Lifting Weights

By Reina V. Kutner

December 4, 2009 4 min read

It can be easy to be intimidated at the gym. You want to start weight training, and all you can think about are the bodybuilders with incredible amounts of muscle who currently are using the machines.

Believe it or not, weight training doesn't have to be intimidating. In fact, it's crucial for your workout. According to the Mayo Clinic, lean muscle mass naturally decreases with age, and if you don't do anything to replace it, fat will creep in instead. But if you weight train, you'll maintain joint flexibility, increase bone density and be able to manage your weight. More muscle in your body means that your metabolism increases -- which allows for more weight loss, if that's your goal.

And it doesn't take as much time as most people think it does. Bodybuilders may spend 90-plus minutes in the gym, but you don't have to. "You can see significant improvement in your strength in just two or three 20- or 30-minute weight-training sessions a week," the Mayo Clinic's Edward Laskowski, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, says.

Here are some of the Mayo Clinic's best tips on how to get started:

*Start with a good warm-up. Five to 10 minutes of running or other aerobic exercise will get your muscles ready for training. If you don't, you're more likely to hurt yourself.

*Learn proper technique. If you aren't doing exercises properly, they can hurt you more than they help you. Sometimes they cause sprains, strains and even broken bones. A specialist, such as a personal trainer, can help you get on the right track.

*Make sure you are wearing the right gear. Good shoes are particularly important for weight training, as you need shoes with strong traction so you can avoid slipping. When you become more advanced, you also can opt for gloves.

*Pick the right amount of weight. According to the clinic, you should start with a weight that you can lift 12 to 15 times. If you're just starting out, this may mean a few pounds. Don't worry; you will get stronger. And once you do, you can start to increase the weight slowly.

*Don't forget to breathe. The Mayo Clinic says that holding your breath while lifting weights can lead to dangerous increases in blood pressure. It suggests breathing in as you lift and breathing out as you lower the weight.

*Make sure that you don't rush your exercises. You need to raise and lower your weights slowly to get the full burn and not injure yourself. If you go too fast, you will be relying on momentum, not your own body.

*Learn to work all your major muscle groups, and learn how to train so you are making more than one group of muscles stronger. For example, you can work on both your abs and your back by following certain exercises.

*Remember: If your weight training is beginning to hurt or you are feeling fatigued, your body is signaling you to stop. Never try to work through the pain, as you may be injuring yourself unintentionally. Come back after a day of rest and try working out again, perhaps with a lower weight.

*Rest is just as important to weight training as the training itself. You never should exercise the same muscles two days in a row. Give it one full day of rest and you'll be able to come back stronger.

Have you gotten into your weight training but reached a plateau, meaning your body seems not to be losing more weight or your muscles have stopped developing? Joe Weider, the "Father of Modern Bodybuilding," suggests switching up your workout by confusing your body.

"Mix things up; throw your body off balance, and force it to readjust," he says. "Change the set-rep scheme; change the exercises; change the time of day in which you train -- anything to shake your body out of its complacency. I guarantee you'll see progress once again."

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