By Joli Guenther, MSSW, NASM-CPT
Beginning exercisers can be overwhelmed by the addition of strength training to their routine. The expected frequency and duration of the workouts may be unclear and learning to use new equipment can also be both expensive and intimidating. Most exercisers also struggle with wondering if they are performing the exercises correctly. In reality, by concentrating on large muscle groups and simple movements, strength training novices can gain a lot of benefit without a lot of time and expense.
Strength training doesn’t have to mean spending hours in the weight room. You can complete a full body routine concentrating on the major muscle groups in less than 20 minutes. The large, functional muscle groups of your body include the muscles of the chest, upper back, legs, and core. Because these muscles work in combination with the smaller muscle groups, you’ll see improvement in the overall form of your body. Exercises that target these muscles include pushups (for chest and shoulders), rows (for the mid back), and squats (for the thighs and butt). By including these exercises at the end of your cardio workout, you can save time by training your body when it is already warm. As you gain comfort you may want to supplement these basic exercises with isolated movements for the smaller muscle groups of the body, such as bicep curls or side shoulder raises. You can find many resources on weight lifting and strength training through your local library or using an on-line search engine.
Schedule at least two strength training workouts per week. Less frequent workouts will limit the effectiveness of your program. If you’re very motivated, a third workout per week will result in faster muscle gains. Schedule a rest day between your workouts to allow your body time to build new muscle. Start with a lighter weight that will allow you to complete fifteen repetitions in order to build endurance and lean muscle mass. You should work up to being able to complete two to three “sets” of fifteen repetitions. Over time, if you would like to build visible muscle, increase your weight and complete three sets of eight to ten repetitions.
You can add strength training to your routine with as much or as little equipment as you like. When you commit to your program, consider investing in an inexpensive set of dumbbells or exercise bands that can be expanded over time. If you’re ready to take the plunge into a home gym, Horizon offers a line of strength training equipment providing a range of functional training options in a compact, universal machine. An advantage to working with exercise machines is that they tend to guide us into the proper movement. If you are beginning with dumbbells or bodyweight conditioning, you may want to consider purchasing a session or two with a personal trainer to ensure that your form is correct and that you’re targeting your muscles effectively. Take time to identify the muscles you’re working in each exercise and feeling those muscles engage as you complete the movement. For example, concentrate on the feel of using your thighs and your bottom as you squat and then stand.
As in any new activity, it’s best to start slowly. In strength training, it may be more effective for you to start with a smaller movement and gradually work into a larger range of movement as your body adapts to the intensity. Soon you’ll begin to notice the improved endurance, appearance, and performance that are the benefits of this powerful addition to your routine.