Strength training 101: Getting started on weight bearing activity

Strength training isn’t just for elite athletes - Learn the basics for meeting the minimum recommendations of strength training activity.

For many years, strength training was primarily used by adult athletes to enhance sports performance and increase muscle size. However, Michigan State University Extension says that strength training is now recognized as an important method of enhancing health and fitness for people of all ages and abilities. Completing the recommended moderate-intensity strength training on two or more days per week can give you a variety of health and fitness benefits, such as aiding in weight maintenance, stronger bones and muscles and better balance. Even small changes you can’t see can make it easier to do everyday tasks, like carrying groceries, climbing stairs, opening jars or lifting a child up for a hug. Here are some things to keep in mind as you start or progress on a strength training program:

  • Know the basics - Strength training works on the principle of progressive resistance. Meaning, in order to build muscle you have to lift a load heavier than what you’re used to carrying. If you can easily complete 15 arm curls with a five pound weight, then you need to either increase the number of repetitions or increase the weight. By the end of an exercise it should be difficult for you to do one more repetition. If you can’t lift or push a weight eight times, the weight is too heavy. Try a lighter weight and as you get stronger you can add more. If you are concerned that by doing strength training you will develop large muscles, don’t be; meeting the recommendations for strength training will increase muscle tone, but not give you bulky muscles.
  • Equipment - Many people think you need to belong to a gym or buy weight equipment to do strength training, which isn’t always the case. You can use things around the house like soup cans, milk jugs filled with water, a sock filled with dry beans or even your own body weight. If you do want to make a small investment, a couple of hand or ankle weights or a resistance band is less costly and you can benefit from using them for strength training.
  • Safety - Know some simple techniques for strength training to stay safe and get the most out of your exercises:
    • Don’t hold your breath - Inhale when you are lifting or pushing and exhale as you relax.
    • Use proper form - Avoid jerking or fast movements. Use slow and steady movements, especially when returning to the start position. Keep from locking joints or overextending them.

Some slight muscle soreness lasting a few days after exercising is normal and can be expected, especially if you’re just starting out. If you have exhaustion, pain, sore joints or muscle pulling, then you’re overdoing it. No exercise should cause severe pain. To help prevent sore muscles, avoid doing strength training on the same muscle group two days in a row; either have a day of rest between activity days or work different muscle groups on consecutive days (for example, upper body on Mon. and lower body on Tues.).

Before you start any exercise program, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider. He or she will be able to give recommendations based on your health status and any other special considerations. A good free resource to get started is the National Institute of Aging’s Go4Life program; it has a sample workout to order or download that is free and information on strength training exercises as well as endurance, balance and flexibility exercises. Another resource to look to is your local MSU Extension office.

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