Everyone has an opinion on strength training. Do you perform a lot of repetitions with relatively low weights or Super Boost a LOT of weight very few times? Do you drink protein shakes or kelp smoothies when you lift? Machines or free weights? Personal trainers, apps, or just make it up as you go along? Arggggh! Where to start and what’s right?
Laws! I could write a book on all those questions above, and I bet any other enthusiast can as well. I will tell you what works for me, then you figure out your routine and maybe I can offer you some inspiration/ideas/encouragement.
I am a woman and I like lifting relatively small amounts of weight very frequently. Know this: things get heavier the more you lift them, so that 20 lb weight which was so easy to pick up at first becomes immobile after you lift it 15 times. Or almost. I strive to pick up enough weight so that when I have done it 25 times, I feel like I can’t lift it again.
I lift in sets of 50: 25 lifts with weight until I exhaust my muscles, then 15 reps more slowly after I recover, then 10 last reps more slowly still. I really feel the burn, and the goal is to feel it at each of the sets. If you are not feeling the burn, slow down…I guarantee that you will fell it!
Where Do You Want To Improve?
I had to decide where to concentrate my lifting efforts. That was easy: I have a lightly built top half, and a heavier bottom half. I concentrate on exercises above my waist. Lat pull downs and shoulder development moves are my friends. I do the chest presses and shoulder press machines as well. I have developed my upper half so that it matches my lower half and that is a point of great pride. My muscles are somewhat larger but they are very much better defined now, and that means I look pretty buff in a strapless evening gown (Lisa Lyons, anyone?).
When you are lifting, you need to drink a lot of water. You will surprise yourself with the amount of liquid you need. If you don’t get enough hydration, you will cramp up and get sick to your stomach. I didn’t believe that and, sure enough, I got both problems. Simple water eliminated discomfort. I like to bring mine to the gym in a 32. oz Nalgene bottle. I often put in flat soda water (it still has a tang to it) and squeeze a couple of lemons in it. Don’t put sugar or sweetener in it, that just makes liquid into a candy sort of addiction and I don’t want that.
100% of the machines you will see have the directions printed on them. They show which muscles are worked and how to set up your session. Read the information carefully and then start to experiment with weight. Adjust it until you are really feeling the lift after 10 repetitions.
Machines are great because it’s hard to hurt yourself on them, they are engineered to be safe and effective. Just be sure to use the machine once you get on it, and don’t “ride” it for half an hour before you do something. Wipe it down before and after you use it.
Another good thing about machines is that they are non competitive, and so the only person who competes with you is you.
Freeweights are excellent. You can truly challenge yourself with them, they are simple things (usually), and they give you a feeling of true independence. However, you can hurt yourself with freeweights (backs and knees really take a beating if you are too enthusiastic here) so go slow when you start up, don’t lift far too much.
You will need to know what to do with freeweights, they are deceptively simple. So a reliable app on your iPhone would be a good idea, it will show you pointers on how to approach the weights and how to use them, often they even had videos for instruction. If you feel anything: rip,pop, crunch, tear or just feel a sharp pain—STOP. This is supposed to be good for you, not to make you another client of a sports doctor.
This is just the tip of the iceberg with strength training. I am going to stop here because it is a lot to digest in one sitting. I will certainly come back to strength training, what I have learned, what works for me, and the pitfalls of “picking up heavy things”. Until then, here are some things you might want to explore which have to do with strength training:
- Buy a 32 oz. waterbottle, one that will go through the dishwasher. You will be surprised at how much water you drink when you are lifting weights, especially in cold weather when the indoor atmosphere is dry.
- Check out some of the excellent apps there are which explain weightlifting to you. I am partial to Fitness Buddy which shows you muscles, exercises for each one (group of them), how you can exercise them on various pieces of equipment (how to do abs exercises with: kettle balls, barbells, hand weights, just with your body weight, on a variety of machines, with resistance bands, on a Swiss ball, and more, more, more).
- You just need some comfortable clothes to wear for lifting. Nothing fancy or chic is necessary.
- I like to use my heart rate monitor with chest strap when I am working out with weights. It is good to know when your heart rate has come down to the lower range and you can start up again with another move. I also like the fact that I can save my workout and load it up to weight loss/maintaining apps like LoseIt.
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