Strength Training Demystified

These beginners' strategies for strength training make it more fun than you thought possible.
Strength Training Demystified

Why is strength training so important? During weight loss, you may lose some muscle along with the fat if you're not active. And with less muscle, your body burns fewer calories, which means you need to eat less to prevent weight regain.

According to Bill McArdle, exercise physiologist for Weight Watchers International, strength training is the key to breaking that cycle. "Strength training conserves lean tissue (muscle) while you're losing weight," McArdle says. With more muscle on board, you'll burn more calories, even at rest. "With each pound of muscle you gain, you'll burn more calories every day," says Kelly Cory, an exercise physiologist at the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina.

Easy Does It
However, you don't need to become a gym rat to benefit from strength training, also known as resistance exercises. "You can begin to see results with just two or three 20-minute sessions a week," Cory says.

Cory recommends doing a series of resistance exercises to challenge all your major muscle groups. For beginners, universal weight machines are a good way to go, too. The machines encourage proper form and reduce the risk of injury. And they make it easy to manipulate the amount of weight you're lifting. Certain machines also allow you to work several muscle groups (such as your shoulders, arms and abs) simultaneously. Ask a trainer at your gym to show you the ropes before you begin.

Start with 1 to 2 pounds of weight and do a single set of 5 to 10 repetitions of each exercise. Use slow, controlled movements that follow through the full range of motion. Gradually increase the number of reps or add another set. "When you can do 10 reps in good form, you're ready to increase the weight a little, but no more than five percent at a time," Cory says.

Do Try This at Home
Don't feel like going to the gym? Subscribers can check out the strength training exercises in our Workout Ideas section. There, you'll find strength-training exercises you can do on your own, using your own body weight as resistance.

For a well-rounded fitness routine, get at least 30 minutes of heart-pumping aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, three to five days a week, McArdle advises. To protect yourself from injury, be sure to warm up for about five minutes beforehand and cool down with a few minutes of stretching afterward. Warm-ups and cool-downs are important, no matter what type of exercise you're doing.

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