Cardio exercise is easy to figure out: we’ve been running, climbing stairs, and doing other forms of this healthy exercise since we were kids. But the weight machine side of the gym can be daunting for those who’ve never been trained in proper technique, making it an unknown and intimidating addition to any workout regimen.
But strength training is important because it creates muscle mass, naturally protecting the joints and body from harm. Resistance also builds bone mineral density, which begins to decrease as we age. This means that cardio is only half of the workout necessary for maximum health benefits, necessitating some form of strength training for anyone who wants to be in great shape.
If you’re interested in adding weightlifting or strength training to your physical routine, below are some recommendations and suggestions to make the transition easier for you.
1. Stretch the Muscles—
Before you shock muscles that haven’t been lifting heavy things with a sudden leap into strength training, it’s important to stretch them so they’ll be warm, limber and ready for action.
Cold muscles are also more prone to injury, and a painful setback can be extremely demotivating, making it important to be careful.
Stretching can be done via floor mat exercises such as yoga positions, or through a light cardio warm-up like 30 minutes of cycling or treadmill walking. Your goal is to get the blood moving through the muscles without completely wearing them out, because you’ll need that strength, so don’t push too hard.
2. Start Slowly—
Remember the tortoise and the hare fable about how slow and steady wins the race? It’s time to be the tortoise, because that lesson truly applies to any form of weightlifting. If you burn out your muscles too fast, you’ll have nothing left for the end of the race.
To find the right amount of weight for results without injury or muscle strain, be sure you can do 2-3 sets of at least 12-15 reps of the exercise you’re doing; and if it hurts in a sudden, shooting, or non-achy way, stop immediately. Alternately, if you can do 15 reps or more without any fatigue, it’s time to add a little weight. (Progress!)
If you do push muscles to the point of a light strain, ice the painful area immediately and take ibuprofen to reduce inflammation. If you give yourself an extra day or two of rest after pushing an area too hard, you will generally be able to heal without loss of progress. But a more serious injury can potentially set you back for weeks, so take it easy when starting out.
3. Proper Form is King—
Any professional weightlifter will tell you this well-known truth: It’s better to do 5 reps of a strength training exercise with the correct technique than to do 15 reps the wrong way.
Some common weightlifting mistakes, for example, would be locking the knee and elbow joints so the bones are taking on the strain, rather than the muscles, or letting the weights fall or slam down after lifting, which prevents the muscles from receiving the resistance benefits on the way down. These are both lazy lifting habits that waste time and energy, as well as potentially causing injury.
Having a professional trainer or gym employee walk you through the proper use of the machines is a service most reputable gyms offer for free, and is well worth the time, even if it makes you feel a bit self-conscious. (Remember that everyone around you using the machines as you take your “tour” had to be taught correct form by someone once, too.)
4. Be Consistent—
If you want results, you’ll need to stick with your strength training regimen, and generally 3-4 days a week is recommended for optimum advancement.
You will also need to monitor your progress as you move forward, adding weight/resistance as you go to keep yourself from hitting a plateau. If this happens, switch up the types of exercises you’re doing, such as using resistance bands instead of the machines a few days a week (or try using some new machines).
Forcing your body out of a workout rut with different challenges can get you back to making progress, while keeping you intellectually stimulated as well.
5. Recovery Rules—
In general, calf muscles and abdominals can be worked nearly every day because they recover quickly, but the other larger muscle groups need 24 to 48 hours between workouts to heal.
Muscles are formed by microscopic tearing of fibers that repair themselves to be stronger for the next workout, but they can’t do this is they’re constantly being broken down.
Recovery and rest are necessary parts of a successful strength training program, and will help prevent strain and injury as well, so consider cardio on the days between, and don’t push too hard, too often.
Once you begin a strength training program and know what you’re doing, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start years ago as you reap the rewards, such as increased muscle mass and a faster metabolism – and be sure to enjoy the better way your clothes are fitting as your body tightens up. Use the tips above to start strength training, and finally get into the amazing shape you’ve been working so hard to achieve.