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Strength Training: Get Strong

Body of Knowledge

Strength training is more than essential—you need it to look and feel your best. The use of weights and resistance put greater than normal stress on your muscles, joints, and bones. (Just imagine lifting a dumbbell.) Under this strain, you create tiny, harmless tears in the muscle fibers. When you rest for a day or so between strength-training sessions, the muscles heal, resulting in stronger and more clearly defined muscles. As an added bonus, you'll have less body fat, too.

Body of Knowledge

A highly effective and efficient way to do strength training is what's known as Super Slow. Using this technique, you slow down your movements so that it takes two, three, or four times longer to do each repetition. Advocates say muscles get more of a workout because they're working constantly and don't get an easier ride because of the momentum of more rapid repetitions. The Super Slow approach works for almost all types of strength training.

Thinspiration

Strength-building exercises deliver quick visible results. As you continue to build muscle strength, the results only get better. Within six months of two sessions a week, you'll enjoy how your clothes look on you and how you feel.

Thinspiration

Check out Pilates-based exercises. Pilates, based on strength and flexibility techniques that Joseph Pilates taught to classical dancers beginning in the 1930s, is the hottest exercise approach sweeping the country. We predict it will be here long after other fads have passed on. The results you'll enjoy are most likely in line with how you want to look: strong, long, lean muscles and better posture. Many people even say they've gotten taller from doing Pilates! Find out for yourself. Check out your local phone book or health clubs near you for a beginner class or lesson.

Strength training! But I don't want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger! Good. Because that's not what we're talking about. Basic strength training is essential to increase your muscle tone, give your muscles shape and strength, and increase your metabolic rate. It helps alter your body composition from flabby fat to calorie-gobbling muscles and will make weight control much, much easier.

Strength training is also excellent for keeping your bones strong and avoiding osteoporosis in both men and women, for reducing your body fat percentage, and increasing your stamina.

Today, you have many excellent exercise choices for strength training. Once the only viable choice was using free weights or weight-training machines. They have stood the test of time. Today, however, you have other alternatives that work equally well. We know of several women who have reduced their body fat percentages by 10 points—say from 28 percent to 18 percent, or from 38 percent to 28 percent—just by doing core conditioning (also known as Pilates-type exercises) in one-hour sessions, two times a week, for six months.

Strength training can turn upper arms from flabby into sexy. Ditto backs, thighs, and tummies. It improves posture. The key to building terrific muscles is to keep upping the intensity of your workout over time. Gradually increase the weight and the resistance as you get stronger. For example, when two- or three-pound weights get easy for your arm exercises, it's time to use five-pound weights.

Here's a quick look at several forms of strength training. Find one or two that you enjoy and can do at least two sessions a week of one hour duration each. Don't do strength training every day. Rest at least one day between each session. Each of these choices offers different benefits, but when doing strength training, make sure to include exercises for your whole body. Work every muscle group. Also, be attentive to form and breathing, because proper technique makes a big difference in your overall results.

  • Free weights. Barbells and dumbbells are great for developing your major muscles and may be used to create bulk. The number of repetitions and the speed of repetitions will affect the results you get. It's essential that you use free weights in the correct alignment; otherwise, your efforts will be wasted. Learn how before you embark on free-weights training. You can learn from an instructor, a book, or a video. You can use free weights at the gym and also set up a home program. Using free weights doesn't develop flexibility or elongate muscles, so be sure you add flexibility exercises to your program.

  • Weight-training machines. These are available in most health clubs and fitness centers. The machines work major muscles and are easy to use because they help ensure proper alignment. You can also purchase these machines for your home. Keep in mind that these machines don't increase flexibility or lengthen muscles.

  • Core conditioning or Pilates. These exercises can be done in a studio or class with an instructor or at home with videos or a book. They emphasize careful and precise movements to strengthen the body's core muscles in the abdomen area. All of the exercises, even for arms and legs, are done with a focus on using the core abdominal muscles for stability. Pilates programs work all the muscles: the major muscles and the smaller muscles. A big plus is that Pilates develops strength, elongated muscles, and flexibility. For many, it quickly improves posture. A side benefit: it's highly relaxing.

  • Fitness ball. These large balls, which range from 45 cm to 75 cm in diameter, promote strength and balance plus stretching. The exercises look simple, but the extra challenge is that you need to develop core stability to balance while doing those sit-ups and leg extensions. One of the hardest workouts we've ever had was on a ball. They come with a nifty small air pump, so you can take the ball when you travel. The balls cost in the range of $30 to $40. Excellent videos for the fitness ball range from easy and slow to highly challenging. Some videos for the fitness ball are great for aerobic/cardio conditioning. Fitness ball classes are also offered at many fitness centers.

  • Fitness circle. This equipment has a 1-inch band of steel wrapped three times to form a circle, or ring, about 18 inches in diameter plus handles. You use the circle for resistance, such as doing a very slow sit-up while squeezing it between your knees. By using any one of the many videos or DVDs available on the fitness circle, you can have a complete and comprehensive strength and stretching session in 30 minutes. It can be packed in a suitcase. Cost varies from $20 on up, but the $20 version works well.

The fitness ball, flex band, and fitness circle are equipment used in Pilates and other types of exercises. If you like using this list of simple equipment and you really fall in love with the elegant Pilates exercise system, you can go full out and purchase the Pilates Reformer.

All Pilates strength-building exercises require you to participate actively—by focusing on your body and concentrating on your form. This has a way of making Pilates very relaxing because it's impossible to worry about or even think about much else when you're doing it. The intense focus actually assists you in getting the full benefit from Pilates exercises. An added plus is that you don't sweat much, but you still get the strength and flexibility results you want.

More on: Exercise Tips

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Healthy Weight Loss © 2005 by Lucy Beale and Sandy G. Couvillon. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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