Basic tips for strength training

October 2, 2015

Okay, let's talk about strength workouts. In general, there's just a handful of exercises you'll ever need to know. Strength training has a very simple process and lexicon. Here are some quick tips to help you get started.

Basic tips for strength training

Defining a "rep"

A repetition, or "rep" is lifting and then returning a weight to its starting position once (or if you are using rubber bands, stretching and then releasing the band).

  • In general, you want to lift carefully and steadily, completing the lift in a slow count of two. Pause for a second at the peak of the lift, then return at half the speed of the lift (that is, to a count of four) until you are at the starting position.
  • A rep should take 8 to 10 seconds.
  • Typically, you exhale during the most difficult part of the movement — in most exercises, that's the lift — and inhale during the easier part.
  • Whatever you do, don't hold your breath. That could increase blood pressure to dangerous levels. One rep done!

What is a set?

A set is 8 to 12 reps in a row.

  • A set should take anywhere from one to two minutes.
  • When you complete a full set, pause for a minute or two to rest, then repeat the same exercise for a second set. If you really want to push yourself hard, pause again, then do one final set.
  • Doing two sets of the same exercise takes between four and eight minutes and is the perfect amount for everyday strength training.
  • Weightlifters and athletes may add a third set because they need particular muscles to be strong and have extra endurance, but that's probably not necessary for you.
  • If you pick a workout that includes six exercises, it would take about 30 minutes total to do the routine properly and safely. Think about it: You can complete a full strengthening workout in the span of a typical TV comedy show — and you can watch the show while doing it!

Choosing the right amount of weight

As to how much weight to use, that's simple: The amount you can just handle for two full sets. Those last few reps should be challenging but not painful or exhausting.

  • Over time, strengthening exercises get easier. When you get to the point where two sets of an exercise don't provide much challenge, move up to the next weight level. Simple!
  • New to all this? Consider not even using weights at first and just going through the motions with your hands closed in fists. You'll find that two sets of 12 movements without a weight can be strenuous enough. Soon, however, you'll be ready for that first dumbbell. And from there, who knows?

Expert advice for changing your weights

Here are some other important considerations when it comes to strengthening exercises. How do you know if you need to move to a lighter or heavier weight? Here's what the experts say.

  • Reduce the weight if: You can't complete two sets of 10 repetitions in good form.
  • Keep the same weight if: You need to rest after 10 reps because the weight is too heavy to complete more reps in good form.
  • Increase the weight if: You could have done a few more reps in good form without a break. At your next workout, do the first set of reps with your current weight and the second with the next highest weight. For example, if you're currently using 0.5 kilogram (1-pound) dumbbells, use one- to 1.5 kilogram (2- to 3-pound) dumbbells for your second set. You could do all 20 repetitions at once without a break. At your next session, use heavier dumbbells for both sets.

Keep these tips in mind and get the most out of your next strength training workout.

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