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How To Begin A Strength Training Program

Posted Oct 17 2008 1:30pm

Photo by Perfecto Insecto
Congratulations! … if you’ve chosen to begin a strength training program, then you have made one of the best possible choices for both your physical and mental health.  Strength training, when done consistently, improves your quality of living.  It improves your endurance, your confidence, your appearance, your longevity, your strength (of course), and your health!  It strengthens your bones, decreases your risk of injury, provides energy, improves your sleep, reduces stress, and helps manage your weight.  It is not just for bodybuilders.  It benefits everyone, at every age, and at every fitness level. But before you jump in and get started, there are some things you must consider.  Such as, what types of resistance equipment are available, whether you should train at home or at a health club, which exercises are right for you, what safety measures to take, and how to achieve total wellness.

The different types of resistance equipment. You can build muscles without using any weights at all.  In order to get stronger, you simply need to have a resistance for your body to work against.  Therefore, when I talk about equipment, I will refer to it as resistance equipment rather than weight equipment.  Which one(s) to choose depends on your preferences, goals, and schedule.  With that in mind, your resistance equipment may include:

  • Resistance bands. These are rubber bands that are lightweight and easy to travel with allowing you to workout anywhere.
  • Free weights. These come in a variety of shapes and include dumbbells, barbells, bars, and weight plates.
  • Weight machines. These generally consist of a pulley system, a seat, and adjustable weight plates.
  • Your own body weight. The best and most convenient tool, your body weight can provide resistance through exercises such as push-ups, lunges, and squats.

Should you train at home or at a health club? Working out at home is convenient and it is comfortable.   Simply pop in your favorite DVD, and away you go.  It can be the perfect choice if (1) you live too far from a health club, (2) you are self-conscious and just can’t bring yourself to exercise in front of other people, (3) you don’t like crowds, or (4) your unusual schedule conflicts with the hours the clubs are open.  But there are good reasons for joining a health club, and here they are:

  • Motivation. It is said that 50% of all people who begin a strength training program will quit within 6 to 8 weeks.  That is partly due to time, partly due to habits, but partly due to lack of motivation.  When you enter the door of a health club, you have left all your excuses at home.  You are now surrounded by people who are hoisting iron and exercising, and you can’t help but feel motivated to do the same.  The atmosphere makes you want to work out.
  • Access to lots of equipment and other stuff. At a health club, you will have access to all kinds of equipment, including equipment that is too large and too expensive to purchase for your home.  Besides the resistance equipment mentioned above, you may have access to treadmills, stationary bikes, and stair climbers.  You will have the opportunity to participate in Yoga and Pilates classes, which are also great for strengthening your muscles.  And let’s not overlook the sauna and steam rooms or the swimming pool most facilities provide.
  • Staff members, trainers, and great advice. One of the best benefits of joining a health club is that it provides staff members and trainers who can offer great advice and show you how to use the equipment properly and lead you to different alternatives if a particular exercise isn’t working for you.  These people can also assist in keeping you safe by acting as spotters when lifting weights.
  • Free from distractions. With no phone ringing or kids to watch at a health club, you are free of distractions and free from stress.  You can focus strictly on your workout.

I personally belong to a facility that provides cardio kickboxing, taught by a professional who keeps me motivated, combined with free weights.  Plus I do weight lifting and cardio in my home.

Choose exercises that are right for you. In order to avoid injury and to get good results, you should carefully plan your workout program. And that program should be based on your own goals, your lifestyle and time schedule, the equipment you have access to, and your preferences.  Don’t just jump into a program without knowing what you want to achieve.  Sure, your main goal is to better your health by increasing your strength, but some other goals may be (1) changing your appearance by adding definition and toning muscles, or (2) training for a marathon or other athletic event.

Whatever your goals, keep in mind that you can exercise every major muscle group in your body simply by performing one set of 8 to 15 repetitions for these muscle groups:  butt/glutes, front and rear thighs, calves, chest/pecs, back, abs, shoulders/delts, and biceps.  A general rule to follow … work your larger muscles first (chest, back, butt, and thighs), your smaller muscles second (biceps, triceps, calves, and shins), and then your middle body (lower back and abs) last as the middle part of your body is used to stabilize as you do the prior exercises.

Whatever exercises you choose, be sure to design your own program.  Don’t follow some celebrity or famous athlete who claims, “ You too can have abs like mine,” if only you follow her routine.  Chances are, she has a personal trainer whom she trains with several hours a day and she has a personal chef to boot.  And most certainly, don’t be misled by models who have enhanced their bodies with drugs or have undergone liposuction and added implants.

Be safe. Strength training is generally safe.  Whether you are young or elderly, the risks of not exercising are greater than the risk of injury when you do no exercise at all.  That being said, being safe during your workout reduces the likelihood of injury and it reduces the onset of aches and pains such as in the knee joints and lower back.  Here is a very basic safety list to get started with.

  • First, get checked out by your doctor.  Discuss with him your plans to begin a strength training program and get the “okay” to get started.
  • Learn the correct use of equipment and how to perform exercises using good form and technique.  This is where a personal trainer comes in handy.
  • Don’t lift too much weight.  Know your fitness level from the beginning and work up gradually.

Remember, weight lifting is supposed to reduce the risk of injury, not create it.  While you may feel soreness, you should never suffer from an injury.  If you follow proper safety tips, you should be able to avoid any injuries from strength training.

Achieve total wellness. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, strength training provides many benefits.  But strength training alone does not result in total wellness.  It is only one key to good health.  Other important keys are good nutrition, plenty of sleep, and stress management. All of these work hand in hand and will help you to feel incredibly better about yourself.

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