Cher’s right – we’d all be fit if it were just a tad bit easier to achieve. But actually, staying in shape nowadays is really not all that difficult. It just takes a little time and determination. Legend has it that in ancient Greece a wrestler named Milo of Croton did his strength training by carrying a newborn calf around his neck every day till it was full grown. Fortunately, for us, strength training is much less grueling – and no calves are required. In fact, your body weight and a few simple pieces of equipment are all you need to work out, if you’re willing to commit to a regular regimen.
A myriad of strength training workouts are available as are the methods of resistance you can choose, including dumbbells, barbells, free weights, bands, balls, machines as well as your own body weight. If you belong to a gym the variety of equipment can be overwhelming but with the right preparation, you’ll find that a full service gym is a wonderful fitness venue. But even if the cost of a gym membership is prohibitive, there is no excuse for not working out. Your own body weight supplies ample resistance for performing such exercises as planks, pushups, squats, lunges, and crunches. And all of these exercises can be modified to fit your fitness level and ability even if you have physical limitations or restrictions. Age is also no excuse for not exercising; you are never too old to exercise but you are always too young to die.
Strength training offers many physical, psychological and emotional benefits. Muscle mass begins to decrease by age 20, a deterioration that is hastened if we are inactive. Likewise, at this year’s Alzheimer’s Conference it was reported that resistance training was shown to be key in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Additional benefits of strength training include:
- Development of stronger bones and decreased risk of osteoporosis.
- Increased muscle mass.
- Efficient calorie burn. Muscle is metabolically active and burns more calories than fat.
- Improved physical stamina and endurance.
- Prevention and controlled symptoms of chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis, depression, diabetes, back pain, osteoporosis and obesity related issues.
- Improved mental focus and memory.
- Daily tasks and chores become easier.
- Stress relief.
- Improved self confidence.
Take charge of your health and get started, or encourage a loved one to pursue a strength training program. Before you begin any exercise program you should check with your physician, particularly if you have any health issues that concern you. I also recommend that you consult with a Personal Trainer for a few sessions to get you started on the right track. A Personal Trainer can outline a tailor-made workout program that would uniquely fit your needs.
For beginners just starting out, I recommend one set of 10-15 repetitions of each body part per session for the first week. For those already fit, two to three sets of 8-15 repetitions are recommended. Once two sets of 15 become easy, increase your weight by 2-5 pounds and add a third set. And a general rule of thumb is that if time is a factor, one good set of all muscles worked is better than none.
Below is a sample beginner routine that includes all parts of the body. Choose one exercise from each subset. Some exercises can be done with just dumbbells, while others require resistance bands and machines. When is the best time to work out? It’s the time of day you’ll actually commit to it! Some people find mornings best because they get too busy and tired to work out later in the day. It you’re a night owl, you might prefer working out in the evenings. Find a time that works for you and do it. Enlist a workout buddy – someone who has the same goals and schedule, and you will be less likely to skip workouts. I also recommend group strength training as a fun and entertaining avenue to fitness. I teach group classes and my students report feeling a great sense of exercise camaraderie. They enjoy chatting with each other between sets and many have become great friends outside of class.
Here is how to get started with your Prescription for Exercise:
- Set your goals and write them down. Post a picture to motivate you towards your goal.
- Select exercises recommended for you by your Personal Trainer or doctor.
- Always do a light active warm-up prior to your workout. Stretch after your workout, not before.
- Determine the frequency and order of exercises.
- Evaluate the intensity, or how much weight you need for each exercise.
- Determine the amount of time you want to spend working out – how many sets and reps you want to perform.
- Plan for rest periods and water breaks – a minimum of one minute between each set.
- Learn and ask when to add some variations and progressions.
Sample Beginner Routine
Lat Pull down machine
Resistant band standing rows
Bench or floor chest press
Seated chest press
Dumbbell chest press
Resistant band chest press
Bent knee pushups
Bicep curl – single or double arms with dumbbells or resistance bands
Triceps pushdowns or triceps kickbacks with dumbbells or resistance bands
Triceps bench dips
Lateral side shoulder raises with dumbbells or resistance bands
Front shoulder alternating arms raises
Dumbbell overhead alternating arms shoulder presses
Seated leg press
Seated leg extension
Lying floor straight leg lifts
Bench step ups
Front plank hold for 30 seconds
Seated floor bicycle legs
Sit ups with bent knees
Reverse sit up
Everyone loves the way “fit” looks and feels. I want you to experience and notice your body’s morphing into a Healthy U. Just remember, “When you’re moving, you’re improving.” So go get fit already!