If you want to lose fat or change your body, one of the most important things you can do is lift weights. Diet and cardio are equally important, but when it comes to changing how your body looks, weight training wins hands down. If you've hesitated to start a strength training program, it may motivate you to know that lifting weights can:
- Help raise your metabolism. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you'll burn all day long.
- Strengthen bones, especially important for women
- Make you stronger and increase muscular endurance
- Help you avoid injuries
- Increase your confidence and self-esteem
- Improve coordination and balance
If you're setting up your own program, you'll need to know some basic strength training principles. These principles will teach you how to make sure you're using enough weight, determine your sets and reps and insure you're always progressing in your workouts.
- Overload: To build muscle, you need to use more resistance than your muscles are used to. This is important because the more you do, the more your body is capable of doing, so you should increase your workload to avoid plateaus. In plain language, this means you should be lifting enough weight that you can ONLY complete the desired number of reps. You should be able to finish your last rep with difficulty but also with good form.
- Progression. To avoid plateaus (or adaptation), you need to increase your intensity regularly. You can do this by increasing the amount of weight lifted, changing your sets/reps, changing the exercises and changing the type of resistance. You can make these changes on a weekly or monthly basis.
- Specificity. This principle means you should train for your goal. That means, if you want to increase your strength, your program should be designed around that goal (e.g., train with heavier weights closer to your 1 RM (1 rep max)). To lose weight, choose a variety of rep ranges to target different muscle fibers.
- Rest and Recovery. Rest days are just as important as workout days. It is during these rest periods that your muscles grow and change, so make sure you're not working the same muscle groups 2 days in a row.
Before you get started on setting up your routine, keep a few key points in mind:
- Always warm up before you start lifting weights. This helps get your muscles warm and prevent injury. You can warm up with light cardio or by doing a light set of each exercise before going to heavier weights.
- Lift and lower your weights slowly. Don't use momentum to lift the weight. If you have to swing to get the weight up, chances are you're using too much weight.
- Breathe. Don't hold your breath and make sure you're using full range of motion throughout the movement.
- Stand up straight. Pay attention to your posture and engage your abs in every movement you're doing to keep your balance and protect your spine.