Strength training improves muscle strength, power, endurance, and size.
It also reduces your body fat, increases your body metabolism so you burn
more calories each day, enhances your balance and stability, and keeps
your bones strong. It also can reduce the symptoms associated with chronic
conditions like arthritis, diabetes, or osteoporosis.
Getting to the gym for a weight workout isn't always easy. That's
why it pays to have weights at home as a backup or as a substitute.
Strength training, also known as resistance training, is different from
weightlifting or power lifting. These are sports in which people compete
to lift the heaviest weights.
In resistance or strength training, you use weights or resistance bands
to force your muscles to work against gravity. Over time, this builds
and strengthens muscle mass by increasing the size of your muscle cells.
During the first 4 weeks of a strength-training program, the increase
in your strength is primarily from changes in the neurologic system that
controls your muscle contraction. The nervous system increases the number
of muscle fibers used for training and coordinates their activity, but
muscle fibers remain the same size. After about 4 weeks, changes take
place in the structure of your muscle fibers, so they enlarge and your
muscles become larger.
Talk with your health care provider before starting a strength-training
program. Once you have your health care provider's OK, talk with a
qualified personal trainer to set up a program. If your goal is to increase
your strength, then you should use progressively heavier weights in your
training sessions. If your goal is to improve your muscle endurance, then
you should use lighter weights with more repetitions in your training sessions.
Why it's important
Strength training is an important part of a fitness routine, because your
muscles must be strong enough for daily activities like carrying groceries
or gardening, as well as for recreational and sports activities like walking
or carrying golf clubs. As you age, you lose muscle mass and strength.
Strength training helps delay and reduce this loss of muscle.
The National Institute on Aging offers these tips for strength training:
Your strength-training program should work all the major muscle groups
at least twice a week.
Warm up your muscles for 5 minutes to 10 minutes before beginning your
weight workout, with gentle exercises. Follow your workout with a cool
down of 5 minutes to 10 minutes and gentle stretching. There should be
at least 1 day of rest between your sessions to allow your muscles to
grow and heal.
Use a minimum of weight the first week. Starting out with weights that
are too heavy can cause injuries. You can determine how heavy a weight
is to use by your ability to lift it 8 times to 12 times before your muscle
becomes extremely tired, or you are unable to lift the weight. Many women
beginners start with 5-pound dumbbells; men with 10 pounds to 15 pounds,
but you may need to start out using as few as 1 pound or 2 pounds.
When doing a strength exercise, do 8 repetitions to 15 repetitions in a
row. Wait a minute, then do another set of 8 repetitions to 15 repetitions
in a row of the same exercise.
Gradually add a challenging amount of weight in order to benefit from strength
exercises. If you don’t challenge your muscles, you won’t
benefit from strength exercises.
If you have had joint repair or replacement surgery, check with your surgeon
before doing lower-body exercises.
Avoid jerking or thrusting weights into position. That can cause injuries.
Use smooth, steady movements.
Avoid "locking" the joints in your arms and legs in a tightly
Breathe out as you lift or push, and breathe in as you relax. For example,
if you are doing leg lifts, breathe out as you lift your leg, and breathe
in as you lower it. This may not feel natural at first, and you probably
will have to think about it as you are doing it for some time.
Muscle soreness lasting up to a few days and slight fatigue are normal
after muscle-building exercises. Exhaustion, sore joints, and unpleasant
muscle pulling aren't. These last 3 symptoms mean you are overdoing it.
None of the exercises you do should cause pain. The range within which
you move your arms and legs should never hurt.
The following exercises are a 30-minute home weight-training workout. Do
2 sets of 8 repetitions of each exercise before repeating on the other side.
Immediately stop any exercise with the dumbbells that causes you pain,
especially in the shoulder or back. Check with your health care provider
if this happens.
Dumbbell chest press
Lie on an exercise ball, with dumbbells resting on each thigh. Lift dumbbells
to your shoulders with your palms facing forward. With your elbows to
the sides, press dumbbells up until your arms are fully extended. Lower
dumbbells and repeat.
Lying face down on the ball, with dumbbell in hand, straighten your arm.
Then pull the dumbbell toward your upper chest, with your elbow leading.
Place the ball between the wall and the lower part of your back. In each
hand, hold a dumbbell with your arms by your sides. Feet shoulder-width
apart, slowly squat like you're about to sit in a chair, allowing
your back to follow the roll of the ball. Stop when your thighs become
parallel to the floor. Then push up to return to a standing position.
Lie on the floor face up. Place your calves on the ball, about 8 inches
apart. Keep your arms on the floor, away from your body. Tilting your
pelvis forward, raise your hips as high as possible and contract your
buttocks when you reach the top. Lower your buttocks and relax.
Dumbbell shoulder/overhead press
Sit on the ball, or stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and dumbbells
at shoulder height. Grasp dumbbells with your palms facing forward. Slowly
push them toward the ceiling, stopping before your elbows lock. Then slowly
lower them to shoulder height.
Dumbbell arm curls
Stand with your back straight, dumbbells hanging by your sides. With your
palms facing upward, curl both dumbbells at the same time toward your
shoulders. Then slowly lower the weight, turning your palms so they're
facing each other at the bottom of the exercise.
Moving toward your goal:
Gradually increasing the amount of weight you use is key to building strength.
When you are able to lift a weight between 8 times to 15 times, you can
increase the amount of weight you use at your next session.
Here is an example of how to progress gradually. Start out with a weight
that you can lift only 8 times. Keep using that weight until you become
strong enough to lift it 12 times to 15 times. Add more weight so that,
again, you can lift it only 8 times. Use this weight until you can lift
it 12 times to 15 times, then add more weight. Keep repeating.