As if starting a new exercise wasn’t intimidating enough, along comes the world of strength training. With options galore, muscle-building exercises come in all shapes and sizes—there’s resistance bands, cable weights, free weights, body weight—you get the point. While all of these choices are great for the experienced lifter, for someone new to the strength training game, it’s difficult to know where to start.
After all, you don’t want to use improper form, lift too much weight or end up injuring yourself. So while it may be tempting to stay safely on your favorite cardio machine, strength training can offer some serious health benefits—like increasing your resting metabolic rate, improving sleep, relieving stress, supporting bone health and more—so why not give it a try?
But before you do, here are 4 things you should know to maximize your experience and prevent injury:
1. Learn the 5 major muscle groups.
· Arms/Shoulders: Deltoids, Biceps, Triceps and Forearms
· Legs/Glutes:Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Calves and Glutes
· Abs:Upper abs, Lower abs and Obliques
· Back: Trapezius, Latissimus dorsi
2. Learn the 7 fundamental movements.
· Squats: Every time you sit down and/or stand up from a chair, you are essentially doing a squat. This movement involves your glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings.
· Hinge: Similar to the movement you make when you bend over to pick something up off the ground; hinges target your hips, hamstrings and glutes.
· Push: You guessed it, this movement is similar to the motion you make when doing a pushup. This movement is focused on your chest, shoulders and triceps.
· Pull: The opposite of a pushing, pulling is the motion you make when doing a pullup (which is super difficult). This movement will target your back and biceps.
· Lunge: The same movement you make whenever you walk or run is a lunge variation, so you’re already a pro at this movement. This motion strengthens glutes, quads and hamstrings.
· Carry: This motion is as simple as picking up something heavy and carrying it (that heavy purse may be giving you quite the workout). This type of movement improves all over strength and really targets your grip and core.
· Rotation: The next time you turn around in your car to get something out of the backseat, take note of the motion you’re making (it’s a rotation). This type of movement targets core strength and stability.
3. Learn your magic number(s).
This applies to how often you should be lifting, how much and how heavy. A good baseline to start with is doing 8 to 10 lifting exercises that target all muscle groups, 2 to 3 times a week. Even if you’re tempted to lift more often, make sure you don’t work the same muscle groups on consecutive days—your muscles need that recovery time to grow (after all that is the point).
As you get to be a strength-training pro you might opt for a split routine. That could mean working the upper body on Mondays and Thursdays and the lower body on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Now when it comes to deciding what weight to use, remember that less is always more. Until you’re more familiar with strength training, it’s important to ease into exercises by focusing more on form and less on weight. You’ll know you’re lifting a good amount if you can complete 3 sets of 8 repetitions.
Once you can complete three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions of an exercise with excellent form—meaning you can just about complete your last rep of each set—it's time to add more weight. Whatever equipment you use, the increase should be heavy enough that you're back to being able to complete only 8 reps per set, and possibly only 2 sets, not 3.
4. Strengthen your confidence.
There’s no denying that strength training can be a great addition to almost any workout routine, but adding a new exercise can be hard on your body. To ensure that you're utilizing the best exercise for your unique health needs, talk with your primary care provider before you start. You can also get personalized, hands-on training from the experts at GMC’s Fitness & Performance Center to overcome any obstacles, prevent injury and not only reach your fitness goals, but surpass them.