With more than 600 muscles in the body, strength training is essential to a good quality of life. We should all be doing some form of strength training to keep the body strong so we can live independently for as long as we can.
Experts claim it is never too late, regardless of your age, to start a strength-training program. Whether you are new to weight training or a professional, Harvard Health recommends these tips to help you get the most from your strength workouts:
- Focus on form, not weight. Good form means aligning your body correctly and moving smoothly through an exercise. Poor form can prompt injuries and slow gains. Concentrate on performing slow, smooth lifts and equally controlled descents whenever you learn a new exercise. You can always add weight to challenge your muscles once you know how to move with good form.
- Tempo, tempo. Control is very important. Tempo helps you stay in control rather than undercut gains through momentum. Sometimes switching speed - for example, taking three counts to lower a weight and one count to lift it, instead of lifting for two and lowering for two - is a useful technique for enhancing power.
- Breathe. Blood pressure rises if you hold your breath while performing strength exercises. Exhale as you work against gravity by lifting, pushing or pulling the weight; inhale as you release.
- Keep challenging muscles. The "right" weight differs depending on the exercise. Choose a weight that tires the targeted muscles by the last two repetitions while still allowing you to maintain good form. If you can't do the last two reps, choose a lighter weight. When it feels too easy to complete all the reps, challenge your muscles again by adding weight (roughly 1 to 2 pounds for arms, 2 to 5 pounds for legs); add a set to your workout (up to three sets per exercise) or work out additional days per week (as long as you rest each muscle group for 48 hours before exercising it again).
- Practice regularly. Performing a complete upper- and lower-body strength workout two or three times a week is ideal.
- Give muscles time off. Strenuous exercise, such as strength training, causes tiny tears in muscle tissue. Muscles grow stronger as the tears knit up. Always allow at least 48 hours between sessions for muscles to recover. For example, if you're doing split-strength workouts, you might do upper body on Monday, lower body on Tuesday, upper body on Wednesday, lower body on Thursday.
A good warm-up is important prior to weight training. Take 5 to 10 minutes and perform some cardio activity, such as walking. This allows the body to get prepared for what is to come by allowing for nutrients and oxygen to get to the muscles. Start slowly, and gradually increase intensity. A good stretch after your weight-training session can help relax and lengthen the muscles by increasing blood flow to the area. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds. Over time, this will increase your flexibility and range of motion.
Missy Corrigan is executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 773-1404.