Weight training is a form of resistance exercise. A good fitness program includes resistance exercise 2 days each week or more, and includes 8 to 10 exercises that work all the major muscle groups.1 It's best to allow at least 1 day of rest between these exercises.
Weight training can be done at a health club, with home equipment, or at a weight room in your apartment complex or community. You may use free weights (barbells and dumbbells), resistance training machines (weights attached to cables and pulleys or machines that use compressed air to create resistance), or use your own body weight (calisthenics). If you want to try weight training:
- Start with professional instruction from a local YMCA, a good fitness club, or an experienced professional trainer. If you ask the help of a friend or neighbor, find out first if that person has received professional training.
- Get individual help. Tell your trainer or instructor what you want out of your weight training (for instance, body building, toning and shaping certain body areas, or improving performance in a certain sport).
- Learn the proper form for each exercise, then always use it. The proper form ensures that you get the most out of each exercise and helps prevent injuries. A good trainer will teach you about proper form.
- Allow at least 2 weeks for your muscles and connective tissues to adjust to the new stresses and strains of weight training. Start by lifting weights that are lighter than you can manage. This helps you tell the difference between the normal aches and pains of weight training and the pains of overuse or real damage.
- Work slowly, and move your muscles through their full range of motion. Fewer repetitions that are done slowly, using the entire length of the muscle, are more effective than many repetitions that are done quickly with only a short part of the muscle.
- Learn how to breathe properly when working with weights. Exhale when pushing against the weight. Don't hold your breath at any point. Inhale when there is little or no resistance.
- When you are ready, ask your trainer for guidance on:
- How to improve.
- How often to increase sets and repetitions. In general, do 1 or 2 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions. Older adults and people who are frail can do 10 to 15 repetitions with less weight.
- When to increase weight. Start with a weight you can lift 8 to 12 times but that gets hard to lift by the last repetition. When it gets easier, add a little weight and go down to 8 repetitions, then gradually build up to 12 repetitions again.
- Vary your program. Variety keeps your interest up and injuries down. Mix muscle strengthening with flexibility and aerobic work. Also, vary your work by alternating between:
- Your upper body and lower body.
- Free weights (barbells) and machines.
- Heavier weights with fewer repetitions and lighter weights with more repetitions.
By starting slowly and using the right technique, you may find that weight training is an enjoyable and effective way to build strength.