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Beginning your weight training routine

April 23, 2014 General Wellness

woman working out with barbells in gymCardiovascular workouts, like running, walking or a couple of rounds on the elliptical, have long been recognized as one of the most effective ways to shed pounds and maintain a healthy heart, and rightfully so. Not only can cardio workouts help you maintain or lose weight, it also increases your stamina, improves your self-image and reduces your health risk for issues like cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes.

Although you should make sure you’re fitting in regular cardio workouts, it’s also important not to neglect other forms of fitness, too, such as weight training. While some may be quick to dismiss weight training as something only for extreme gym-goers, bodybuilders or athletes, Dr. Michael Campbell points out that using weight during your workout can be beneficial for everyone.

“Working weight training into your fitness routine can improve your bone strength, bone density, muscle tone and coordination,” explains Dr. Campbell, orthopaedic surgeon at Paoli Hospital. “Weight training, if done properly, can have effects on muscular and cardiovascular health.”

There has been some evidence that weight training can also lead to better balance which can decrease your risk of falling, an important factor for elderly patients who might be interested in beginning a weight routine.

So how do you start? Like other fitness routines, your regimen shouldn’t be based on what you’re seeing others do. Everyone’s abilities are different, and starting a routine that is too much or too difficult for you could cause an injury. Talk to a professional before you begin your training, whether it be a certified trainer at your gym or your physician, who will be able to best recommend what your body is capable of.

Although you should talk to a professional before beginning a weight training routine, there are some basic guidelines that can help you maximize your workout and make sure you’re doing it safely.

  • Use proper form – Breathing is important, but knowing and understanding the proper lifting form is equally, if not more, important in weight training. As you begin your training, make sure you’re doing each exercise correctly and maintain your form, even if that means less or slower repetitions or using lighter weights. Start with no or little weight and be comfortable with the movement and form before you begin to add more weight.
  • Use safe breathing techniques – As you’re lifting weights, you might be tempted to hold your breath, but don’t, as this can lead to an increase in blood pressure. Breathe out as you lift and in as you lower. This routine might take awhile to adjust to, so practice breathing as you do the motions of lifting and lowering with your arms.
  • Rest is best – Avoid exercising the same muscles on back-to-back days. If you’re working on your arms one day, focus on your legs or abs the next. Schedule your workouts so that you are exercising your main muscle groups one to two times per week. It’s important to give muscles a chance to recover from a workout, and having a routine alternating strength training and cardiovascular workouts is a good way to ensure you are not overworking your muscles.
  • Don’t overdo it – In this case, less is more. Be smart when starting an exercise routine and avoid risk of injury by starting with lower weights and high repetitions and gradually increasing the intensity of your workout by ten percent or less each time. As you spend more time on your routine, you will build a higher tolerance and be able to experiment with heavier weights or longer repetitions, but don’t push it.
  • Warm up – Warming up and stretching before you begin your weight routine is just as important as the workout itself.

“I recommend warming up and stretching prior to beginning your weight training. It can be something as simple as jumping jacks or running in place and stretching the muscle groups that you’ll focus on that day,” says Dr. Campbell.

When performed safely and correctly, weight training can have as many health benefits as a cardiovascular workout, and can be tailored to meet your physical needs. Always remember to consult with your physician before you start any routine.