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How to start weight training

February 05, 2019 | Christopher Kroner, MD
woman weight training at the gym

The American Heart Association recommends adding two days of weight training each week to your regular cardiovascular workout.

Here’s why:

  • When we use our muscles to their full or near-full capacity, it puts pressure on the arteries and pushes back on the heart when it beats.
  • This stresses the heart in a manner different from aerobic training.
  • When done sporadically, with time to rest between workouts, this resistance training can make the heart stronger in a way that complements aerobic activity.

Weight training causes muscle fatigue similar to the way aerobic exercise affects the legs. Lactic acid building up in the muscle stimulates growth muscle and the laying down of new capillary beds during recovery time.

Longer-term benefits

Weight training also helps:

  • Reduce osteoporosis and osteopenia by keeping bones dense as they grow or get harder in response to stress
  • Improve balance and coordination, especially in exercise regimens like Tai Chi, which engages a lot of different muscle combinations in the abdominal core, hips and legs
  • Protect joints from injury and reduce osteoarthritis pain
  • Promote weight loss because larger, stronger muscles (especially in the legs) increase basal metabolism, allowing you to burn more calories at rest

Weight lifting: Not just for athletes

For athletes, strength training can add precision needed for competition. For example, working with weights can provide the explosiveness a gymnast needs in some parts of a routine and then allow them to move in very small, challenging movements that require tremendous control over their bodies.

A hockey player sprints one to two minutes at a time. Strength training for the legs and the core helps to propel them on the ice, stop quickly, and change directions — not to mention being able to survive collisions with other players skating at 30 mph.

But weight training is beneficial for non-athletes of all genders and ages for much the same reasons – it increases metabolism, endurance and strength. Resistance training can include weights or be done with body-weight exercise regimens such as yoga, Pilates and traditional calisthenics – think push-ups, sit-ups and air squats.

See a trainer for pointers

It’s best to get weight-training pointers from a trainer, but I can recommend two things not to do:

  • Avoid deep squats past 90 degrees of knee flexion (bending). Loading the knees with weight and squatting past 90 degrees increases the risk of meniscus tears.
  • Avoid pressing weights overhead. This movement can put your rotator cuff at risk.

Here’s my routine

I’ve used a similar workout over many years. It would be better if I mixed it up more, but since my time is limited when I get to the gym, I generally alternate the following routines, which each take about 90 minutes:

Upper-body day:

  • 1-mile jog on treadmill.
  • 5 minutes of stretching with static and ballistic stretches.
  • Alternating chest and back lifts, including bench with bar or dumbbells, incline bench, cable, machine, or dumbbell flies, bar dips, upright rows, lateral pull downs, horizontal rows, deltoid flies (If time is short, I try to balance one front movement for every back movement.).
  • Crunches, abdominal machine, ab roller, or planks for about 5 minutes.
  • 30 minutes of cardio, whether elliptical, bike, treadmill, or split stairs and row machine.

Lower-body day:

  • 10 minutes on bike.
  • 10 minutes stretching.
  • Squats or leg press, multi-directional lunges, leg extensions, hamstring curls and calf raises. (I tend to add a few arm exercises between leg workouts. I might do lunges with dumbbells and curl in between sets. After the legs I will do two or three of the following: preacher curls, hammer or reverse curls, triceps extensions, skull crushers.)
  • 10 minutes of back extensions, planks and crunches.
  • 30 minutes of cardio, same as upper-body day.

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