Strength Training 101

Much has been written about the benefit of cardiovascular training. Until recently, however, little attention has been given to strength training, an important component of a balanced fitness program. You do not need to be a body builder to benefit from strength training. A well designed strength-training program can provide the following benefits:

* Increased strength of bones, muscles and connective tissue (the tendons and ligaments), decreasing the risk of injury.

* Increased muscle mass. Most adults lose about one-half pound of muscle per year afte the age of 20. This is largely due to decreased activity. Muscle tissue is partly responsible for the number of calories burned at rest (the basal metabolic rate BMR). As muscle mass increases, BMR increases, making it easier to maintain a healthy body weight.

* Enhanced quality of life. As general strength increases, the effort required to perform daily routines (carrying groceries, working in the garden will be less taxing.

The Core Curriculum

Here is a list of exercises to work the major muscle groups.


Leg Press: Quadriceps, gluteals

Leg Curl: Hamstrings

Chest Press: Pectorals

Lat Pull Down: Latissimus Dorsi

Lateral Raise: Deltoid

Tricep Press: Triceps

Biceps Curl: Biceps

Curl-up: Abdominals

Back Extension: Erector Spinae

Neglecting certain groups can lead to strength imbalances and postural difficulties. You may wish to consult with a certified fitness professional to learn safe technique before beginning a strength-training program.

One set of 8-12 repetitions, working the muscle to the point of fatigue, is usually sufficient. Breathe normally throughout the exercise. Lower the resistance with a slow, controlled cadence throughout the full range of motion. Lifting the weight to a count of two and lowering it to a count of three or four is effective. When you are able to perform 12 repetitions of an exercise correctly (without cheating), increase the amount of resistance by 5 percent to 10 percent to continue safe progress.

Staying Motivated

An encouraging aspect of strength training is the fact that you’ll likely experiencce rapid improvements in strength and muscle tone right from the start of your program. Don’t be discouraged, however, if visible improvements begin to taper off after a few weeks. It’s only natural that, as your fitness level improves, improvements in strength and appearance will follow at a slightly slower pace. To help keep your motivation up, find a partner to train with you.

Aim to exercise each muscle group at least two times per week, with a minimum of two days of rest between workouts. Training more frequently or adding more sets may lead to slightly greater gains, but the small added benefit may not be worth the extra time and effort (not to mention the added risk of injury).

Vary Your Program

Machines and free weight are effective tools for strength training, and a combination of the two is generally recommended. Utilizing both machines and free weights provides exercise variety, which is importan for both psychological and physiological reasons. Variety not only reduces boredom, but also provides subtle exercise differences that will enhance progress.

The benefits of strength training are no longer in question. Research continues to demonstrate that strength training increases both muscle and bone strength and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. A safe strength-training program combined with cardiovascular and flexibilty training will give you the benefits of a total fitness program.

Daryl Conant, M.Ed.