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Strength Training (cont.)

Tips for Designing a Weight-Lifting Plan

Patient Comments
  • Weight: Beginners should start with weights that can be lifted 10-12 reps to fatigue with good form. Fatigue means that you cannot lift the weight one more time with good form. If you have to lean back or throw the weight up, then it's too heavy. Lifting 10-12 reps to fatigue will maximize your strength gains and minimize the risk of overtraining or injury.
  • Sets: Beginners can start with one set per exercise. You can do more if you have time, but research shows that one set for beginners is enough to yield significant gains in strength.
  • Time between sets: Rest less than one minute between sets if you want to develop endurance and tone. Rest up to three minutes if you want to focus more on strength; the extra recovery time allows the muscles to work harder and lift more on the next set.
  • Order of exercises: Design your plan so that large muscle groups are worked before smaller groups. The theory is that if you fatigue a smaller muscle group first, then the larger group won't work as hard as it can. For example, do bent-over-rows before biceps curls. Biceps work in both exercises, but since the larger and stronger back muscles are used in the rows, they wouldn't get a maximal workout if the biceps are fatigued. Another way to say it is that the biceps become the weakest link in the chain if you work them first.
  • Exercises: Select one to two exercises per muscle group. Here's a list of at least two exercises for each group using dumbbells and machines in an order of larger to smaller groups. All of these exercises and the order of exercises are suitable for beginners.
    1. Chest: dumbbell press, dumbbell flyes, chest press, cable flyes (crossovers)
    2. Shoulders: side lateral raise, front raise, upright row
    3. Back: bent-over-row, cable row, pull-down
    4. Arms: biceps curls, triceps kickbacks, triceps press-downs on pull-down machine
    5. Abs: crunches, knee-drop crunches for the oblique muscles on the side of the abdomen (drop the knees to one side and crunch up)
    6. Legs: squats, leg extensions, and curls on the machines, leg press on the machine.

Rest and recovery: Remember that muscles grow during downtime, not when you train, so allow a day or two between workouts when you first get started so that the muscles can recover and grow. You should show up at your workouts refreshed and at least as strong as the previous workout (there will be days when you aren't stronger, and you should expect them so don't get discouraged when it happens).

Splits. A term used to describe how you organize your workout. For instance, you might decide to work only your chest on day one and your back on day two. This is the type of lifting you do once you get stronger and more experienced. This is not necessary or recommended for beginners because it's too intense. It's not only unnecessary but it could lead to injury or overtraining (burnout).

What's a Good Beginner Plan?

Below is a three-day per week beginner program broken up by muscle group.

Day one: chest (bench press with bar or dumbbell press, flyes, push-ups), triceps (bench dips, kickbacks), legs (squats or leg press, leg extension, leg curl)

Day two: back (bent-over rows or seated cable rows), biceps (curls, standing or seated)

Day three: shoulders (lateral raises, front raises), legs (squats or leg press, leg extension, leg curl)

Work the abs at each workout. Crunches are a good way to start, and below are some excellent advanced abdominal exercises. Make sure to stretch your lower back before and after doing them.

  1. Bicycle maneuver: Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground. Put your hands beside your head. Bring knees up to about 45-degree angle and slowly go through a bicycle pedal motion. Touch your left elbow to your right knee, then your right elbow to your left knee. Keep even, relaxed breathing throughout.
  2. Captain's chair: Stabilize your upper body by gripping the hand holds and lightly pressing your lower back against the back pad. The starting position begins with you holding your body up with legs dangling below. Now slowly lift your knees in toward your chest. The motion should be controlled and deliberate as you bring the knees up and return them back to the starting position.
  3. Crunch on exercise ball: Sit on the ball with your feet flat on the floor. Let the ball roll back slowly. Now lie back on the ball until your thighs and torso are parallel with the floor. Cross your arms over your chest and slightly tuck your chin in toward your chest. Contract your abdominals, raising your torso to no more than 45 degrees. For better balance, spread your feet wider apart. To challenge the obliques, make the exercise less stable by moving your feet closer together. Exhale as you contract; inhale as you return to the starting position.
  4. Vertical leg crunch: Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground. Put your hands behind your head for support. Extend your legs straight up in the air, crossed at the ankles with a slight bend in the knee. Contract your abdominal muscles by lifting your torso toward your knees. Make sure to keep your chin off your chest with each contraction. Exhale as you contract upward, and inhale as you return to the starting position.
  5. Reverse crunch: Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground. Put your hands beside your head or extend them out flat to your sides—whatever feels most comfortable. Crossing your feet at the ankles, lift your feet off the ground to the point where your knees create a 90-degree angle. Once in this position, press your lower back on the floor as you contract your abdominal muscles. Your hips will slightly rotate, and your legs will reach toward the ceiling with each contraction. Exhale as you contract, and inhale as you return to the starting position.

You can experiment with different splits. For instance, you could try the following

Day one: chest (bench press with bar or dumbbell press, flyes, push-ups), back (bent over rows, seated cable rows, pull-downs),

Day two: biceps (curls, standing or seated), triceps (bench dips, kickbacks)

Day three: shoulders (lateral raises, front raises), legs (squats, leg extensions, leg curls)

Resistance exercise is a great way to round out your workout if you're already doing cardio. It will help you build strength and improve tone, preserve muscle as you lose weight, and will help you feel good about your physique and yourself. I encourage you to give it a try!

Medically reviewed by Avrom Simon, MD; Board Certified Preventive Medicine with subspecialty in Occupational Medicine


"The benefits and risks of exercise"

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/24/2016

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