Strength training is as good as medicine when it comes to your health, contends Wayne L. Westcott in a paper published in a 2012 issue of “Current Sports Medicine Reports.” It can offset the 3 to 8 percent loss of muscle mass adults experience each decade which leads to decreased metabolism and fat gain. Strength training may also reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases by strengthening your heart, improving bone density and helping to control blood sugar levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you do two total-body strength-training sessions weekly to stay healthy. These workouts can take many forms and don’t always have to involve a gym.
Lots of Toys
Strength-training workouts can involve any combination of equipment -- or none at all. For example, beginners benefit from using the weight machines at the gym because they help teach proper form and offer support. A total-body machine workout could include the chest press machine, the back row machine, the leg press, leg curl and shoulder press. You can also do many of these same exercises with free weights -- specifically dumbbells and barbells. Resistance bands, strips or tubes of latex that sometimes have a handle on each hand, stretch like large rubber bands to offer resistance. Hook one around a sturdy, large object to do outer and inner thigh raises, back rows, chest presses and lateral raises. If you have absolutely no equipment, a strength-training session involving pushups, squats, lunges, dips, back extensions and abdominal crunches and planks is an option. The CDC even classifies yoga and heavy gardening, such as digging and hoeing, as strength-training activities.
Go for Your Goal
Design a strength-training program around any number of combinations of sets and repetitions, depending on your goals. For example, if you seek general health and fitness benefits from strength training, do one to three sets of an exercise for every major muscle group – the hips, legs, back, chest, arms, shoulders and abs. Include eight to 12 repetitions in each set using 50 to 65 percent of your one-repetition maximum, or the most weight you can lift in one attempt. A goal of hypertrophy, or growing larger muscles as in bodybuilding, calls for three to six sets of eight to 12 repetitions at 80 to 85 percent of your one-rep maximum. Either of these workouts requires you to rest 30 to 60 seconds between each set. If your intention is to build strength for sports, extend your rest periods and increase the amount of weight you lift each session. Aim for three to six sets of five to six repetitions using weight that is 80 to 88 percent of your one-rep maximum. Rest three to five minutes between each set.
Split It Up
While the minimum recommendation for strength training is twice per week, some people choose to train more often to achieve greater results. Always leave 48 to 72 hours between training specific muscle groups to allow for repair and recovery, which is the time during which your muscles actually grow stronger and fitter. Splitting your strength-training workout over the course of several days is a way to work out daily without overtraining specific body parts. For example, you could do an upper- and lower-body split, where on Mondays and Thursdays you do chest flyes, cable presses, rear deltoid flyes, pullups, lat pulldowns, lateral raises, curls and kickbacks; and on Tuesdays and Fridays you train with deadlifts, lunges, leg curls, hanging leg raises, bicycle crunches and squats. Splits can also be designed around body parts; for example, do arm and shoulder exercises on Mondays, leg and ab work on Tuesdays, chest and back on Wednesday, rest on Thursday and then repeat the cycle.
Workouts to Burn More Calories
More advanced strength-training workouts involve manipulating the variables of weight, reps and rest. For example, circuit training has you moving quickly from one strength exercise to another with little to no rest. You typically work a different muscle group at each exercise for a designated amount of time, say 30 to 90 seconds, or for a certain number of repetitions. "Fitness" reports that you can burn up to 30 percent more calories with a circuit routine. Another advanced training method is supersets, in which you do two exercises back-to-back before you rest. You can superset a particular muscle group, such as going from a set of barbell curls to a set of cable curls for the biceps; or opposing muscle groups, such as going from a set of lat pulldowns to a set of pushups. Supersetting increases muscle fiber activation and can boost the release of growth hormone to elicit greater strength gains. Supersets also burn more calories than traditional strength-training workouts, found a study published in a 2010 issue of the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research."