by Armand Tecco, M.Ed.
Muscular fitness exercise is often referred to by a variety of names. Some people call it "weight lifting" or "strength training." But neither term encompasses the full definition of weight training. Others call it "body building," but that is more of a competitive sport than an exercise activity.
The most apt descriptive terms for muscular fitness exercise are "weight training" or "resistance exercise." It is when you work your muscles against an externally-applied resistance, such as free weights, weight machines, water, rubber tubing or your body weight.
Many people weight train in order to Improve their appearance. Bodies adapt structurally to progressive-resistance exercise - the muscles get firmer and more dense, helping to define and tone the body. Women who are panic about developing large, bulky muscles have nothing to fear. Under normal circumstances, women cannot develop muscles like men, no matter how hard they train.
By improving muscle tone and strength, you can also lower your risk for incurring joint and muscle problems, prevent injuries, Improve posture and slow the age-related loss of muscle function. Connective tissues, such as ligaments and tendons, get stronger along with your muscles and make everyday tasks such as carrying groceries much easier.
Muscular fitness exercise may also prevent the loss of bone mineral that occurs as we age (osteoporosis). What's more, it helps you lose body fat by increasing your metabolism.
Muscular fitness exercise requires a certain level of skill. Proper technique is essential in order for the exercises to be safe and effective. Some people find weight training to be intimidating, while others consider it boring. Not everyone has easy access to weight training equipment -- or can afford to purchase his or her own. For some people, there is a chance of injury due to overtraining or using too heavy of a resistance.
Where to Participate
A wide variety of weight-training equipment can be found at most health clubs. At a health club, you also have access to exercise certified who can demonstrate proper form and technique.
Or, you can purchase equipment for the home from a retail outlet that sells fitness equipment. Home equipment can be as sophisticated as a 10-station, multi-purpose weight machine or as simple as a set of dumbbells in varying weights. In fact, many resistance exercises can be performed with just your body (pushups and tricep dips) or by using such household items as soup cans and milk jugs.
Recommended equipment and attire
Multi-purpose weight machine -- For home use. it works all of the large muscle groups. It is easy to use and doesn't take up much space.
Dumbbells -- These free weights serve the needs of most people and are best bought in the following increments: 3, 5, 8, 10, 12, 15 and 20 pounds.
Barbell -- A weighted bar (usually 20-25 pounds) onto which plates can be attached. Ideal for performing many basic weight training movements.
Rubber tubing -- Tubing with handles. Comes in various resistances and is great for quick workouts, travelers and a limited budget.
Ankle weights -- Weights encased in a small sack and designed to be secured around ankles. Great for leg and gluteal (buttocks) exercises.
Gloves -- Weight-training gloves minimize skin irritation on the hands.
Weight training belt -- A belt is especially recommended when performing certain free-weight movements because it provides lower back stability.
Bench -- A sturdy weight bench, preferably one that can be adjusted for different angles.
Clothing -- Comfortable clothing that allows for full range of motion.
- Variety is important for continued progress, as well as continued motivation. A combination of resistance exercises -- free weights, machines and exercises where you are using your body weight for resistance -- is recommended. Your muscles will respond more readily if you give them different challenges.
- Find a qualified fitness professional to help you design an effective workout routine. Essentially, your training program should stress targeted muscle groups through the use of specific resistance exercises. Also have the fitness professional show you how to use the apparatus. Weight machines are generally easier to master than free weights.
- Make sure your body is warmed up before weight training by performing an aerobic exercise for five or more minutes. This improves blood flow, nerve conduction and flexibility. It also helps reduce the chance of injury.
- Exercise all of the major muscle groups: legs, arms, chest, back, abdominals (stomach) and shoulders.
- Exercise the larger muscle groups before the smaller ones. For instance, work the back, chest and legs prior to the arms and abdominals.
- If you are a beginner, perform one set of 12 to 15 repetitions per exercise.
- The amount of resistance (weight) should be enough that it is an effort to get to 15 repetitions.
- Progressively increase the resistance as your body adapts to the exercise. So, if you are able to perform 15 repetitions of an exercise, move to the next heavier weight increment.
- After six to eight weeks of consistent training, you can progress to two sets per exercise and reduce the repetitions to 8-12.
- Allow adequate time for your muscles to recover between individual exercises, usually 30 to 60 seconds.
- Be sure to exercise opposing muscles for a balanced workout. For instance, if you work the biceps, work the triceps; if you work the chest, work the back. Also, be sure to condition both sides of your body equally.
- Perform exercises in a controlled manner, without jerking or fast movements. For best results, focus on raising the weight in one or two seconds and lowering it in three to four seconds.
- Perform each exercise through the full range of motion of the targeted muscles and the involved joints.
- Be sure to isolate the muscle you are working. Don't throw your entire body into the lifting motion, which not only decreases the exercise's effectiveness but also increases the risk of injury.
- Breathe naturally, making sure not to hold your breath.
- Relax the muscles not involved with the exercise. Do not tense your face or clench your fists. Focus your energy on the targeted muscle.
- For the best strength gains, you should be able to perform between 8 and 12 repetitions (no more) of each exercise.
- Give your muscles 48 hours to rest between workouts.
- Perform stretching exercises at the end of your weight-training session to reduce the risk of injury and to minimize muscle soreness.
Glossary of terms
Isotonic exercises -- The most widely-used form of weight training exercises, isotonic exercises provide resistance through a full range of motion and provide some stimulus to the muscles while they contract and lengthen. Dumbbells, barbells and weight machines are all forms of isotonic exercises.
Negative resistance -- The lowering (eccentric) phase of muscular-fitness exercises.
Positive resistance -- The lifting (concentric) phase of muscular-fitness exercises.
Progressive resistance -- A gradual, systematic increasing of resistance over a period of time.
Range of motion -- A muscle's range of motion is the entire arc through which it can move.
Repetition (rep) -- One complete sequence of a single exercise. For example, to perform a biceps curl for 10 repetitions means that you lift a dumbbell or barbell from your waist to your shoulders 10 times.
Repetition maximum -- The amount of weight with which an individual can perform a specified number of repetitions. For example, 100 pounds is John Doe's 10-rep max.
Set -- A set is a fixed number of repetitions. One set of biceps curls might be 10 repetitions. A second set would be another 10 repetitions performed a minute or so after the first set.
Variable resistance -- Resistance that varies in direct proportion to the force exerted. An example is a weight machine that uses cams and pulleys to vary the resistance.
The information, including opinions and recommendations, contained in this website is for educational purposes only. Such information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. No one should act upon any information provided in this website without first seeking medical advice from a qualified medical physician.