Even if you have no intention of becoming an Olympic weight-lifter, there's still reason to care about muscular fitness. It influences your ability to do everyday chores, like housework and yard work. It affects how easily you can carry a bag of groceries or lift a young child. It's also at the core of physical skill and sports performance, affecting how hard you swing a softball bat or how long you last on the tennis court.
Muscle-strengthening exercises are likely to improve your stamina and your energy. Equally important, they increase resistance to injury. People with strong muscles are less likely to suffer everyday muscle aches and pains. They also have less strain on their hearts.
Resistance training. Building muscular fitness involves resistance training, progressively overloading your muscles so that they get stronger to meet the challenge. This can be done with exercises that use your body to exert force, like push-ups, chin-ups, and sit-ups. Commonly, people use weight training, also called weight lifting, to provide resistance.
Strength gains come from resistanceâ€”how much weight you lift. Endurance is achieved through repetitionâ€”how many times you lift a weight in succession. Both are important to develop.
Experts advise you to start any weight-training program with light weights and easy repetition. Start with a weight that you can lift comfortably eight to 12 times. Try to do a second set of each exercise after a break of a few minutes. Do at least one exercise for each muscle group, moving from the larger muscles (the legs) down to smaller ones (arms and biceps).
Strength gains come when you work with close to the heaviest weight that you can lift comfortably. This is the overload principle. You'll see the quickest benefits if you lift the maximum amount during fewer repetitions of each exercise. Using a weight that's too heavy, however, can lead to injury. And if you're interested in all-around conditioning, it's best to start with low amounts and progress gradually.
Guidelines for strength training
Learn the proper form. If you use the wrong technique, you could injure a muscle. Proper technique involves slow, controlled liftsâ€”three or four seconds for each movement through the entire range of motionâ€”to provide the most resistance.
Breathe while you lift. Don't hold your breath because that can cause your blood pressure to rise. Breathe out when you are doing the most strenuous part of the exercise.
Weight train on days when you're not doing hard aerobic workouts.
Allow at least one day between weight-training sessions to let your muscles recover. Proper recovery will help you build strength faster.
In 1990, the American College of Sports Medicine added strength training to its list of exercise guidelines, recommending that people do at least two sessions a week. Make sure not to work the same muscles on two consecutive days.
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