When you hear the words “weight training” do you instantly think of body builders? Are you one of those people who believes weights are only for those who want bulging biceps? Do you associate weight workouts with Olympic dumbbell lifters? Or that weight training is only for men? Wrong on all counts. There are many compelling reasons as to why you should include some weight training programs in your weekly workouts.
Read on for handy hints on getting started, preventing injuries, getting the most out of your program, and the equipment you really need for strength training.
The health benefits of weight training have been shown to be impressive:
* Decreased risk of osteoporosis. Working out with weights has been shown to be important in maintaining bone strength. This is even more important for women over the age of forty, and any men who may be suffering from calcium depletion. The older the female, the more significant the weight training becomes. Older females who lift weights weekly have much less incidence of spinal fractures (Dowager’s hump), and fractured hips.
* Pre-diabetics and those with type 2 diabetes can actually dramatically improve their blood sugar readings by including strength training in their weekly workouts, along with a sensible eating pattern. Research in the US has shown that pre-diabetics who join a weight training program and modify their eating habits will often do better in the long term than those who just start medications and do nothing about their exercise routine or diet. (If you are pre-diabetic, or diabetic do not change your medications without consulting your doctor first.)
* Seniors have been shown to have markedly better balance and coordination when lifting even light weights weekly. This can be important for minimizing falls, and maintaining day to day independence.
* Increased strength. Resistance work will ensure that those pesky lids and heavy loads will become easier to manage over time. Your strength will increase, making day to day activities much easier and more pleasant.
Starting an exercise program.
* It is important to get a medical clearance from your doctor before beginning on those machines or free weights. This is particularly important for the elderly, pregnant ladies, anyone out of condition or overweight, and those with any pre-existing conditions, illnesses or injuries.
* Measurements and skin pinches. Before embarking on your new workout it is important to not only weigh yourself, but also take measurements of all appropriate body parts. As you become fitter, your flabby bits will tighten and tone up. The resulting extra muscle mass that your fat is converting to will actually weigh more on the bathroom scales then the love handles. So you may end up in a position where you look better and wear smaller clothes but are actually starting to weigh more. This is nothing to worry about.
* A personal trainer can be a wise investment when starting out. If you are in a health club or gym, then often there are personal trainers available to show you how to use all the equipments and weights without injuring yourself. If you are starting out at home then a personal trainer can be invaluable to set your program up for you. Once you feel confident you can continue on your own. Obviously there are some folk out there who need the personal trainer to keep them motivated and working hard. If this is you then by all means keep the trainer.
* Start off slow. It is much safer and smarter for the beginners to slowly build up their programs. There is absolutely no point going hard once and then injuring yourself so badly you can’t exercise or move for a month. Very counterproductive. If you have enthusiasm to burn, do something aerobic such as a brisk walk, or put some of that new found energy into researching the best diets and what you should be eating.
* Not just for the boys. More and more women are discovering the benefits of incorporating regular weights into their fitness routines. No, you won’t turn into a man. What will happen is that you will lose those jiggly bits on your arms and legs. You will tone up and you will find it much easier to maintain your dress size. You will start to both look and feel better. There is a reason why the world wide women’s only fitness centers include circuit and weight equipment. The reason? It has been proven to work, and quite effectively and quickly.
* Shoes. It is important that you have a basic pair of good quality runners, or cross trainers. Your shoes need to be able to support your feet adequately, be comfortable, and provide a good grip with the floor.
* Set goals. Before you start out, think about your goals. Weight loss? Fat Loss? Muscle gain? To be more healthy? To look fantastic in your swimmers? To regain your six pack? Ensure your goals are realistic and accept that these changes will not happen overnight. Take some before and after snaps in your swimmers. This way you will have physical evidence of just how far you have improved.
* Chart your progress with an exercise journal. It can be easy to forget what weights you are up to, or what routine you did last. Stick the before photos in there to inspire you when you are demotivated. Keep your measurements in this journal as well so you can keep a close eye on how many inches you are losing, or gaining, as the goal may be.
A weight training routine will be far more effective for weight management than aerobics exercise on its own. Gone are the days of groups down at the health club doing some form of aerobic, step, or jazzercise class every day of the week. Aerobic exercise is important for good health as well, but the inclusion of resistance training will make it far easier for weight loss and/or management. Here’s why:
* Increased metabolism. The more effective the weight program, the longer you will raise your metabolism. A great workout can have your metabolism working that much harder for up to 48 hours.
* Fat burning. An effective resistance workout can burn fat fast. Try high intensity interval training (H.I.I.T.) for the fastest results.
* More muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have, the faster your resting metabolism will run. Muscle requires far more energy than its fatty cousin.
Weight training equipment.
You don’t have to spend a fortune to have an effective routine. Basically, strength training can involve machines, free weights (dumbbells, bar bells, and hand weights) and resistance bands.
* Cost effective weight training equipment can include such basics as resistance bands, a set of hand weights, and free weights. Add a yoga mat, fitness ball, instructional DVD’s or videos, and away you go. This basic set up is going to cost you minimal bucks but will still do the job. Never forget that the most cost effective, and heaviest, weight that you can utilise is your own body.
* Intermediate equipment. For more impressive results you may want to add a weight bench and a squat rack. Once you are lifting heavier weights you may also want to get yourself a pair of gloves to minimize slipping.
* Multi-gyms are basically work stations that allow you to do all of your strength training on the one unit. These are generally designed to fit perfectly into the garage, basement, or spare room. Often these can be picked up at good prices pre-loved but barely used. A good mid-priced multi gym should be equipped with:
a bench that adjusts for both sitting and reclining.
pulldown bars allowing lat pulldown exercises.
leg curl system to allow working out the hamstrings.
stacked metal weights.
press bars allowing for both pulling and pushing.
seated cable row system.
leg extension provision.
Many home gym owners prefer a multi-unit as there tends to be less opportunity for equipment to spread and make a mess. Ensure your unit comes with a good instruction system for both working out and correct usage.
* Money is no object. For those with dollars to burn, there are so many choices out there for home gyms, that the sky really is the limit. It may be a great idea to test run some of the equipment at your local gym before taking the plunge, just so you end up with equipment that you are comfortable with. There are plenty of home gym companies out there who will happily advise you on how to spend your cash. Multi-gyms now also come in “family” models ensuring there is no squabbling over whose turn it is. (The family who plays together, stays together.) These are much more costly but could be worthwhile to cut down on arguments, and are also effective for the time challenged family.
Weight Training Exercises.
Balanced strength training will involve all the major muscle groups. Try these strength exercises for an all round workout.
* Push-ups are an underrated exercise. Push-ups are ideal for working out the triceps muscles located in the back of your upper arms, and also the pectoral muscles in the front of your chest. Push-ups use your own body weight as resistance.
The perfect push-up. Face the floor with hands flat on the floor and slightly further apart than your shoulders. Your feet should be apart at a comfortable distance. Lower your chest while slowly bending your elbows. Do not let your back arch or sag. Keep going until your chin almost touches the ground. Return to the original position and repeat. It is important to keep control of the movement.
* Biceps curls will tighten and tone the biceps muscle in your upper arm. This exercise is performed standing up straight with feet slightly apart. Holding weights or dumbbells, your palms should be facing out. Keeping your elbow close to your body, bend your elbow up slowly. Slowly return to starting position and repeat. Keep the movements controlled and do not swing your arm.
* Triceps extensions will tone up the muscle in the back of your arm. Lying on your back, either on the floor or on a bench, place a dumbbell or hand weight in one hand. Your elbow should be bent at 90 degrees with your upper arm facing the ceiling. Slowly move the weight up towards the ceiling, straightening out your elbow. Bring the weight back down slowly. Repeat.
* Bent-over row. This exercise is for working out the muscle at the back of your shoulder. This can either be done using a weight bench or standing up. When using a bench, have one knee resting on the bench and bend forward, supporting yourself with one hand. Holding your weight in the other hand, have you arm hang straight down from your shoulder. Lift the weight slowly until your elbow comes up almost to your shoulder. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat. If you don’t have a bench you can bend your knees with your feet slightly apart, leaning forward with your hips.
* Chest press. This exercise is great for strengthening your pectoral muscles which you have already used in the push-ups. Lying on a weight bench with your back flat and your knees bent, you will need a weight in each hand. Start with your arms out flat and at 90 degrees to your shoulders. Then bend your elbows so that your forearms are perpendicular to the floor. From this starting position slowly raise the weights until your elbows are not quite straight. Slowly return to starting position, being careful to not let your elbows go lower than your body. Repeat.
* Squats work your thighs, both the hamstrings in the back and the quadriceps (or quads) in the front.
The perfect squat. Start with toes facing straight ahead and feet apart to slightly more than shoulder width. With your back straight, start descending, bending the hips, knees, and ankles. Your knees and ankles should stay facing straight ahead. Ideally you should be able to bend until your knees are at 90 degrees. However, if your knees aren’t that flexible, just go as far as you can. Straighten up and repeat.
* Calf raises work the muscles in the backs of your lower legs. Stand with your back straight, tummy tucked in, and feet slightly apart. Slowly go up onto your toes, pause, then go back down to initial position. Repeat.
* Knee extension is an exercise that will strengthen your quadriceps by using a weight on your ankle. Sitting on a weight bench or chair, attach a weight to your ankle. Start with your foot hanging naturally. Slowly raise your lower leg until your knee is straight, pause, and return to start. Repeat.
* Hamstring curl. This particular exercise requires a weight machine. Lying face down on a bench you will have the pad of the machine resting above and behind your ankles. You will then be bending your knees and bringing your feet up towards your butt. It is important to keep your back straight, do not arch it. Return to start slowly and repeat.
* Leg press. Leg presses need a weight machine and will work 3 muscles in your legs: the quadriceps, hamstrings and calves, as well as the butt muscles (gluteal). Your feet should be about shoulder width apart on the platform. Keeping your back straight you will be straightening your knees. Return to beginning position and repeat.
Weight Training Routines.
There are several theories on how heavy your weights should be, and how many sets and repetitions (or reps) you should be doing of each exercise. This will ultimately depend on many factors such as fitness level and whether or not you are just beginning.
Just remember, a rep (or repetition) means how many times you do the particular motion in the one batch. A set is how many times you do the repetitions.
Here are 2 of the more popular options. See which one suits you best:
1. For those starting out and the time challenged, this may be a simpler and more achievable alternative.
*Select a weight that is heavy enough that your muscle group is tired after 12 repetitions. You will only be doing your exercises for the one set of 12 reps. Once you become stronger and the exercise becomes easier you increase the weight level appropriately. This option will not suit those looking for a challenge but will be sufficient for those wanting to tone up.
2. Basic and Effective Weight Lifting. This option will also suit the intermediate lifter, as you can just keep increasing the weights. By the end of 3 months you should be feeling strong enough to have increased your weights by approximately 5-10%.
* Chest press. 3 sets of 8 repetitions.
* Bent over row. 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
* Triceps. 3 sets of 12 repetitions.
* Biceps. 3 sets of 12 repetitions.
* Knee extensions. 3 sets of 12 repetitions.
* Calf raises. 3 sets of 25 repetitions.
* Push ups. 3 sets of 20 repetitions. (If you can do more in a repetition, then go for it.)
* Squats. 3 sets of 20 repetitions.
Weight Training Schedule.
* 3 times a week is enough when you are doing strength training. Your muscles need time to recover.
Weight Training for Teenagers.Strength training for teenagers can be a great thing. It has been shown that teens who do strength training can often focus and concentrate better on their studies. Strength training also increases the metabolism, reducing the possibility of “puppy fat”. Teens who are into particular sports will find a huge improvement in their endurance and performance once they have started strength training. However, there are some very important points to consider first:
* Firstly, strength training is defined as working out with free weights, resistance bands, and weight machines. It is not considered to be body building or power lifting as you would see in the Olympics. Body building and power lifting are definitely not recommended for teenagers who are still growing.
* Medical clearance is advised prior to starting to make sure there are no underlying spinal, hip, or joint problems.
* Seek guidance from a properly qualified trainer or coach.
* It is easy for teens to injure themselves when strength training due to the fact that their joints, bones, muscles and tendons have not finished growing. Any sudden pain, or popping feelings or sounds, should be immediately checked out by a doctor.
* Don’t forget that a well rounded fitness program will also include some aerobic activity like running, walking, skating, or swimming, to keep those lungs and heart fit and healthy as well.
Weight Training at Home.OK. You have decided to convert the garage, basement, or spare room into your home gym. For the sake of domestic harmony it is probably a great idea to get approval from any other parties before doing anything too dramatic.
It is also important that you think about your goals before splashing the cash. Are you looking to tone up? How often are you really going to use the equipment? Are you a social creature who would rather be lifting weights in front of others? How much floor space do you have? How big is your budget? These are all pretty important considerations if you don’t want your home gym to be in the next garage sale.
* For the beginner or modest budget:
The barest minimum, yet still highly effective and versatile, would be a home gym with the following:
floor mat, fitness ball, resistance bands, an adjustable bench, a step, and heavier and lighter dumbbells.
Another alternative for the beginner is an all-in-one unit where everything you need is on the one machine. A second hand basic all-in-one may only cost you a little more than buying everything separately new.
* For the intermediate user or budget:
The intermediate user really has 2 options:
either invest in a more heavy duty multi purpose machine, or have a lighter weight machine and invest in heavier dumbbells, better quality bar bells and plates.
* Bulging biceps or bulging wallets.
The seriously advanced strength trainer may well be a regular in a gym. To top up for the serious trainer a heavy duty multi unit could do the trick.
For those with plenty of dollars there are some great all in one units, including multi-stations allowing several people to train at once.
Safe Weight Training Tips.
* Stretches are vital in both warming up and cooling down. Stretches are also invaluable for loosening up stiff muscles from a day or two before.
* Warming up. To avoid injuries, strain, sprains and full on muscle tears, it is important to warm up properly before lifting those weights. A 5-10 minute warm up including a set of stretches and a brisk walk is plenty.
* Cooling down. 5-10 minutes of stretching out all those muscle groups at the end of your workout will both increase your flexibility and keep injuries to a minimum.
* Rest days. To avoid overdoing it and incurring over-use injuries, you should give your body one day’s rest between lifting weights. On alternate days, embark on an aerobic component like walking, jogging, bike riding, or swimming, to burn those calories and improve cardiac fitness.
* Sore muscles mean you need to take an extra day or two as a rest. Listen to your aching body.
* Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before and after a strength training session. is highly recommended when lifting heavy dumbbells. Firstly, to ensure that you movements are correct. Secondly, to avoid dangerous scenarios involving dropped weights and trapped bodies.
* Eat a sensible diet. Cut down on the saturated fats. Ensure your diet includes lean high quality protein such as chicken and fish, and plenty of complex carbohydrates.
* A spotter
Strength training programs provide many health benefits to all age groups, from the senior to the teen. Stronger bones, increased metabolism, improved coordination, and better performance and endurance, are only a few of the advantages to be gained from strength training.