The importance of strength training
Mysterious, unfamiliar, a little scary – for many of us, looking over at the weight area in the gym feels a bit like we’re peering into a forbidden forest, watching the goings-on from the safety of our elliptical. If you don’t strength train, it’s understandable if you’re intimidated by this part of the gym. Truthfully though, spending some time in the weights area will have enormous benefits on your health, both short-term and long-term.
Strength training: The basics
Before you start working up the courage to step into this unfamiliar territory, it might help if you learn a little about why strength training matters, and how you can get started. You don’t need to have experience lifting weights, and you don’t need to be in incredible shape to strength train. Strength training is good for anyone and everyone, no matter their fitness level.
What is strength training?
Strength training, or resistance training, is a type of exercise in which you strengthen your muscles by working against a force. As the name implies, this makes your muscles stronger over time. Simple, but so necessary.
How does strength training help?
Over time, strength training has been shown to do the following:
Increase muscle-to-fat ratio
Help with physical balance
Lower the risk of chronic conditions
Improve sleep habits
Give people more energy
Improve or maintain bone density
Make it easier for people to perform everyday tasks
Boost self-confidence and esteem
This isn’t the whole list, either. Some sources suggest that strength training makes us better thinkers and problem-solvers. It’s also really important for people to strength train as they age, because we lose muscle mass as we get older, and strength training helps us get that muscle back.
What are the basic guidelines to strength training?
People’s routines vary of course, but some things don’t change too much. There’s some common knowledge about strength training that you should know.
- Weight: Over time, increase the amount of weight that you use to train. If you don’t gradually increase the weight, you can’t get stronger!
- Reps and sets: Structure your workout by reps (repetitions of an exercise you do) and sets (groups of repetitions).
- Mix it up: Vary the kinds of exercises you do. It’s best to get a good variety of exercises throughout the week to challenge your body and make it adapt.
- Rest: Give yourself 48 hours between strength training workouts to rest and recover.
- Try different equipment: You can use all kinds of equipment for strength training, including weighted medicine balls, free weights, weight machines, resistance bands, and in some cases your own body weight (think planks or push-ups).
Where can you start?
The absolute best way to safely start strength training is to meet with a fitness professional. They can help you set goals, understand the proper movements, assess your current fitness level, and better understand specific exercises. But aside from seeing a professional about starting, there are some things to know about the basics of starting strength training.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, most people who are just starting out should experiment with repetitions and weights until they’ve found a routine that challenges them but doesn’t make them too fatigued. In general, a strength training routine can look a little like this:
Warm up with leg exercises like squats or lunges
Move on to the chest, shoulders, and back with exercises like the deadlift and seated rows
Finish with exercises that target the abdomen and lower back using exercises like planks and crunches
You might think of strength training as something that you don’t really need in your life, and this might be especially true if you’ve never had a real introduction to strength training. But the fact is that we do need strength training – it helps us in our daily activities, and preserves our strength as we get older. It’s never too late to start a strength-training program that will serve you well into the future.