Simple Strength Training – Tips and Exercises to Get You Started
When we embark on fitness programs, we often think cardio: walking, running, cycling, swimming. We need cardio, and it has excellent benefits. A good cardio program will:
- Burn calories
- Get our hearts pumping
- Make us feel better after we are finished
Yet all fitness programs should incorporate a second component: strength.
Strength training is important for a variety of reasons. While running for half an hour burns 300 calories on average, strength training promotes continued calorie burn throughout the day.
So what are the benefits of a strength training program? You can decrease your risk for osteoporosis, help fight arthritis, and sculpt the muscles that are driving you crazy. (Can anyone say ‘arm fat?!’) And you don’t have to lift for hours! In fact, two days a week of strength training, focusing on biceps, triceps and legs, can create the look you hope to achieve, as long as you are doing the program properly. You want to:
- Lift slowly. This works the proper muscles and helps ensure proper alignment.
- Work opposing muscles. If you work your biceps, then work your triceps. You want to keep your muscles balanced.
- Don’t go too heavy/too many reps too fast. Let your body adjust to the new program. If you are lifting weights, start with lighter weights and move up.
- Stretch the muscles you work. Many people forget to do this, but it’s always important after a workout to stretch out the muscles you’ve worked.
Here are a few strength exercises to get you going:
Tricep dips. I love these, and you can do them without any equipment whatsoever. Sit on a coffee table or a chair without arms. Inch away and place your legs either straight out (advanced) or bend them at a 90 degree angle (beginner). Then lower your body toward the ground and back up again.
Bicep curls. Yep, you’ve seen these done a thousand times, I’m sure! I use ten pound weights, but you can start with five. Hold the weights at your sides. Keep your elbows in and your back straight. Bend your elbows and curl the weights to your shoulders; then lower to start. Remember to do these motions slowly. You will have your best results with weights and core if you take your time and focus on what you are doing.
Lunges. Lunges are great exercises for the legs and butt, and they are great because they can be done anywhere without any equipment. In fact, when my daughter was young I would do these in the park while chasing her around the equipment! Do them carefully and with proper form, though, as they can aggravate the knees and put undue stress on the legs. Always make sure when you lunge that you can see your toes over your bent knee. To do a lunge, stand with legs together, hands on hips, and back straight. Step out with one leg and bend the knee. Lower to a 90 degree angle making sure your knee is above your ankle and you can see your toes. Keep your back straight. Return to the start by keeping your weight in your heels. After you’ve mastered the basic lunge you can add hand weights for a harder workout.
Squats. Touted as being one of the best exercises for the lower body, squats can help shape your legs and butt. You can do these with or without hand weights. Stand with feet just a bit wider than shoulder width apart and keep your back flat. Lower hips until legs are parallel to the floor. As with lunges, make sure your knees are not extending over your toes. Return to standing.
Do you incorporate strength training in your workout routine? If so, what are your favorite moves?