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Weight Training
 by: Helena Ray
  • Weight training has been around for centuries in one form or another, and it's not just for bodybuilders anymore. Bodybuilders and Powerlifters are sharing the gym with tri-athletes, golfers, senior citizens, and weekend warriors, to name just a few. More and more of the general population is turning to the gym as a way to lose weight, gain muscle, get strong and fit, and improve their ability to deal with the stresses of everyday life. Increasing numbers of people want to improve the function of their bodies whether it be to drop the weekend golf score or pick up the kids, without throwing the back out in either case. Those turning to weight training for the first time will find it enjoyable and rewarding as the positive changes happen to their bodies.

    It takes about four to six weeks for the body to adjust to the program that you put it on, which means it may take four to six weeks for you to see the first results from your efforts. How long did it take for you to accumulate that extra ten pounds, or lose the ability to walk up a flight of stairs without losing your breath?

    It didn't happen overnight, so don't get frustrated if you don't see the results you seek right away. Fortunately, the body doesn't like carrying that extra weight around any more than you do, so it will gladly drop the excess when you give it a compelling enough combination of reasons (exercise and diet) to do so.

    If your goals include losing weight, it makes sense to circuit train, going from exercise to exercise with very little rest. If your goal is to increase strength, however, a circuit training program would not be ideal. Your goals are unique and your program should reflect that fact; don't follow the program of someone who's trying to get big if that isn't your aim.

    • A generalized fitness program to increase endurance and build the body's tolerance to exercise would include 12-20 repetitions and 2-3 sets of each exercise, with 30-60 seconds of rest between sets.
    • Those looking to increase the size of their muscles would drop down to 8-12 repetitions for 3-4 sets, while increasing the rest periods to 1 ½ to 2 minutes. The program would also include more isolated, focused work to hammer the individual muscles with increased volume.
    • A program for increased strength would drop the repetitions further, into a 5-8 rep range for 3-4 sets while increasing the rest to 3 minutes

    The body doesn't respond favorably to weight training workouts that go longer than about an hour. After about an hour the bodies hormones shift from more anabolic (muscle building) to more catabolic (muscle wasting). Organize your workouts so that you can get maximum results in a minimal amount of time. Machine workouts end up being inefficient in most cases because they isolate the muscle being worked from the rest of the body. Doing a set of leg presses, followed by a set of arm curls, followed by a set of overhead shoulder presses takes a lot longer than doing a squat, curl, and press with a set of dumbbells. If you can work multiple muscle groups at the same time, you'll burn more calories in a shorter amount of time.
    Be sport specific, even if yours is the sport of life. Try to train movements in the gym that you can actually use in the real world. Don't mistake this to mean that if you have a desk job you should spend most of your time seated on machines at the gym. "Functional Training" is the new buzzword in gyms across the country and simply indicates training that tries to mimic closely the actions that we perform on a daily basis, whether or not you are a professional athlete or a weekend warrior.
    • Work in different planes of motion - Most machines use one plane of motion, traveling front to back or up and down; experiment with movements side to side as well as with a rotational component. Remember that we live in 360 degrees of motion; train accordingly.
    • Train at different speeds- Life doesn't slow down or speed up according to plan, so it's best to train at varying tempos to prepare both for the unexpected need for speed and for the expected bout of endurance.
    • Cross train for balance - Even if your sport requires repetitive motions for long periods of time (running, cycling, etc.), your body will benefit from workouts that challenge the balance of those muscles through alternative pathways.
    • Train Unpredictability - A program of "organized chaos" will help your body accustom to the unpredictability of life itself.have you ever had the opportunity to prepare yourself for an accidental slip and fall? The body loves variety and rewards you with balanced, useable strength and power.

    Don't move on to a more challenging version of an exercise if you haven't mastered the basic version first. It seems like common sense but even increasing the amount of weight that you lift before you're ready can put you at risk for injury. There are many factors to consider when progressing your program; follow these simple rules of thumb to progress safely.
    • Start with weights that allow you to just complete the desired amount of repetitions with perfect form; increase the weight only when you can comfortably complete all repetitions. Remember QUALITY before QUANTITY.
    • Start with basic movements before more complex sequences; a squat should be mastered separate from a curl and press before a squat to curl to press is attempted. Start slow and learn to "feel" the proper form before you move into faster, power type movements.
    • Progress from a larger to a smaller base of support as you gain proficiency with the exercises: once you've mastered an exercise on two legs, try it with a staggered stance or on a single-leg.
    • Bi-lateral before Unilateral work: simply put, use two arms together before alternating arms or using one arm by itself.

    When you begin achieving great results, the excitement and fun you'll experience will make the change well worth the effort. Action creates motivation! Motivation creates goals being achieved, which in turn creates what we all want in life, HAPPINESS. Good Luck!


  • TRY SOMETHING NEW There are many different forms of resistance training, and not all of them require lifting heavy weight. Explore these alternatives to weight training as a great way to spice things up.

    • Plyometrics: Plyometric training is a combination of strength and speed. The aim of a properly designed plyometric training program is to minimize the amount of time it takes for the muscles to generate maximum force. Squat jumps are a perfect example of a plyometric exercise; combining a squat and a jump trains the legs to explode quickly and forcefully out of a crouched position.
    • Water Aerobics: The wonderful thing about working out in water is that it is very low-impact as a result of the water density. This doesn't mean that the workout has to be lower intensity; if the resistance offered by the water isn't sufficient, there are a myriad of products designed to enhance the effects of exercising in the pool.
    • Calisthenics: Calisthenics are body weight exercises that are great when you don't have much equipment available. Simple to perform, yet challenging when modified, body weight exercises include things like push-ups, squats, pull-ups, dips, high-marching, etc. Very little space and equipment requirements make calisthenics a versatile alternative to traditional weight training that can be taken just about anywhere.
    • Yoga/Pilates: Perfectly balancing strength and flexibility, yoga and pilates both encourage lengthening and strengthening the muscles - welcome supplements to a weight training program that tears muscle down. Two distinct disciplines, both are profiled in depth on the Convictions of the Heart website.

    The bones reach peak density in average individuals at age thirty five, and from this point begin a gradual decline of about one percent per year. At the age of 65, about half of all women will develop osteoporosis, a disease which accelerates bone loss and greatly increases the risk of bone fractures. The good news is that weight-bearing exercise has been shown to be beneficial at slowing the loss of bone and in some cases even increasing bone density.

    • Avoid isolated machine work. Machines provide the body with artificial stabilization and don't train the bones to absorb ground-reaction forces against gravity.
    • Moderate weight-bearing exercise (walking, stair-climbing, light-resistance weight training) puts a beneficial stress on the bones and joints.
    • Working on balance and coordination will decrease the likelihood of falling and increase spatial awareness.
    • A total-body approach to training will insure that all bones receive adequate stress and strength.

    Balance is a component of everyday life that is often neglected when we step into the gym and sit down on a machine. Our poor balance is evidenced by a growing number of sports and work-related injuries every year. Ever wondered why some people work out on stability balls, spend so much time on balance boards, or even do their exercises on one leg or with one arm only? Well, in addition to looking pretty cool and fun, all of these methods have a purpose and a place in your workouts as well. Working out in an unstable environment challenges the body's nervous system and recruits the smaller stabilizer muscles to help maintain your center of gravity. If you can train and include the stabilizers in your workouts, they'll be very helpful to the prime movers when you go to produce force. Also, the more muscles you can work at one time, the more calories you'll be burning, leading to a more efficient workout.

    Make your workout enjoyable by trying out some of the toys you have available at the local gym. How many times have you walked by the rows of stability balls only to go do your set of shoulder presses on a bench? Grab one of those balls and use it in any situation where you would normally use a bench. Go for something completely different and try to balance on all fours on the ball (use a spotter and keep the feet close to the ground on that one).

    Bands and Tubing are great because you can adjust the resistance by stepping closer or further away from the line of pull, even in the middle of a set.

    • Stability Balls provide the body with a constantly changing base of support, to challenge balance and the reactive systems of the body.
    • Balance Boards are like a see-saw for the feet and add a degree (or two!) of difficulty to any exercise normally performed in a standing position.
    • Medicine Balls are fun because you can throw, catch, and bounce them in many different directions, targeting all the same muscles worked by traditional dumbbell training.

    Do what you enjoy and you'll enjoy what you do. Explore weight training and your path to optimum wellness with the right attitude and any goal you set can be achieved. Set yourself up with a program that you look forward to so that you will stick to it and have some fun along the way. Remember that the program is only as good as the person performing it, so be good to yourself and your body will take care of you for many years to come.

About the Author
Helena Ray is the creator of Convictions of the Heart (, a website dedicated to helping people become aware of the current environmental problems and the personal effects on your health. Convictions of the Heart supports all green merchants and offers a variety of environmentally friendly products, all natural products, and whole foods.

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