So you’re sold on the benefits that a weight-training program can give you—like a firmer body and a speedier metabolism—and you’re ready to lift. But dumbbells, barbells and weight-training machines can look intimidating if you don’t know what to do with them. Relax—even experienced lifters were once beginners. Getting comfortable with weight-training—whether at home or in the gym—can take a little time, so proceed slowly and know that by sticking to regular workouts, you’ll soon be stronger, healthier and more toned.
First, see your doctor before beginning your exercise program, especially if you are over 35 years old or have been inactive for a prolonged period. Then, consider consulting with a certified personal trainer who can design a program for you based on your goals, available equipment, budget and time constraints. (This makes particular sense for older adults; adults who haven’t exercised for a long time; and anyone with chronic disease, injuries or other physical challenges.) Whether you work out at home or in the gym, a trainer can teach you proper exercise form and show you how to use your equipment effectively. Other alternatives include taking a fitness class that incorporates light weights and investing in a weight-training book for beginners.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults begin by performing eight to 10 exercises, two to three days a week, to enhance muscular strength and endurance. (Allow 48 hours between workouts—your muscles need that time to recover.) When you’re ready to start, follow these guidelines:
- Perform one set of eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise to work your muscle to the point of fatigue. Adults ages 50 and older or frail individuals should use lighter weights and perform 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise.
- Execute each movement slowly while maintaining control over the weight—that means no jerking or flailing and no using momentum or gravity to help you move the weight.
- Rest one to two minutes between sets.
- Choose a lighter weight if it’s too heavy and you struggle on the eighth repetition.
- Try using a slightly heavier weight if you’re having no problem getting 12 complete repetitions.
- In three to five weeks, add a set or two to build on your fitness gains.
A balanced body is a healthy body. Weight training reverses the rate of muscle loss that can occur after age 30, strengthens your bones and improves your balance and coordination. Even slight increases in muscle mass throughout your body boost your metabolism and up the number of calories your body burns throughout the day. But to get that balanced body, you need a balanced training program that involves exercising all your major body parts. Training only specific muscle groups can lead to a strength imbalance that will put you at greater risk for injury.
Balance also comes in when you’re doing each exercise. Whether you’re standing or seated, maintain good posture and a stable body position. This allows you to exercise safely and to focus your effort on the muscle you’re working (and not “cheat” by recruiting other muscle groups to help with the movement).
You’ve got your sneakers and you’re ready to go. Keep these pointers in mind before you pick up a weight:
- Talk to your doctor first, especially if you have a medical condition.
- Warm up for five to 10 minutes with a walk or bike ride.
- Concentrate on basic movements—leave the advanced exercises to experienced lifters.
- Breathe properly when you exercise. Think: “Exhale on exertion.”
- Perform your repetitions until you feel the muscle becoming fatigued, then carefully set the weight down—don’t throw it or drop it.
- If doing an exercise hurts, stop. Choose another exercise to work the same body part or have a trainer check your form.
- After your workout, gently stretch the body parts you’ve exercised.
Don’t plan on sticking with your regimen forever. Challenge your muscles by adding weight, increasing the number of sets or exercises, trying new exercises, changing the order of exercises or increasing your pace. You’ll keep your routine from becoming stale and continue to reap benefits from your fitness program.