Resistance (Weight) Training for Beginners

I thought about calling this “Resistance Training for Dummies”, but my Mama didn’t raise no dummies, and knowing my readership, yours didn’t either! But you may not have been exposed to any formal weight training, and while you’re “sheltering in place”, this could be your introduction to getting started. Resistance training is different than “cardio”. Ideally, your workouts should be a combination of cardio and resistance. Walk or bike a minimum of 20 minutes a day for cardio vascular benefits. Some of you may be into step aerobics, kickboxing or pole dancing (I don’t judge!) But a minimum of twenty minutes to get your heart pumping. On resistance training, some of you are already ahead of me. I noted the other day that every free weight above 2 lbs. was sold out at my local Target.

First, the benefits of weight/resistance/strength training. It can help you look better. Ladies, this isn’t to turn you into the Incredible Hulk, but face it: firm looks better than flab! Guys, you can start taking your t-shirt off at the pool without embarrassment, too. It will make you feel better. Weight training releases endorphins which enhance your mood. There is a sense of accomplishment as you lift heaver and heavier weights. Plus, there are health benefits. Studies suggest that resistance training can aid in the control and prevention of diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with type 2 diabetes start a strength training program to help with blood sugar control.

* For people with diabetes, strength training helps the body :

* Respond better to insulin.

* Improve the way it uses blood sugar.

* Lose weight.

* Lower your risk for heart disease.

Another plus to starting at home is that some of you never wanted to go to the gym in the first place, because you didn’t want to sit down on a weight machine, looking for a setting less than ten pounds, while the guy in the next station is bench pressing a Volkswagen. I get it. It’s like the folk who clean the house before the cleaning lady arrives, because you don’t want her to judge. So let’s get started. Whether you have linguine arms or look like Charles Atlas, I’ll bet there’s something here you can learn.

There are four types of resistance. Weights, springs, resistance bands and isometrics. Weights are pretty self explanatory: dumbbells, kettle bells, and weight plates and bars.

Springs could be a hand grip*, sold in different levels of resistance or gizmos like the Thighmaster, a spring loaded device to work your thigh muscles.

Resistance bands can be as sophisticated (and expensive) as a Bowflex machine, or as simple as the  resistance bands frequently used in Physical Therapy (PT) sessions. These, too, come in different colors, representing differences in their elastic resistance. You can get a set on Amazon for 12 to 20 dollars. They are generally targeted to very specific muscle groups and joints, and there are a wide variety of exercises that utilize the lighter weight of their resistance. Very helpful if you have an extreme weakness, with the added benefit of not denting the floor, the furniture or your foot if you let go with one hand!

Isometrics are where you pit one muscle group against another. No equipment necessary, you are, if you’ll excuse the pun, your own dumbbell!

We’re going to look at free weights today. To me, form is very important. For a bicep curl, for example, find a weight that allows you to lift 10 repetitions (Reps) at a time, without undue straining or loss of control. Start with your arms fully extended down by your side, and working one arm at a time or both, curl your arm upward and then extend it all the way down. Some gymrats like to cheat, because it’s a little easier to lift the second time, if you don’t let the weight all the way down. But, full extension tones the entire muscle, not just the middle part. Do three sets of ten reps.

If you don’t have weights, and you don’t have access to a gym, start with a soup can. Or peaches, whatever you feel comfortable with. The last few reps of the last set should be difficult.

If they aren’t, try more reps or a heavier weight. After I master three sets of ten reps with any given weight, I’ll add another two to three reps per set before moving to the next larger weight. Try for smooth motion, full extension, and a feeling like you’re happy to stop after that 30th rep.

Full control. Full extension. You are competing against yourself, not the gymrat next to you. This is important: any time you use a muscle group, give it a day of rest. When I’m in the groove I like to alternate bicep curls and tricep curls, working a different muscle group every day, allowing to muscle you’ve worked to rest, repair and grow.

Try some tricep curls, too. For really buff looking arms you really have to work the tris! Start with your elbows pointing straight up, with the weights resting on your back. Then straighten your arm straight up and back. If you alternate bicep and tricep curls every day, you give each muscle group a day off between reps. (Lazy millennial muscle groups!)

And that saying “No pain no gain”? Depends a lot on what type of “pain”. As your muscles become fatigued, they will release lactic acid.

Lactic acid is produced in your muscles and builds up during intense exercise. It can lead to painful, sore muscles. Lactic acid buildup due to exercise is usually temporary and not cause for a lot of concern, but it can affect your workouts by causing discomfort.

So, you may experience a mild burning sensation, or aches or discomfort, sometimes showing up, up to 48 hours after your workout. This is normal. Extremely sharp or piercing pains are not. Do not try to “muscle” through them. Stop what you’re doing immediately with the onset of any sharp pains. Take your arm through the motion without the weight. If the pain is still there, you may have pulled or strained something. You may need to see a doctor. If the pain is not intense, kwitcher bellyachin’ and drop and give me ten!

If this has been helpful, let me know and I’ll work up some more exercises to take you through. If the Cheetos dust on your keyboard is clogging the keys, I won’t bug you any more about it. Maybe.

You can buy free weights on Amazon. If you think you might not stick with it, accessorize your house! Buy an antique flat iron on ebay, the kind your great grandma used to use, and use it like a kettle bell!  Then, set it on your hearth!

But, stay safe in there!

*If you have a hand grip, try this: Instead of simply doing ten reps, take a dime, squeeze the handles togeter until they grip the dime and then just hold it ’til it drops. It’ll drop before you release it, because your muscles will get a little shaky towards the end. Repeat to try to increase the time.

Mike writes at Proof Positive

Photo by shixart1985