Think strength training is just for body builders? Think
You're at the gym on a treadmill, sweating like you just climbed
Mount St. Helens during an eruption and you look over at the
weight-lifting area and see them. You know who they are. The big,
buff guys in teeny cut-off shirts with bodies so hard you could
bounce a quarter off them from across the room.
"It's a good thing I don't lift weights," you think to yourself.
"I'd hate to look like those guys."
But the truth is not everyone who strength trains bulks up like
Mr. Universe. And, in fact, strength training is a very important
part of your exercise routine.
The most obvious reason for strength training is being stronger.
But think about what that means. Sure, it'd be nice to be able to
lift your 40-pound dog off the couch by yourself, but being strong
is good for more than just picking things up.
"Strength training increases your level of physical ability,
making it easier for you to do just about everything," says John
McCarthy, Ph.D., P.T., a spokesman for the American College of
Strength training also can help you:
Prevent osteoporosis. Lifting weights strengthens your bones as
well as the muscles that support them. It also increases your
balance, making you less likely to fall and suffer a fracture.
Control weight gain. "Beginning in the late 20s and early 30s,
adults gain about a pound of fat each year," says Fabio Comana,
M.A., M.S., a consultant with the American Council on Exercise.
Strength training can combat that, because lean muscle mass helps
you burn more calories than fat.
Be happy. OK, lifting weights may not make you happier, but it
can improve your sense of well-being, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Strength training may enhance your self- confidence, boost your
body image and may even help fight depression. Sleep better. People
who have regular strength training routines are less likely to have
sleep disorders such as insomnia than people who don't strength
Get to Lifting
Now that you know why you should strength train, how do you get
started? Do you have to lie down and bench press as much as
possible as many times your arms will allow? Only if you want to be
one of those guys at the gym.
"Find a type of training you enjoy," Comana says. "You'll be
more likely to stick with it." You don't even need to hit the gym
at all, if you don't want to. Homemade weights, such as canned
goods or plastic water bottles filled with sand, can be just as
effective as perfectly calibrated dumbbells.
Resistance bands are another good, inexpensive option. Like
large rubber bands, they provide resistance when you pull on
And don't discount using your own body weight either. Chin-ups,
push-ups, sit-ups (anything ending in "ups" really) and squats are
all forms of weight lifting.
Whatever type of training you choose, keep these tips in mind
when beginning your routine:
1. Always warm up before your strength-training session. Walk on
a treadmill for five to 10 minutes to loosen up your muscles and
help you avoid injury. Be sure to swing your arms if you plan to
work your upper body.
2. Use proper technique. Improper technique can not only lead to
injury, it can lessen your results. A few sessions with a personal
trainer can help.
3. Don't overdo it. Start with a weight you can lift comfortably
(notice we didn't say "easily") for 12 to 15 repetitions. Gradually
work your way up to heavier weights and additional sets of
4. Take a day off. Your muscles need time to recuperate between
sessions, so if you focus on your arms and shoulders one day, work
your legs and abs the next.
5. Expect to be sore. You're challenging your muscles when you
lift. Regular massage
therapy can help ease the pain and get you back at it.
-By Shelley Flannery