Strength training is a wonderful hobby. If you are able to do it and don’t, you are cheating yourself.
It doesn’t matter whether you are 15 or 85, male or female, young or old, or fat, thin, or in between.
Once you get past the beginning stage and are able to train intensely, it requires little time, perhaps just two 30-or-so minute sessions weekly. Intensity and duration are inversely proportional.
Throw in two or three short sessions of GXP (Graded Exercise Protocol) [click here for more about GXP] or HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and perhaps one brisk long walk and you have a beneficial exercise program that works for life.
(If you play sports, do them in addition to — not instead of — this exercise program.)
Strength training involves challenging yourself to do a bit better on an exercise than you did when you did that exercise during your last training session.
If you are just starting out, please get your physician’s approval in advance.
Strength training does not necessarily involve competition. I’ve never competed in a body building, power lifting, or Olympic lifting competition and have no intention of ever doing so.
Over the years I have put together a nicely equipped home gym. If you pay once for a good piece of equipment, it will last a lifetime. (I have some plates and bars I had fifty years ago when I was in high school!)
If you have never done any strength training and want to enjoy its physical and psychological benefits, I’m rather proud of the thorough information I’ve put together for beginners at my most popular website [click here for more info].
Whether you train at home or in a commercial gym, there’s no serious strength training without squats or deadlifts. Since there are several excellent variations of each, there will surely be one or two that will work well for you.
In the hope of encouraging you, let me share what my training partner and I are doing.
Since strength training is brutally hard work, it’s really helpful to have a good training partner. When your partner shows up, your excuses for not doing strength training evaporate: it’s time to move some poundage.
For nearly 20 years, Carlo has proven himself to be an excellent strength training partner. Except, of course, when he’s out of town, he shows up on time once a week for an intense workout based on squats or deadlifts. I greatly benefit, too, because he’s about 9 years younger than me and almost always squats better than I do.
In addition, I do a second training session each week for the upper body.
Especially now that I am old (mid-60’s), I always ensure that I get a good warm-up that includes some flexibility work, some balance work, and 5 minutes on a stationary bike. I also wrap my knees and wear a weight belt for all work sets (but not for warm-up sets).
Mastering perfect exercise technique is critical. (The best book on this is Stuart McRobert’s Build Muscle Lose Fat Look Great.) Done correctly, strength training is very safe. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times in all those years either one of us has even had a minor injury such as a pulled muscle. There’s no reason ever to hurt yourself seriously, and neither of us ever has.
Improving the strength of your muscles, connective tissues, and bones is a key component for maintaining a healthy body.
In addition to the dozens of physiological benefits of strength training, I find that regularly doing my best physically has enormous psychological importance. When I retired from playing hockey, I wanted to do something that was physically challenging, and strength training was the answer.
It’s important to change your routine every few months. Our current routine is a sample of the right kind of routine.
When doing squats or deadlifts, always keep one rep in you for safety.
With respect to deadlifts, we have been doing sumo deadlifts for the last couple of years. After a few months of doing 8 to 10 sets of 2 reps for strength, we’ll switch to doing just 1 set of 15-20 reps for endurance.
A key during strength training is always to maintain tension on the muscles you are working. This means that it’s important to restrict the range of motion to the most productive portion of the range.
On squats, for example, don’t stand all the way up; otherwise, you’ll be getting a brief rest at the top where the weight will be primarily supported by your bones. On deads, don’t stop with the plates resting on the floor.
If you do 1 set of 15 to 20 reps on squats or deadlifts correctly, it may only take you two or three minutes but you’ll feel afterwards like collapsing on the floor and not moving for a while!
With respect to squats, we have been doing box squats [click here for more info] for the last couple of years. Again, after a few months of doing 8 to 10 sets of 2 reps for strength, we’ll switch to doing just 1 set of 15-20 reps for endurance.
We alternate weeks; we do squats once every two weeks and deadlifts once every two weeks. Also, when we are doing squats for strength, we’ll do deadlifts for endurance and vice-versa (so that we avoid only working on strength or only on endurance in a given two week period).
We also do some secondary exercises such as back raises and crunches as well as side bends for injury prevention.
When I do upper body work, I’m currently doing incline barbell presses, chins, dips, prone dumbbell rows on a high bench, seated dumbbell presses, and rope pushdowns. I also do L-flyes for injury prevention.
We currently train together at noon on Mondays, and I do my other routine on Thursday afternoons. If you are starting out, schedule training sessions as follows: wait 24 or 48 hours after all DOMS [delayed onset muscular soreness] has disappeared before training again. This will ensure systemic as well as localized recovery.
Getting plenty of rest and have a good nutritional program are very important. You don’t get stronger in the gym; instead, what you do in the gym is to stimulate growth that happens outside the gym if you eat and rest well.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes in life. I’ve fallen into bad habits that I’ve struggled to break.
One of the best habits I’ve established, however, is regular strength training. Like all good habits, it’s not an easy habit to establish, but it’s an easy habit to live with.