Strength training is an important part of physical fitness, and one of the best ways to build muscle is by lifting weights. Unfortunately, too many people dive into weight training without understanding the importance of proper form. Lifting weights incorrectly and without following some basic guidelines can lead to serious injury and end up discouraging you from continuing with your training. Here are some basics to help you get started.

  1. Warm up. Taking 5-10 minutes to do some aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking, stair climbing, stretching, or jumping jacks) gets the blood flowing and increases oxygen to the muscles, preparing them for work. A cold muscle can suffer from serious tears and strain, so don’t skip this step.
  2. Add weight gradually. Don’t jump from five pounds of weight to ten. It may not seem like a big leap, but you are doubling the strain on your muscles. Most gyms have magnets that can be added to increase the weight by one or two-pound intervals.
  3. Use a full range of motion. Short bicep curls result in short bicep muscles. Curl all the way up and release all the way down, working the full length of the muscle. Shortchange the motion, shortchange the workout!
  4. Breathe. Holding your breath diminishes the effectiveness of your workout. Breathing regularly and deeply continues to send oxygen to the muscles and actually help you through the movement. Generally, exhale as you lift and inhale as you lower.
  5. Focus on the muscle you are working. Pay attention to your leg as you lift on a leg machine. Focus on your tricep as you lift and lower the weight. Whichever group you are working, try to pay attention to what you are doing and not let your mind wander.

Using proper form as you complete each exercise is also imperative. If you can, working with a trainer to start with is an excellent way to understand exactly how each exercise should be completed. Some gyms have personal trainers on staff. It is important to meet with potential trainers and ask them about their exercise philosophy, certifications, and experience if you are considering working with them. A good fit with your trainer will help you stick to your goals. If working with a trainer is not possible, there are several resources that can help.

This video demonstrates clearly proper form for a variety of exercises. The trainer goes through each exercise, explains muscles that are being worked, breathes through each exercise properly, and answers questions about the speed of each movement. If you are a person who needs a visual explanation, this is a great place to start.

If you prefer pictures and an explanation, this site has many different exercises that range from beginner to advanced and can be done at home or in a gym. Some of the exercises use simple isometric motion to build muscle and can be done while seated, allowing anyone of any fitness level to get started with strength training.

As with all new exercise plans, speak with your doctor before beginning. Strength training with weights is a great way to stay healthy and active and provides future protection against osteoporosis and other conditions associated with aging. Using proper form and techniques increase the effectiveness (and fun!) of your workout.

What are your go-to strength training exercises?

Image by midiman via Flickr

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