gaia fit journal

Strength Training: How to do it safely (and stay feminine)

Thank you to everyone who sent some great ideas for our Blog – one of the topics that came up numerous times was strength training – and I was so glad to see this because this is one of my most loved topics to talk about. So here it goes…

What is strength training?

In a nut shell, strength or resistance training (the two terms are used inter changeably) is exercise that places progressively more resistance to the musculoskeletal system, with the goal of strengthening it, improving physical appearance and metabolic function as well as decreasing the risk of injury. There are two components to strength training – muscular strength and endurance – the former is the ability to lift weight (single rep with maximum resistance) whereas the latter is about the ability to maintain exertion for a specified period of time (as many repetitions with sub-maximum resistance). The two are inevitably interlinked and will lead to well research and documented benefits. Just think, muscle loss starts around the age of 25-30 and unless you undertake adequate exercise, will continue at a rate of 3-5% per decade.

Ok, but how should it be done?

In August 2011, American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) released new recommendations for the quantity and quality of exercise for adults. And the basic recommendations for resistance training are as follows:

  • Train each major muscle group two or three days each week using a variety of exercises and equipment
  • Light intensity is best for older persons or previously sedentary adults
  • 2 – 4 sets of each exercise to increase strength and power
  • For each exercise: 8-12 reps to improve strength and power, 10-15 reps to improve strength in middle age-and older persons starting exercise and 15-20 reps to improve muscular endurance
  • Allow for 48 hours rest between resistance training sessions

There are 11 major muscle groups in the human body:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Chest
  • Back
  • Shoulders
  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Forearms
  • Trapezius
  • Abdominals

What is the best form of strength training?

I think the best form of any training is one that you personally enjoy and therefore likely to adhere to. So experiment, and have fun with it! Long gone are the days when strength training was perceived to be mindlessly lifting weights, either hand held or using machines designed to target specific body parts. Your own body weight is perfect for building strength, it doesn’t cost anything and is already “tailored” for you! Many of yoga or pilates postures for example are naturally weight bearing.  In addition, we are seeing more and more classes where light weights are being incorporated into the more traditional mind/body category of workouts to further enhance muscle tone, stretch and release tension - such workouts are my personal favorite!

Hit the strength training plateau?

Often many of us enthusiastically start a strength training program, see great improvements in the strength level initially and then after some weeks find that we have hit a ‘plateau’. So, how do we overcome these plateaus – the key words here are ‘change it up’:

  • Try a different class or change up the exercises – there are a ton of exercises that can work each of the major muscle groups
  • Mix up the order of your exercises, don’t let your body get too comfortable with the routine
  • Slow down the movement – take away the momentum and create more muscle tension. In particular, slow down the lowering movement (when the muscle lengthens)
  • Give your muscles the full recovery time that they need – without the adequate recovery period between workouts, proper tissue building and actual improvements in fitness cannot occur effectively

I think as with everything, we can learn through experimentation. It may take a little while for you to really find out what your individual body responds best to, both physically and psychologically.  Go out of your comfort zone because your body and mind will probably benefit from having to make the necessary adaptations. So... what will you change about your workout routine?

If you need some help getting started, we offer Personal Training to fit your needs.

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