected of these.  Everyone assumes this is solely for body builders. But strength training is the magic that makes 70 year olds look 55. Strength training helps with weight loss, and lets the body maintain muscle mass that normally decreases with aging. 

Basic rules:

  1. Use proper form and technique. Start with small weights and concentrate on doing the exercises properly. Follow a guide book or video. Forget about becoming a hunk. Think muscle maintenance rather than muscle building.
  2. Feel resistance – not strain and pain. Like in any training, begin small and build up gradually. The weight used should be enough to feel the pull without hurting. Pain is a sign of overdoing. If some exercises hurt at any weight, stop that one for awhile and work on other ones.
  3. Use whatever weight allows you to do 8-10 repetitions of an exercise comfortably. When the exercise seems too easy, add a small amount of additional weight and decrease the repetitions by two-thirds, then gradually increase to the previous number. 
  4. Choose exercises to work all the major muscle groups of the body – chest, abdomen, back, front of the arms, back of the arms, front of the legs, back of the legs.  Some exercises are preferred by personal weight trainers because they exercise several major muscle groups at the same time.  Look on WebMD.com or other training places at the advantages of squats, lunges, push-ups, abdominal crunches, and bent-over rowing.
  5. Vary your workout. Muscles need some time to recover. If you are strength training every day, exercise three or four sets of muscles today and the other three or four the next day, alternating days. Strength training can be alternated on days with balance and stretch training. Be gentle and go slow.
  6. Think inexpensive. Weight machines are helpful if you need to sit or need back support while exercising, otherwise strength training can be done with small free weights or a stretch band at home or with no weights at all.  If you are afraid of hurting yourself or need expert advice, get a personal fitness trainer.  If you need encouragement to stick to it, get an exercise partner.
  7. Athletic trainers know that the strength and stability of the core muscles – chest, abdomen and back – are what make efficient use of the extremities possible. Strength training for these core muscle groups also involves balance training – the subject of our next article.