Strength training can be intimidating to a fitness newbie, especially if you've never operated one of those machines with the pulleys and levers, or you don't want to go toe-to-toe with that tan, grunting guy. However, strength training is a crucial part of getting fit that just can't be ignored. Cardio alone doesn't cut it. I repeat: cardio alone does not cut it! Now, I'm not saying you should be able to bench press like Arnold, but even a few days of light strength training each week can do wonders for your health -- and not to mention, your physique.
Not only does resistance training help build muscle strength, it increases your body's resting metabolic rate, causing it to burn more calories throughout the day. (Yes, please!) It also reduces blood pressure, decreases your osteoporosis risk and improves your balance. If you're a strength-training beginner, these seven tips will get you going in no time.
Do a cardio warmup.
It's important to get your heart rate up before starting your strength-training routine. Begin with a five-minute warmup of brisk walking, light jogging or dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching uses controlled movements to loosen up your muscles and increase your range of motion. Try doing some walking lunges or butt kicks.
Learn proper technique.
In order to prevent injuries, you must know proper form and technique. Proper technique will make sure that you're working the right muscles without straining. If you're a true beginner, it can be beneficial to invest in a single training session. A trainer can show you the correct positions, grips and motions while also helping you create a basic strength-training routine. If you don't want to spend the money on a trainer, there is a lot of free content online to help you learn proper form.
You may associate strength training entirely with dumbbells, but they aren'’t your only option. In fact, there are many modes of strength training at the gym, and even in your own living room! You can use resistance bands, weight bars, kettlebells, medicine balls, exercise balls, your own body weight... the list goes on! You can also take advantage of strength-training classes your gym may offer. Classes are a great way to learn how to use equipment that's new to you while also keeping your routine fresh.
Figuring out how much weight you should be using for a given exercise requires a bit of experimentation. Keep in mind that in the beginning it's better to err on the side of too light than too heavy. If you're doing three sets of 12 reps of bicep curls, your arms should feel fatigued by the last set, and extremely fatigued by the last few reps. Your arms should be working hard -- they might even be a bit shaky -- but you shouldn't ever feel extreme discomfort. If you blow through your sets without any trouble, up your weight. If you're done by the second set, drop down in weight.
Work on imbalances.
Most people are stronger on one side of their body than the other. For this reason, I'm a big proponent of isolating each side of your body during strength training so that they’re worked equally. For example, single-leg squats will ensure that you're relying solely on the muscles in your working leg, instead of letting your stronger leg do more of the work. Having balanced strength on both sides of your body is a true indicator of overall fitness, so try out some isolated moves!
Allow your routine to evolve.
As you become more familiar with strength training, it's important to start incorporating new exercises and equipment into your routine. If you're getting bored with your workout, your muscles are, too. Spicing up your sweat sessions will trick your muscles and ensure that they're working to their full potential. You should also monitor your weight amounts and raise them as you get stronger.
Don't forget to rest.
Strength training causes tiny tears in the muscles, which then heal stronger than before. These tears are good, but only if you allow them time to heal properly. The average person needs 24 to 48 hours of rest to heal in between workouts so make sure you allot yourself that time. People are often more gung-ho at the beginning of their workout program and sometimes overdo it. Listen to your body. Soreness is fine, pain is not.
Jennifer Cohen is a leading fitness authority, TV personality, best-selling author, and entrepreneur. With her signature, straight-talking approach to wellness, Jennifer was the featured trainer on The CW’s Shedding for the Wedding, mentoring the contestants’ to lose hundreds of pounds before their big day, and she appears regularly on NBC's "Today Show", "Extra", "The Doctors" and "Good Morning America".