Slogging through miles on the treadmill or powering through a spin class are fine forms of cardio, but if you’re ready to mix things up with a fresh fitness routine, you should try adding strength training to the repertoire.
If you’ve never used free weights, machines, bands or even your own body, strength training can seem like an intimidating undertaking at first. Once you move past the nervousness, though, you’ll see it’s actually a lot of fun and a great way to strengthen your muscles, tendons, bones, and joints, and improve muscular endurance.
No matter your age, witnessing yourself getting stronger is a pretty empowering feeling, not to mention the noticeable changes to your physique. Muscles are a vital part of life!
“Your muscles power your every every movement, even your balance and posture,” according to an article on Lifesum. “Maintaining strong core muscles can help you sit and stand straighter, which can improve your appearance and keep your spine and the rest of your body properly aligned. Keeping your muscles strong also ensures that you can easily do everyday activities like climbing stairs, lifting heavy groceries, and even picking up your pets.”
Here are a few tips to consider as you get started with a new type of weight workout that strengthen and maintain your muscles:
Identify Your Goals
Ask yourself why you want to go to the gym in the first place:
– Do you want to lose weight?
– Do you want an overall fitness bump?
– Are you trying to supplement your cardio workouts?
– Do you want to become stronger?
– Do you want to work on weak areas of the body?
– Do you want to bulk up?
– Are you rehabbing an injury?
– Do you want a better butt?
– Do you sit at a desk all day?
There’s all sorts of reasons people take up strength training, so it’s a good idea to have a plan going in.
Sometimes you don’t know certain muscles are weak until you actually try using them in ways you never have before. Runners who want to work on getting faster, for example, often find they have weak or underdeveloped hamstrings compared to their quads. If the front of the leg is stronger than the back of the leg, you are putting yourself at risk for a knee injury. Balancing the major muscle groups reduces the potential for injury.
If your goal is to lose weight, weightlifting alone won’t cut it. Diet is the other key component in weight loss. You’ll often hear people asking a trainer why they can’t lose weight even though they are burning calories like mad. The trainer will likely point to diet — or calories in, calories out. If you don’t know how many calories you’re consuming per day, try using a nutrition tracker app such as MyFitnessPal to get a better idea.
Form, Form, Form
If you have no idea (or a vague idea) on how to lift weights, it’s key to learn proper form first. Even some seasoned weightlifters aren’t using good technique. Just because the dude is huge, doesn’t necessarily mean he knows everything about proper technique and form.
Find the most qualified trainer you can afford for one session to see what you can learn and if you want to continue with further sessions. For many, it’s money well spent. Some personal trainers will offer one or two free sessions to lure you into buying a monthly package. It’s one way to find out if you like lifting or want to work with that person.
If you are a member of gym, you can often get a free session as part of your annual dues. To maximize your hour-long session, let the trainer know you want to learn some basic exercises and proper form. Not everyone has the money to work with a trainer, so ask that person for recommendations on books, videos and home gym equipment.
You probably have watched people in the gym mindlessly doing rep after rep and then moving onto the next exercise. Maybe they’re just really efficient or maybe they aren’t making the connection of how the body and mind work together to get the job done.
When you first begin learning how to do a movement it’s easy to get caught up in your head on whether you’re doing it right. It takes practice to get down the proper form while targeting a specific area.
Our bodies tend to take the path of least resistance during the exercise instead of focusing on the muscle that’s supposed to get worked. If you’re doing a hamstring curl and it’s too hard, you tend to make it easier by recruiting your calf or ankle to help lift the leg. Time and patience will help you make the connection between mind and body.
Am I Working Hard Enough?
It’s a misconception that you’ll be sore after every workout. If you’re not sore, it doesn’t mean that you didn’t work hard enough. People often expect the delayed onset muscle soreness that occurs 24-48 hours after a tough weightlifting session that’s caused by tiny tears in the muscle tissue. It doesn’t always happen though, even if you’re sore and work your muscles to exhaustion during the actual workout. You did your job!
You’ll know if you’re getting stronger when you see that you lifted more weight this week than you were able to last week, regardless of soreness. You’ll notice more muscle tone. You’ll notice that you’re able to push through easier than you used to. If you feel stronger, you probably are.
After four weeks of weight training at least two times a week, you’ll definitely see progress and improvement in your performance. By the third month, you’ll really start reaping the strength benefits. It’s important to keep coming back and challenging yourself in new ways every time. It also should be something you enjoy doing for yourself so that you keep coming back.