Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Weight Training Basics - How to Design a Program

Getting in shape and staying in shape is a life long endeavor. Because of the way our bodies change as we age we need to include weight training in our fitness programs. Weight training is needed for bone density, maintaining metabolism and strength to name a few reasons. However, a lot of people don't know where to start. While I can't teach everything there is to know on the topic in one article, I can give you some basic principles that you can use to get started.

Let's talk about safety first. Whatever exercises you choose, start with weight that is lower than what you think you can do and work up or adjust as needed. Learn how to do exercises with good form. If you're not sure about good form, hire a trainer for a couple of sessions to get some pointers. Make a list of the exercises on which you would like to get feedback. Tell the trainer you just want to run through the list and have them help you make form corrections as needed. Any good trainer should be more than happy to do this.

There are tons of ways to break up put together a weight training program: do split routines, add in cardio, do circuits, etc. Here I'll just cover a basic full body weight training routine. Rule number one: big muscles first. Start with the legs. The main focus is the thighs and butt. The front of the thighs (quads), back of the thighs (hamstrings), butt (glutes). Then move to the torso. You'll want to do exercises for the back (lats, rhomboids, traps, erector spinae) and the chest (pecs). Next you'll do exercises for the arms and shoulders. Mainly you'll focus on the front of the upper arm (biceps), the back of the upper arm (triceps) and the shoulder (front, lateral and rear delts, rotator cuff). Finally, you'll wrap up your routine with abs (rectus abdominus, obliques).

Now that you know which body parts to work in what order, what exercises do you do? There are many ways to find exercises. You can search the web to find exercises for each body part and even whole routines. You can hire a trainer to put together a program for you and teach you which exercises work which muscles. You can learn from workout videos, weight training classes (such as Group Power), or you can try one of the many online training programs out there. The great thing is that you can continue to work with a trainer or take a class but, the more you learn the more you have the freedom to create workouts of your own.

How many exercises should you do for each body part and how many sets and reps? Doing a full body routine, I recommend doing one or two exercises per body part. This way you workout all the muscles without your program becoming too time consuming. The sets and reps can be broken down a number of ways. Two basic configurations are two sets of 15 reps or three sets of 12 reps. Each rep or repetition is one movement of the weight from start position to peak position and back. A set is a number of reps done without stopping. Typically you'll want to take a break of about 30 seconds to a couple of minutes between sets.

The final pieces of putting together a weight training program are not about lifting weights but, they are important components. First, make sure to warm up before your weight training session. Five to ten minutes of light to moderate cardio should be sufficient. This warms up the muscles and helps prevent injury. At the end of the workout, stretch. Stretch all the muscles you worked during the session. Last but not least always give muscles a rest between weight training sessions by skipping a day between workouts. You can do cardio on the days in between but, don't lift weights for the same muscle group two days in a row.

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