The National Strength and Conditioning Association defines strength training as "the use of progressive resistance methods to increase one's ability to exert or resist force." (16) Strength training often takes second fiddle to aerobics, but aerobic exercise is just for the heart. It is usually insufficient for developing muscular size and shape for that "hard body" look. Sometimes people are disappointed after doing aerobics for a few months when they don't see much change in the way they look. Resistance or strength training is what they need.
First let's clear up some misconceptions:
The benefits of strength training are many: increased strength, improved muscle tone, enhanced athletic performance, increased bone, tendon, and ligament strength, injury prevention, and improved body image (self esteem). It may even aid in cardiac rehabilitation (24). For women, one of the most significant benefits of weight training is that it reduces the risk of osteoporosis. Bones need regular resistance to stay strong. Weight training causes the muscles to pull on the bones which will strengthen the bone. (25) This benefit does not occur to the same extent with aerobic exercise!
If your age is making you think twice about starting a weight training routine, think about this. The muscles of older people are just as responsive to weight training as those of younger people. Extensive research has shown great improvement in strength in 80 and 90 year olds! In one study, 80 and 90 year old people were trained with weights over 3-4 months. They were able to increase their strength 3-4 times over this period. (26) This has important consequences for quality of living. It is muscular strength that is necessary to get in and out of a chair, walk up and down stairs, and to lift things. For some inspiration, take a look through the book Growing Old Is Not for Sissies, by Etta Clark. (27)
(1) Reps or repetitions. This is how many times you move the weight up and down. For example, in the squat or deep knee bend, 1 rep would be lowering yourself down and raising back up one time. (2) Sets. This is a grouping of repetitions. For example, 3 sets of ten reps means doing 10 reps, resting, doing 10 reps, resting, and doing 10 reps.
Strength training should be performed at least 2 times per week leaving at least 48-72 hours between workouts. (Note: More advanced weight training may be performed more frequently and with less time between workouts. Discussion of this is beyond the scope of this book). You must pick exercises for each of the body parts: legs (calves, front thigh, rear thigh), abdomen, back, chest, shoulders, arms (biceps, triceps). Don't neglect any body parts - this will lead to imbalances in your body. Buy an anatomy book and learn the names of the muscles and what they do. This will be extremely helpful in learning how to do your exercise properly. See appendix C for an anatomy drawing of the muscles and an explanation of the function of the muscles.
Proper form is critical whether using free weights or machines. Proper form must be learned with the lightest weights possible before adding weight to your exercise. I suggest you use a personal trainer for your first 2-3 workouts. Having a qualified person watch and instruct you is invaluable. In this way, you will prevent injury and get the greatest possible benefits from your training.
Start LIGHT! This means that when you first try an exercise, use the lightest weight possible the very first time you try the exercise. This will give you a baseline. Gradually add weight until you reach a weight with which you are able to do 10 reps comfortably and in strict form. You should not struggle to complete the 10th rep.
Once you have determined the correct weight to use, pick 1 or 2 different exercises per body part and start with 1 to 2 sets of 10 easy reps. Take 1 to 3 minutes between sets. If you are out of breath, just slow down. Always use a light weight for 10 easy reps when performing the first set of a new exercise.
When you are performing a rep, you must control the upward and downward movement of the weight. Always lower the weight slowly and in a controlled manner. You may raise the weight quickly, but you must have full control and strict form. You control the weight; never let it control you. For example, in a bench press you slowly lower the weight to your chest (never bounce it on your chest) and then push up hard with control and strict form. This means that the only part of you body that moves is your arm and chest muscles. The rest of you remains stationary. Never jerk the weights up and down! A quick word about "negatives", i.e. having somebody help you lift the weight so you can slowly lower it. Don't do this in the beginning. They greatly increases your chance of injury and will make you quite sore!
Proper breathing is essential - breathe out when exerting yourself (as in the upward phase of a bench press) and breathe in when recovering. DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH! Make sure you have a spotter while weight lifting - someone who knows how to help if you get stuck.
Examples of exercises for each body part are as follows:
Progression in weight training should be done in a cyclical fashion. The technical term is called periodization. (29) Training is divided into 4-8 week cycles. For example, whether you begin with 2 or 3 workouts per week, your first few weeks should include 1-2 sets of 10 reps per exercise. Work on perfecting your form. Over the next 4-8 weeks, you may wish to increase the number of sets to 3 per exercise. You may elect to add weight in small increments. The weight you choose should allow you to do 8-12 reps. For the first few months, stay in this range. After this time period, you may wish to exercise different muscles on different days.
To make further gains you must stress your muscles beyond the demands of your previous training. This is called the overload principle or progressive resistance training. (30) Milo of Croton demonstrated this principle in 300 B.C. by carrying a calf every day until it grew into a full-grown bull.
After you have been training for several months, vary your training by changing the number of sets and reps, the exercises you perform, and the order of those exercises every 4-8 weeks. This is a very important point and is often overlooked.
Another way to weight train is called circuit training. (31) Many gyms have circuit training areas. A group of machines which exercise all the body parts are used. You perform 1 set of 10-15 reps on each machine. You move from machine to machine with little rest (1-15 seconds) between machines. Circuit training is a good way to become fit. However, you will not increase your strength over the long term as much with circuit training as with free weight/machine training. Whether or not circuit training provides aerobic benefits is still controversial. Perform separate aerobic exercise to attain aerobic benefits.
For those of you out there who want to "tone up", stick with the machines as they are easier to use and are less likely to cause an injury. If you want the Arnold Schwarzenegger or Cory Everson look, free weights are the answer. This requires much more sophisticated lifting technique and thus more practice at light weights than machines. Probably the best way to train is to use a combination of free weights and machines.
If you wish to train at home all you really need is a few pairs of dumbbells (2lb, 5lb, 10lb,) and a bench. See Appendix D for a sample of home weight training exercises and Appendix E for a sample of gym - machine and free weight- exercises.
Weight belts: The function of the weight belt is to prevent injury to the spinal discs, the shock absorbing pads between the spinal bones. The belt does this by spreading out the force around the midsection which decreases the pressure on the discs. A proper belt is 4"-6" wide. Tighten it immediately before your lift and loosen it after the lift is completed. (32) Wear a belt when using free weights. You may want to wear it on certain machines. Check with a qualified trainer. Do not let wearing a belt give you a false sense of security. Proper technique with the correct amount of weight for you is a must.
There are several categories of people who exercise with weights. These categories are often referred to as: weight lifting, weightlifting, Weightlifting, weight training, bodybuilding, powerlifting, lifting, Olympic lifting, Olympic-style weightlifting, strength training and resistance training. Let's clarify the differences.
Weightlifting: Weightlifting, weight lifting and weightlifting all have a "generic" meaning which refers to the activity of lifting weights. To those who are well versed in the use of weights, the word weightlifting has a particular meaning. It refers to the Olympic sport of Weightlifting, which tests strength a power through two methods of lifting a barbell overhead - the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk. Weightlifting is the only Olympic sport involving weights, which is why it is sometimes referred to as Olympic lifting or as Olympic-style lifting, or Olympic-style weightlifting.
Weight Training: Weight training refers to any activity which involves the use of weights. The term weight training is commonly used in referring to people who lift weights but not for the purpose of competing in bodybuilding, powerlifting or weightlifting (although many people lift weights as a means for improving their performance in another sport). Many people who lift weights refer to themselves as "lifters" for short.
Resistance Training: Resistance training is an even broader term than weight training because resistance can be supplied by weights, machines, rubber strands and any number of other devices that resist the movement of the exerciser. It is nearly impossible to engage in any vigorous resistance training without getting stronger as a result. However, strength training is a means of training with resistance that is focused on improving strength, as compared with muscle size (although people who train for strength are often seeking increased muscle size as well).
Bodybuilding: Bodybuilding is a sport or activity in which the primary objective is to develop the size of the skeletal muscles. Bodybuilders focus on other areas as well, such as developing all of the muscles proportionally (symmetrically), minimizing body fat and increasing their strength. Because bodybuilders focus on muscular development, that is the main thing they achieve. Strength, for example, tends to take a back seat to size (though many bodybuilders are very strong).
Powerlifting: Powerlifting is a great sport that was conceived as a pure test of strength. And it tests strength about as well as Olympic-style Weightlifting. The sport that consists of three events: squat, bench press and deadlift. Powerlifters are very strong because they focus on developing that capacity exclusively. Overall, the strength of powerlifters very close to that of Olympic-style weightlifters. However, powerlifting is not an Olympic sport and it has multiple "federations" which govern it, so there can be multiple "world champions" each year (Olympic-style Weightlifting has only one international governing body and one world champion per weight class worldwide). Powerlifting is also not practiced as widely as weightlifting. For all these reasons, the level of competition tends not to be as high in powerlifting as it is in weightlifting, which is why competitive Weightlifters, as a group, have earned the right to call themselves the strongest athletes alive. More importantly, no other athletes approach the strength of weightlifters and powerlifters, as the men and women who compete in these sports are totally focused becoming the strongest athletes in the world. Moreover, they compete on measurable events which are standardized worldwide, so that performances can be reasonbly compared. You won't see these athletes flexing their muscles or lifting tree trunks on "pay-per-view", but they are quietly driving the levels of human performance to all time highs.
"Generally speaking, if boys and girls are ready for sports participation they are ready for some type of strength training. Many seven- and eight-year-old children have benefited from strength training. Younger children, also, may participate in strength-building activities if they can perform the exercises correctly and follow directions. However, it is important to remember that no matter how big or strong a child is, adult strength training programs and philosophies should not be imposed on children. The goal of youth strength training programs should be to enhance the musculoskeletal strength of children and teenagers while exposing them to a variety of safe, effective and fun training methods.
Different training programs and many types of equipmentfrom lightweight medicine balls to child-size weight machineshave proven to be safe and effective. While the optimal combination of sets and repetitions has not yet been determined for children and teenagers, beginning with one set of 10 to 15 repetitions on several upper and lower body exercises is effective. Depending on individual goals and the time available for training, additional sets and exercises can be performed. It must be emphasized that the focus of youth strength training programs should be on learning proper exercise technique and following safe training proceduresnot on how much weight can be lifted.
It is the position of the NSCA that:
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