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Strength Building 101

In my last few posts, I’ve discussed the building blocks for a comprehensive fitness program. Such a program should include strength building exercises (or strength training), in which muscles gain power and endurance by working against a form of resistance (like weights, gravity, or body weight). Depending on your goals, there are several ways to approach this, but the primary concern is always to avoid injury (unless you’re eager to be a patient of mine).

If you’ve never really strength trained before, it’s important to begin slowly. All strength building sessions should start with a warm-up (3-5 min of walking/jogging/jumping jacks, etc.) to increase blood flow to the muscles and reduce the risk of a pull or tear. Resist the urge to immediately begin lifting the heaviest weights you can. Until you get a good feel for where your strength levels are, it’s best to err on the lighter side and challenge yourself gradually.

Strength building exercises are performed using sets of repetitions (or reps). The number of reps and sets depends on your goals. In general, use heavier weights with fewer reps to increase muscle size and strength, and lighter weights with more reps for a leaner look and greater endurance. The amount of weight lifted shouldn’t be so heavy that you can’t complete the set, but it should be enough that the last few reps are quite challenging. So for example, a man wishing for bigger biceps may curl 70 lbs. only a few times, while his wife (who wants more endurance during her daily tasks) will curl 10 lbs. for 3 sets of 15 reps.

Especially for strength building newbies, expect some soreness after your first session. This is called delayed onset muscles soreness (DOMS), and it’s a sign your body is growing stronger in response to a new challenge (though it may not feel like it at the time). DOMS can be lessened by gentle stretching, using ice therapy (place ice on sore areas for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day), or for the very, very brave, an ice bath. It’s also important not to strength train on consecutive days; you need time to rest and recover between sessions.

You don’t have to live in the weight room to see the benefits of strength training. By incorporating 15 minute sessions, 2-3 days/week into your fitness program, you’ll soon see a stronger, more confident you. Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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