Strength training, also known as resistance training, does just what it implies – trains your muscles to build strength.
This type of exercise uses resistance, such as pushing into the floor, lifting a weight or pulling a resistance band, to strengthen and tone your muscles.
As you progress, you can use heavier weights or increase the level of resistance to make your muscles stronger.
If you’re not already convinced, I’ll show you some of the benefits of strength training and give you some key pointers for getting started safely.
Benefits of Strength Training
There are many reasons why strength training is a go-to type of exercise. It not only strengthens the muscles you’re directly working, it also helps to strengthen your heart because your heart rate will naturally increase and slow down multiple times throughout your workout.
As you work different muscle groups, you’re strengthening the bones throughout your body (including legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms) which is particularly important as you age. When your muscles are stronger, there is less stress on your joints, and it’s easier to hold better, meaning less pain overall.
In addition, strength training will help you avoid injury and assist in other workouts or day-to-day functions like lifting heavy bags, playing with children or vacuuming.
Tips to get started strength training
If you’re looking to incorporate strength training into your regular workout routine here are some tips to get you started.
1. Have a goal in mind
Getting started, and staying motivated, is easiest when you have a clearly defined reason why.
Is your goal to become stronger? To be able to do more activities around the house? Comfortably play with your grandchildren? Strengthen your bones? or to just be healthier overall? Having a goal will help keep you on track and orient you towards the types of exercise and frequency you need to achieve what you desire.
2. Always warm up and cool down.
Warming up is about more than just your muscles. It prepares your entire body by encouraging your heart and lungs to work harder and dilating your blood vessels, which allows for better oxygen delivery to your muscles.
A warm up also raises your body temperature, making it easier for your muscles to perform with less tension, pain and less likelihood of injury.
Taking time to cool down eases your body back into regular functioning. Your body temperature and heart rate will lower, and blood vessels will slowly contract. This can also prevent you from feeling dizzy, nauseous or light headed from abruptly ending your period of physical activity.
A good plan is to introduce some walking or a few minutes on an elliptical machine at the gym before your workout and cool down with some static stretching afterwards.
3. Pace yourself
Too much too soon increases the likelihood of pain or injuring yourself. That also increases the likelihood that you’ll stop exercising all together. When you’re getting started, test movements and see how you feel afterward. Always focus on your form, and lift, push or pull as much as you’re able to while keeping proper form.
Start by doing the exercises slowly. The faster you move, the less time your muscles are under tension and the less effective the exercise will be. Poor form can also lead to injuries. It’s a good idea to have a trainer or someone go through the exercises with you initially to make sure you’re doing them properly.
4. Remember to breathe
Breath is your friend in strength training. Conscious deep breathing will keep you present with your movements and help guide your body through. Exhale against the resistance (when you’re lifting, pushing or pulling); inhale on the release. You might be tempted to hold your breath, but don’t. This can cause fatigue, increase your blood pressure and can eventually lead to a herniated disk in your neck or back, depending on the exercises.
5. Listen to your body.
There’s bound to be some discomfort during and after your workouts, especially if you’re just getting started. You should never have to “pay” for your workout with pain either during or afterwards. If your pain is persistent or debilitating, it’s a good idea to see your doctor. It’s also important to take breaks, whether that’s rest between sets or taking rest days during the week. While you rest, your muscles recover, this is when real gains are made.
6. Drink plenty of water.
Staying hydrated will help your performance. In addition to drinking water throughout your workout, remember to hydrate yourself throughout the day, not only when you’re active. This will help your body prepare for your workout and recover properly afterwards.
7. Enjoy yourself!
It’s no secret that you’ll keep doing things that you love. This is no different in your workouts. You’ll be more successful at reaching your fitness goals if you do activities you truly enjoy in your workouts. Find what works for you – if lifting weights at the gym isn’t your thing, try a group exercise class, swimming or bike riding, which are also great forms of strength training. Keeping up with physical activity in any form will benefit your overall health, including stress reduction, improved mood, better sleep, ease of movement and likely less pain.
Important Numbers for Strength Training
2 – The number of strength training sessions per week to maintain strength
3 – The number of strength training sessions per week to increase strength
8-12 – The number of reps to do (repetitions of a movement; eight push-ups, for example)
2-3 – The number of sets (e.g. doing eight push-ups, two times)