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Strength Training

Strength training is done to increase muscle size and strength, improve endurance, and decrease fatigue, ultimately increasing performance. It also improves body image and appearance and prevents muscle, ligament, and bone injury. Health benefits of strength training include improved posture, improved lung capacity, decreased injuries, improved circulation, improved muscle tone, and less risk of obesity.

Fitness and Health Benefits of Strength Training

Fitness Benefits Health Benefits
Increased muscle size Improves posture
Increased muscle strength Improves lung capacity
Increased endurance Decreases injuries
Prevents muscle injury Improves circulation
Prevents ligament injury Improves muscle tone
Prevents bone injury Prevents osteoporosis
Prevents fatigue Lowers diabetes risk
Prevents obesity

The recommended amount of strength training is 20 to 30 minutes, 2 to 3 times per week for most athletes and active women. For those involved in power and strength-dependent sports, strength training may occur five days a week as part of training, but muscles should be alternated day to day to allow recovery. The heavier the weights and quicker the movements, the greater the risk of injury.

Personal training is a very popular method of strength training. Trainers should be well qualified to design a program for you, listen to your needs and accommodate for the way your body performs, and guide you through a safe exercise program. It is recommended that you have a trainer who is certified, although there are different qualities and requirements for certification. The highest recommended certification types are through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), American Council on Exercise (ACE), and National Council of Strength and Fitness (NCSF). These require testing and updated continuing-education credits. Health-care professionals can also make excellent personal trainers, including certified athletic trainers, physical therapists, exercise physiologists, and physical therapy assistants.

Qualities of a Good Personal Trainer

  • Certification or degree in exercise
  • Listens to your needs
  • Gives you full attention during workouts
  • Does not encourage painful activities
  • Works you at your level, not above it to impress you
  • Any muscle soreness after a strenuous workout should last no more than two days
  • Is motivating
  • You do not develop new or worsening pains
  • Workouts make you feel stronger and healthier
Also be aware of the importance of equipment used for strength training. The safest way to strength train is with correctly used free weights and your own body weight as resistance; done properly, this can be very effective and challenging. Exercise machines often make strength training simple; however, they are not for everyone. Because equipments and machines are designed mostly for men; small women might not fit in certain machines. Using a machine that is too big for you can result in injury as you stretch to try to reach the equipment. As you increase weight, do so only very gradually, no more than 10 percent each week. If you are feeling too much stress on your body with an increase to the next available level of weights, decrease the number of repetitions for the next few weeks. To avoid injuries while strength training, stop if you have pain. If the pain continues after you have stopped the exercise, apply ice to the area, take the next day off, and see a doctor if it does not get better. If the pain goes away, decrease the repetitions, weight, or range of motion as you begin the exercise again. Pain that returns every time you do the same exercise is a sign that you are doing something wrong.

Techniques to Avoid Injury While Strength Training

  • Gradually increase weight; no more than twice a month.
  • Keep motions slow and resistance low.
  • Stop the motion if you feel pain.
  • Do not train the same muscles two days in a row.
  • Keep your range of motion in a comfortable zone for your body.
  • If your muscle soreness lasts longer than two days, reduce the amount of weight and repetitions.
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From The Active Woman's Health and Fitness Handbook by Nadya Swedan. Copyright © 2003 by Nadya Swedan. Used by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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