Maybe you haven’t started strength training yet but you want to give it a try. Or, you’re new to it but you’re worried about getting injured. Or you’ve been doing it on your own for a while but have never worked with a professional. In any case, you want to know the basics in order to progress to your full potential (and avoid injury).
Here are ten useful tips for anyone interested in strength training.
Water is essential for regulating body temperature, cushioning vital organs, and aiding the digestive system. When it comes to exercise, water is crucial for moving, flexing, and extending muscles. Dehydration will lead to muscle cramps, a decrease in strength, and reduced endurance. The American Council on Exercise recommends the following:
17-20 oz of fluid 2 hrs before the start of exercise
7-10 oz of fluid every 10-20 min during exercise
16-24 oz of fluid for every pound of body weight lost after exercise
#2 Don’t Skip the Cardio
Pre and post-strength training cardio is not meant to kill you! Push hard enough to raise your heart rate, but not so hard that you feel like you’re dying. Why do it? Short pre-strength training cardio warms the body up, increases blood flow to muscles, and increases core temp, reducing injury. Keep it short, though, to prevent muscle fatigue before strength training. Post strength training cardio (immediately following a workout) reduces recovery time for sore muscles.
#3 Choose the Right Weights
Weights should be light enough that you can go for the full amount of reps, but heavy enough that your muscles are fatigued by the end of the set. If your muscles aren’t burning enough by the end of the set, go heavier next time. If you reach muscle failure (the point when your working muscle is fully fatigued to the extent that it can no longer complete another repetition of a movement), STOP! Forcing yourself to continue after failure will injure your body.
#4 Use Proper Form to Avoid Injury
If unsure of proper form, ask a professional. It is imperative to use lighter weights if it helps to maintain proper form. Proper form with lighter weights is more beneficial than improper form with heavier weights.
#5 Pay Attention to Pain
A little bit of lactic acid muscle burning is okay with strength training but listen to your body. If an exercise causes sharp or uncomfortable pain…stop! Pushing past your limit will only lead to pulling or straining a muscle, which will then cause a setback in your progress. It’s 100% okay (and even encouraged!) to take a break and try again next time with a lighter weight or no weight. Muscle conditioning is a marathon, not a sprint.
#6 Go Slow
Relying on momentum to complete your rep will deprive your muscles of their potential progress. It could also be an indicator that you’re lifting too heavy. Slow, controlled movements will give you better strength gains and will reduce the risk of injury. Try a controlled 3-count on both the eccentric and concentric contractions. (1-2-3 on the up, and 1-2-3 on the down).
#7 Don’t Skip the Rest
When it comes to strength/muscle training, make sure to include a rest interval between sets. The heavier the load, the longer the recovery period should be in order to replenish your muscle energy before the next set.
According to The American Council on Exercise, muscle replenishment is as follows:
50% renewal in the first 30 seconds
75% renewal in the first minute
95% renewal in the first 2 minutes
For general muscle conditioning, rest time between sets can be one-minute.
In addition to resting between sets, your muscles need time to recover after each workout session. The more intense the training, the longer the recovery time is needed. For challenging muscle conditioning, wait at least 72 hours before training the same muscle group.
#8 Don’t Skip the Stretch
Stretching after a workout aids in recovery by helping to increase blood flow to the muscles and reducing the accumulation of lactic acid buildup. It also increases flexibility, and range of motion, and decreases the risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage. In addition to stretching immediately after your workout, try stretching upon waking in the morning, and before bed in the evening to reduce muscle soreness even further.
#9 Your Body Needs Good Nutrition
Keep in mind that protein is essential for muscle repair. In addition, your body needs nutrient-dense foods in order to stay healthy and replenish energy. Make sure you are taking in enough nutrient-rich calories to increase strength & endurance, and maintain energy while training.
#10 Get a Full Night’s Sleep
A full night’s sleep is essential for tissue repair. During sleep, our body works hard to hard to repair, recover, build, strengthen, grow and defend. Proper sleep is crucial to physical (and psychological) maintenance and repair. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following sleep duration:
Teens 14-17: 8-10 hours
Adults 18-64: 7-9 Hours
Adults 65+: 7-8 Hours