Strong muscles are a key ingredient for general health and well-being. Maybe you already belong to a gym with a weight room. But you don't need a fitness club or a personal trainer to get the benefits of strength training.
Experts recommend that healthy adults aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (like brisk walking) each week, in addition to muscle-strengthening workouts two or more days a week.
Muscle-strengthening activity has three parts:
- Intensity: how much force you need to lift a weight
- Repetitions: how many times per session you lift a weight
- Frequency: how often you do a strength workout
You can build muscle by lifting weights or using strength machines at a gym or using dumbbells and resistance bands at home. Workouts that use your body weight, like yoga or boot camp training, can also be good options. In boot camp, basic calisthenics like squats, push-ups, lunges and pull-ups can improve muscle conditioning.
Other everyday activities that make you use your muscles also count, including:
- Digging, lifting or carrying while gardening
- Carrying groceries, loads of laundry or other heavy items
- Climbing stairs
Strength training affects only the muscles doing the work. It's important to target all the major muscle groups: arms, legs, hips, shoulders, back and abdominals. Remember, you don't have to work all the muscle groups in one session.
If you decide to lift weights, here are some tips for strength training:
- Keep control of the weight. Work slowly.
- Regulate your breathing. Try to exhale when you lift the weight, and inhale when you lower it.
- Go for the burn. Also known as "going to failure," it means you continue doing repetitions of the exercise until it's hard to do one more without help. That's how you gain the benefits more quickly and effectively.
- Be patient. It will take some time to see results.
- Vary your workouts. Try new exercises. Change the number of repetitions you do or the time you rest between sets.
- Add weight. The way to get stronger is to challenge yourself.
Remember, getting stronger is a gradual process. Steady increases in the weights or the number of days a week you do resistance training will lead to stronger muscles.
Beyond basic fitness, exercise is good for the body in a variety of ways. It's an important factor in losing weight or staying at a healthy weight. Better muscle conditioning can also lead to improvements in balance, endurance, digestion, cholesterol and blood pressure.
Working out is good for the brain, too. Research shows that regular physical activity may help keep thinking skills sharp and may reduce your risk of depression.
People of all ages can get the benefits of weight bearing exercises. Doing resistance exercises helps protect against bone loss and maintains muscle mass and strength. This can help older adults keep up with daily activities like shopping or playing with grandchildren. Strength workouts (paired with balance exercises) can also help prevent falls.
Some women worry about "bulking up" and looking too masculine if they lift weights. The effects of strength training depend on genetics and body type. It also depends on how much training and what type of training you do. In any case, most women can grow 20 to 40 percent stronger after several months of resistance training.
Note: If you are physically inactive or you have a health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy or other symptoms, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program or increasing your activity level. He or she can tell you what types and amounts of activities are safe and suitable for you.
Created on 09/20/1999
Updated on 09/10/2013
- American College of Sports Medicine. Conditioning beyond strength training.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity and health.
- United States Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans.
- American College of Sports Medicine. A strength training program for your home.