Weights and Fitness

Ask the Expert

Q:

I want to use weights to help me get in better shape and feel fitter. How should I begin?


A:

Adding weight or resistance strength training to your physical activities is a great move! Working out with resistance—whether you use hand-held weights, machine weights or resistance tubing—can decrease your fat mass, increase lean body mass (muscle, bone and other tissue that isn't fat) and raise the rate at which you burn calories while resting. The result: you have more strength and power, may lose weight and are able to maintain physical independence.

If you're on a weight-loss program, strength training is particularly important. When you're not exercising, for every pound of fat you lose by controlling food intake, another quarter-pound of lean mass goes with it. The right strength training program prevents that.

To get started, decide what your goal is:

  • Strength: You want to increase the amount of weight your muscles can lift. This helps in everyday life, so you can pick up and hold your 20-pound child, carry filled boxes or lift and place luggage in the overhead compartment on an airplane.
  • Shape: You want to shape your body so things are a bit tighter (and you feel more confident wearing sleeveless clothing!). Using weights yields small increases in muscle size, which creates shape. Women don't get bulky muscles because they have less of the male hormone testosterone.
  • Endurance: You want to sustain physical activity over a period of time with minimal fatigue—such as when you play tennis and serve the ball over and over. That action requires muscular endurance in your shoulder.
  • Power: You want to get your muscles to move quickly. This helps an older person get out of a chair easily or walk up stairs with minimal effort and good speed.

Each of these goals may use different weight-training techniques. Depending upon your health and fitness level, the number of sets, repetitions and rest periods you should use may vary. For general fitness, the American College of Sports Medicine advises these guidelines for a weight-training program:

  • Perform weight- or resistance exercises on two to three nonconsecutive days each week.
  • Do 8 to12 repetitions of each movement (during the last few repetitions, you should feel muscular fatigue or need to push yourself).
  • In each session, include 8 to10 different exercises that incorporate the major muscles of the body.

Please check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

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