For a long time, I had a fitness goal of being able to do a single unassisted pull-up. It all started with the Presidential Fitness Test (do they still do those?) Back in elementary school when they would give us those fitness tests, I could only hang from the pull-up bar. I was so jealous of the girls in my class who could do even one pull-up. Fast forward to today… I still can’t do a pull-up. However, strength training for my pull-up redemption had one benefit. It made me stronger.
I didn’t get into strength training until my late 20s. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to lift weights. It was because it’s really intimidating at first. Walking into a gym having never lifted weights or using weight machines can be A LOT. You could hurt yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing. I started small with lighter free weights doing bicep curls (and watching those around me for other reps I could copy.) Over time, I learned my way around and got more comfortable.
Reducing Stress & Anxiety
Exercise is my most important self-care ritual. When I stick to regular strength training each week, I feel like a Marvel superhero. I even squat to pick up the laundry basket with intention like I’m the Incredible Hulk. (I wish I was kidding.)
Some people rely on strength training to lose weight or burn fat, but I believe it helps do so much more than that. Studies have shown that strength training:
- Builds strong, lean muscles
- Reduces stress and anxiety to improve mood (this is true for me!)
- Supports bone density to avoid fractures and breaks
- Temporarily increases your heart rate for cardiovascular health
- Strengthens and protects your joints
- Improves flexibility and mobility for better balance and injury prevention
How to Get Start Strength Training
One of the most common misconceptions about strength training is that you have to lift big to get the results. (You can get benefits from even the lightest weights and extra reps.) Strength training can be done using weight training machines, dumbbells or other free weights, resistance or suspension bands/loops or even just your own body weight. So no matter what equipment you have or are interested in investing in, you can incorporate strength training into your weekly exercise program.
To get started, consider your current fitness routine and personal wellness and scale up the weight/resistance you use gradually. Make sure you have supportive footwear so you’re not slipping and comfortable, breathable clothing.
Sample Strength Training Workout
When you are just starting out, aim for two to three sessions a week. Here is a sample strength training workout to try, using three to eight-pound dumbbells and a mat:
- Squats (20 reps, weights optional) — Stand with your feet a little wider than your hips, toes facing forward. Drop your butt back as you bend at the knees to 90 degrees, keeping the stomach tight.
- Bicep Curls (10 reps) — Keep your elbows pinned into your sides with palms facing up as you raise your arms slowly up and down.
- Side Arm Raises (10 reps) — Avoid locking out your elbows and raise your arms to form a “T” at shoulder level, then lower slowly.
- Rows (10 reps) — Bend slightly at the knees and incline your back to 45 degrees. Extend your arms forward (not straight down) and pull them back, bending the elbows and drawing your shoulder blades together.
- Tricep extensions (10 reps) — Holding the ending position from the previous move, slowly extend your arms behind you to straighten, tightening the triceps, and then bring them back in, stopping the weights at your hips.
- Lunges (10 reps per leg, weights optional) — Stand with your feet together and your hands on your hips. Take a big step forward with one foot, and bend both knees to 90 degrees. Straighten the legs and step back to return to your standing position. Complete 10 reps and switch sides or alternate.
- Chest Presses (10 reps) — Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. With one weight in each hand, bend your elbows to 90 degrees and open your arms to form a “T.” Raise your arms to full extension over your head.
- Plank (30 seconds) — End by holding a plank either on your elbows or with straight arms. You can also be on your knees.
How do you incorporate strength training? Share your tips and favorite moves in the comments.