Strength training: Why and how

Strength training refers to a type of exercise in which resistance is used to cause muscles to contract and strengthen. Performed properly, strength training can …

  • Increase muscle strength and endurance
  • Strengthen bones and joints
  • Help protect muscles and joints from injuries
  • Improve performance in sports and play
  • Promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Help maintain a healthy weight
  • Improve confidence and self-esteem
  • Build lean muscle and reduce body fat
  • Increase metabolism

What to do

To maximize the benefit your body receives from strength training, make sure to do the following:

  • Breathe consistently throughout each movement
  • Use slow, controlled movements
  • Use a variety of equipment such as free weights (dumbbells), elastic tubing with handles or exercise machines in addition to bodyweight exercises
  • Warm up before you start any type of strength-training exercises
  • Focus on correct form and posture instead of how much weight you can lift
  • Cool down and stretch after a strength-training session

What to avoid

  • Don’t use weight that causes you to use improper form
  • Don’t hold your breath
  • Don’t use fast, uncontrolled movements

Examples of strength training exercises (no equipment required)

Squats: Stand with your feet wider than your hips and your toes turned out slightly. Keeping your chest up, lower your hips as though sitting down in a chair, bending your knees until your bottom is just above your knees. Stand back up. Repeat several times.

You could do this by standing in front of an actual chair and squatting down until you touch the chair before standing back up.

Push-ups: Lie on your stomach with your hands outside your chest, under your shoulders. Push your body off the floor until your arms are straight. You can keep either your knees or your toes on the floor. Lower back down to the floor. Repeat several times.

Lunges: Starting with your feet side by side, take a giant step back with your right foot. Keep both feet pointing in the same direction and lift your right heel off the floor. Bend both knees to a 90-degree angle, keeping the left knee behind the left toes. Straighten both knees back to starting position. Repeat several times on one side, then switch legs and repeat.

Dips: Sit on a bench or step with your hands right next to your hips. Slide forward until your bottom is off the step/bench and you are supporting yourself with your hands. Bend your elbows until your bottom drops below the step/bench, then push back up. Repeat several times.

Crunches: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor near your bottom. Place a ball between your knees. Crunch up using your abdominal muscles and try to touch the ball with your fingertips. Lower your upper back down to the floor. Repeat several times. To make it harder, put the ball between your feet and extend your legs up to the ceiling.

Superman: Lie on your stomach with arms extended over your head and legs straight out behind you. At the same time, lift your arms and legs without bending your knees or elbows and “fly like Superman.” Lower back down to your stomach. Repeat several times.

Bow and Arrow: Using elastic tubing with handles, hold one handle in your left hand with your left arm extended. Grasp the tubing in your right hand and pull your right elbow back to your right shoulder, as if drawing an arrow back into a bow. Release right arm to starting position. Repeat several times. Repeat on the left side.

Laure Utecht, MD, is a physician with New Impact, a pediatric healthy lifestyles program, at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital–Upstate.

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