You don't have to be a gym junkie or a macho man to appreciate the benefits of strength training. Lifting weights is good for people of all ages and is even beneficial for those who have health issues like heart disease or arthritis. Strength training, especially in conjunction with a cardio exercise routine, can boost mood, lower blood pressure, help maintain a healthy weight, increase bone mass and improve the quality of sleep.
You might think weight training requires lots of heavy lifting and difficult moves, but there are simple strength-training exercises that can help you build muscle mass and improve your overall health.
Before you start, warm up your muscles with 5 to 10 minutes of brisk walking, slow jogging or gentle stretching. Here are three exercises so simple you can fit them in a couple of times a week, but give your muscles a day of rest between strength-training sessions:
1. Triceps Extension
This one's so easy, you can do it lying down. You'll need a dumbbell of the weight of your choice (2-5 pounds if you are a beginner) and a flat surface to lie on, whether it's a couch, bed or carpeted floor. Lying on your back, hold the dumbbell in one hand and extend your arm toward the ceiling. Then bend your arm down at a 90-degree angle so that your elbow is pointing toward the ceiling and the dumbbell is over your forehead. Now, slowly straighten your arm again, moving the weight upward. You should feel tension in the back of your upper arm—your triceps. Slowly lower the weight down and up, and repeat 10 to 15 times before changing arms. Do two or three sets on each side.
2. Standing Bicep Curl
For this exercise, you'll need two dumbbells. Hold one weight in each hand and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Roll your shoulders down and back and contract your abdominal muscles. With your palms facing forward, tighten your biceps and curl your hands up toward your shoulders, keeping your arms close to your sides. Pause for a couple of seconds, then slowly lower the weights. Do this 10 to 15 times, then take a 30-second break before doing one or two more sets.
3. Knee Extension
For this move, you need an ankle weight and a place to sit. Attach the weight to one of your ankles. Sit with your legs hanging in a relaxed position. Slowly straighten the weighted leg until it is straight out in front of you. Pause before slowly returning to your starting position. Repeat 10 to 15 times, then put the weight on the other leg. Do one or two more sets on each side.
For many people, one set of 12 repetitions with the proper weight can build strength as effectively as three sets of the same exercises. Just make sure to learn a series of exercises that work various muscles. After doing these exercises two or three days a week for several weeks, you can increase the amount of weight you're using.