Starting your strength, or weight loss exercise program
Please remember that before starting any new exercise routine, it is important to see your physician, especially if you have been sedentary for some time or have any cardiovascular complications.
The three components of fitness are aerobic (cardiovascular), strength, and flexibility. Most forms of physical activity will provide some benefits in all three areas.
- Before you start: calculate your target heart rate zone to make sure you achieve the benefits of aerobic exercise. The target heart rate range for maximum benefits is 60-80%. As long as you keep your heart beating at a rate of between 60-80% for at least 20 minutes, the benefits of aerobic exercise will be attained.
- Maximum heart rate can be calculated as approximately 220 beats per minute, minus your age. Multiply this number by 0.6 in order to yield 60% of your maximum heart rate, or by 0.8 in order to yield 80% of your maximum heart rate. See a quick and easy heart rate calculator here.
- The easiest way to determine your heart rate is to count the number of beats in 15 seconds (measured at the wrist or in the neck) and multiply by four to give beats per minute. For example, if you count 22 beats in 15 seconds, your heart rate would be 88 (22 x 4) bpm. You can perform this calculation while exercising to determine whether you are in the desired range, or you can use exercise monitors specifically designed to measure this for you.
- The intensity of exercise required to reach your target heart rate will vary according to your level of fitness when you begin your exercise program. If you have not exercised in some time, it won’t take a lot of work to reach your target heart rate.
- Aerobic exercises are those that involve repetitive motions of large muscle groups. These include walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling, Elliptical machines, aerobics classes, rowing machines.
- Any intense exercise should incorporate a warm up and cool down period. A warm up can be simply beginning your exercise at low intensity and gradually increasing to your desired intensity over five minutes. This prepares your body for aerobic exercise and prevents injuries.
- Begin a strength training program that works all of the major muscle groups of the upper and lower body. Below is a list of exercises that fall into these categories. Ask the trainers at your gym to identify these machines for you if you are unfamiliar with them.
- Upper body exercises include bicep curls, tricep extensions, lat pull downs, seated rows, chest press/fly, shoulder press, and upright rows.
- Lower body exercises include the leg press, squats, or lunges; leg curls, calf raises, and abdominal crunches.
- A repetition is the number of times you repeat a particular exercise. Each time you complete this number of repetitions, it’s called a set. If your goal is to lose weight or create lean muscle, lower weight and higher repetitions is recommended, while higher weight and fewer repetitions are preferred to bulk up. As a rule of thumb, most trainers recommend three sets of each exercise, with 8 to 12 repetitions.
- Repetitions should be slow – lift to a count of 2 and hold at the top of the contraction for about 1 second. Lower to the count of 4. Going faster while lifting or lowering the resistance uses momentum, not muscle, which both increases the chance of injury and decreases effectiveness of the exercise.
- Rest your muscles in between sets. 60-90 seconds is recommended for muscle recovery. Alternatively, in order to save time, I use my “rest” period to perform another exercise using a different muscle group (called a superset). Usually I choose the muscle group that does the opposite of the one I just worked (or the antagonistic muscle group) – for instance, I will superset bicep curls with tricep extensions.
- Work each muscle group until you can’t lift the weight any more without a rest. Trainers call this working the muscle to fatigue. This will ensure that you get the maximum benefits from your exercise.
- Perform strength training on a given muscle group only every other day. It takes two days for your muscles to heal from microtears incurred during strength training. Many trainers recommend strength training only three days per week. Alternatively, I do some strength training daily but alternate between upper and lower body workouts.
- Increase your resistance as you gain strength. If you stop increasing resistance, your gains will plateau. This is fine, however, if you’ve achieved your optimum level of fitness.
Stretching helps reduce muscle tension, prevents injuries, prepares your body for strenuous activity, and increases your range of motion and coordination. Some rules of thumb for stretching effectively:
- Move slowly and hold the stretch for at least 20 seconds.
- Don’t bounce; this actually tightens your muscles, and increases your chance of injury.
- Don’t hold your breath. Breathe slowly and deeply from your diaphragm. Good breath support is important for all forms of exercise. (To learn how to breathe properly, I highly recommend you take at least one yoga class – if for no other reason. Most gyms offer them free with membership.)
- Relax into the stretch. If you do this you will discover that after a short time you can increase the stretch.
- Stretching shouldn’t be painful. Stretch to where it’s almost painful but not quite. If the areas you stretched are tight and sore the next day, you probably went too far.