Rev Up Your Workout with Weights
It's never too late -- or too soon -- to incorporate weight training into your exercise routine. "As we age, we start to lose bone density and muscle mass," says national health and wellness expert Peter Nielsen. "In fact, after the age of 35, we lose half a percentage point of muscle each year."
Muscle helps you burn calories, improves your posture and supports your bones. "Working out with weights not only helps you become stronger, more toned and look better, it increases your bone density and lean tissue, lowers your bad cholesterol and improves your blood sugar levels," Nielsen says. "And, a huge fringe benefit: It improves the collagen in your skin, so you'll have fewer wrinkles and less sagging."
There are many ways to use weights, from free weights, such as dumbbells and barbells, to machines that work each part of your body. Try different options to see what works for you. You can lift weights at home or in a gym, but beginners might want to start in a gym, where professional trainers will help set up a routine and offer advice on proper techniques and form.
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How much weight should you lift? You want to achieve your goals while avoiding injury. According to Nielsen, here's a good test: The number of reps, or times you repeat a move, for any weight-bearing exercise should be 10. The last three reps -- numbers eight, nine and 10 -- should be challenging, but not so difficult that you compromise good form. If you feel there's no way you can do an 11th rep while maintaining good form, you've reached the right weight. When that weight gets too easy, it's time to up the load. Once you find your target weight, try doing two to three sets of reps with the same weight, pausing briefly between sets.
The specific exercises you choose depend on which muscles you want to target.For your shoulders, chest and upper arms, try:
- Arm curls. With your arms hanging in front of your body, palms facing inward, raise your elbows and lift the weight to your chest. Turn your palms outward to work a different set of muscles.
- Butterflies. With individual hand weights, start with your arms at your sides and raise them sideways to lift the weights up over your head.
- Chest presses. With your elbows bent facing outward and your hands palms-down at chest level, push the weight out to arm's length and back.
- Lunges. Using a barbell or hand weights, lunge forward on one leg so that the knee on the other leg comes close to touching the ground, then raise yourself back to your original standing position. Alternate legs after each set of reps.
- Squats. Using a barbell or hand weights, squat down with both legs as if sitting in a chair and rise again to complete one rep.
Websites such as ShapeFit.com and MuscleandStrength.com show weight-lifting exercises for all levels. Follow proper form to avoid injuries, and remember to breathe. Inhale as you lift; exhale as you relax.
Developing a Routine
As with any exercise program, it's important to start slowly and work your way into it. Nielsen says that someone just starting out should train three times a week, say, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Spend the off days working on your most important muscle -- your heart -- through cardio exercise.
In just a few weeks, you'll see more defined muscles and better tone. As Nielsen tells his clients, "It's never too early or too late to get in the best shape of your life."
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