Being physically active has many health benefits, including helping you quit smoking. Experts recommend that adults do two types of physical activity to improve health: aerobic activity plus strength training. Strength training is sometimes called resistance training or weight lifting.
Strength training works all the major muscle groups of your body—legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms. It is one of the best ways to keep muscles healthy and strong. Strength-developing exercises can increase muscle mass and bone density, which is linked to bone health. Strength training improves balance, coordination, and the ability to move easily. It can reduce symptoms of some diseases or conditions. For example, strength training can reduce pain and stiffness, protect joints, and increase flexibility for people with arthritis.
There are many ways you can strengthen your muscles, at home or at a gym. You can try:
- Lifting weights
- Working with resistance bands
- Doing exercises that use your body weight for resistance, such as push-ups, sit-ups, and squats
- Heavy gardening that includes digging and shoveling
Power Up Your Workout
Experts recommend that adults add strength training to aerobic activity at least two times a week. That means moderate-intensity aerobic activity three to four times every week, plus muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups two or more days a week.
If you’re not sure where to start, search YouTube for free strength training workout videos. You’ll find many quick routines for a variety of skill levels and also find tips for correct form so you can work out safely and effectively.
You can do strength training on the same or different days that you do aerobic activity. Avoid strength training two days in a row to give your muscles a proper rest. Or do upper body exercises one day and lower body exercises the next. This will help you avoid overworking the same muscle groups. To fit strength training into a busy schedule, try combining it with another activity or a social visit. You can get in a strength workout while watching a television show. Or invite a co-worker, friend, or family member to lift weights with you.
To get the health benefits of strength training, exercises should be done to the point where it’s hard for you to do another one. A repetition is one complete movement of an activity, such as lifting a weight or doing a sit-up. Aim for 8–12 repetitions of each activity. That counts as one set. Try to do at least one set of each muscle-developing activity. As you get stronger, you can add more sets.
Doing fewer repetitions with more weight will help increase your strength. Doing more repetitions with lighter weights will help you build up endurance. Muscle strength is your ability to use a maximum amount of force for a short time. Muscle endurance is your ability to do something over and over for a long time without getting tired. A well-rounded workout includes some exercises that increase muscle strength and some that improve muscle endurance. Whether you choose to focus more on muscle strength or muscle endurance activities will depend on your physical activity goals.
Some people worry about gaining weight or not fitting into their clothes when they start strength training. In many cases, building muscle and burning fat happen at the same time. You might be putting on muscle, but you’re also taking off pounds.
One pound of fat takes up more space on your body than one pound of muscle, so it takes a lot of strength training to go up a size. If you find that your clothes fit a little differently because you put on muscle, it’s important to understand that you’re getting stronger. And having more muscle mass helps your body burn more calories throughout the day, even when you’re asleep.