Strength Training: the Missing Link
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Some people can run 8 miles on the track or cycle for an hour, but struggle through a few pull-ups. Their workout may be missing an essential part of total fitness called strength training.
You do not need to spend hours in the gym getting pumped up to enjoy the benefits of weight training. You can make gains in strength, power, and fitness in as little as two sessions as week.
Understanding the Benefits
Regular weight training makes you stronger. It also strengthens bones, ligaments, and tendons. This results in improved balance, greater power, quicker recovery, and a lower risk of injury.
In fact, only doing aerobic exercise could lead to an overuse injury. For example, running works your calves and hamstrings but ignores the upper body. You can avoid an imbalance and lower your risk of injury by strengthening all your major muscle groups.
Getting Hard Core
A strong core is important. Your core strength comes from the muscles that stabilize the spine, pelvis, rib cage, and hips. Exercises like crunches, lunges, and squats can help build your core.
Weighing the Options
Your options include things like machines, free weights, and exercise balls. They are all right for strength training. Try to vary your workout to avoid boredom and improve your results.
Machines are a good place to start. They will guide your movement and lower the risk of injury.
Start with light weight to avoid overworking the muscles and to develop a consistent routine. Lift one day per week for the first few weeks, and then add a second day. Start with one set of a weight you can lift for 8 to 10 repetitions and increase to 2 to 3 sets.
After you have a regular routine, increase the weight by 5 to 10% per week. Aim for a weight that you can lift 8 to 10 times for 2 to 3 sets. By the last repetition, you should be tired and unable to do another, but still be using good form. Do this by lifting and lowering slowly. Do not let gravity pull the weight down for you.
Free weights add a new layer of difficulty. Now you have to do exercises while keeping your whole body stable. The result is that more muscles are engaged and you get a better workout. However, it's easier to cheat with free weights. You can push a weight too fast and use the momentum instead of your own power. To avoid cheating, your form should be slow and controlled, not bouncy or jerky. Lift for 3 to 4 seconds, pause for 1 second, lower for 3 to 4 seconds.
These portable, multi-colored, oversized rubber bands are common in gyms. They are best used in addition to weight machines or free weights. The exact resistance of the bands is hard to determine. They are also limited by the maximum resistance they provide.
Medicine balls come in a range of weights and can add a significant amount of resistance. Check with a qualified trainer for the best way to use them. For instance, you can do sit-ups with your arms stretched straight above your head while holding a medicine ball.
Stability or balance balls are meant to be sat on. For example, you can balance your bottom and lower back on the ball with your feet planted on the floor. Then, you can do sit-ups or upper body free weight exercises. Using the stability ball triggers your body to use more and different muscles than are normally engaged. And these are the core muscles that help with your overall strength and power.
You can also use your own body as resistance. Some options include things like push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups, lunges, squats, and triceps dips. Do jumping jacks before and between each exercise to keep your heart rate up.
Feeling the Burn
Some muscle soreness is normal the day after lifting. However, rest for a few days or call your doctor if you have:
Putting It All Together
A balanced program includes cardio, strength training, and flexibility exercises. It may sound hard to fit each of these into your week, but a trainer can help design a program that is right for you. Before you know it, you'll be jumping higher, running faster, pedaling harder, and looking and feeling stronger and more confident.
American Council on Exercise (ACE)
Health—Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
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Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 10/11/2021
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