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Venturing into the weight room can be overwhelming at times. People grunting in the corner while heaving heavy dumbbells, weights clanking together on a barbell; and to top it all off, there’s a sea of machines with multiple moving parts and levers. Toss in choosing the right exercises and the number of sets and reps, and strength training can seem overly complex (calculator anyone?).
But there is a method to the madness. When done effectively, lifting
weights offers amazing benefits, not only for building bigger muscles
and achieving that desired physique, but also boosting your resting
metabolism (translation: burn more calories outside the gym!). Regular
strength training can even improve mood and confidence levels.
Ready to find that perfect training plan? To get us started (and keep us motivated along the way), we enlisted the help of Greatest Experts Dan Trink, Director of Personal Training Operations at Peak Performance, and Kelvin Gary, personal trainer, and owner of Body Space Fitness. Check out their helpful tips, plus sample programs to hit the ground (err… gym floor) running!
Pump Some Iron—Getting Started
Starting a strength training program is a little more complicated than just grabbing some dumbbells and your favorite gym tee and hoisting away—it requires a set program. Before hitting the weights, check out these tips to get started on the right foot:
•Set goals! Goals should be the driving force of any strength training program. Follow the SMART acronym (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound) and make sure to set both short and long-term targets.
• Start small. Three days a week (on non-consecutive days) for 45-minute sessions should be enough for most individuals to see big gains starting out, says Trink. Any longer and chance of injury skyrockets.
• Focus on compound lifts. Gary advocates multi-joint exercises (think squats and deadlifts) as the backbone of any strength training program. By using big moves, lifters can get more done in less time. Plus, it always pays to focus on (and master!) the basics before moving on.
• Prioritize Lifts. Put the most important exercises first. That way, fatigue won’t compromise form on the biggest lifts. In general, compound lifts should go first with more isolated exercises (finally, a spot for curls) towards the end of the workout.
• Watch the clock. Limit rest periods between sets to maximize efficiency in the gym. The drink uses the following guidelines:
– 6 reps or less = rest 2-3 minutes
– Above 6 reps = rest 75 seconds or less
• Combine cardio and strength Gary recommends performing exercises back-to-back (referred to as supersets in the fitness realm) to get the benefits of strength and cardio. By super setting compound lifts, you’ll get your heart rate up and get a great cardio workout on the weight room floor.
• Log all workouts Keeping track of sets, reps, and exercises are crucial for noting progress and identifying when it’s time to up the intensity. Write down sets, reps, and weights used for all workouts. Keeping a log also acts as a motivator!
• Vary the program Avoid sticking to the same routine for more than six weeks, Trunk advises. Lifters should switch up their program to avoid getting bored and plateauing (going a few weeks without seeing any results).
• Don’t skip the extras Make time for foam rolling and stretching to help prevent muscles from tightening up and to stay injury-free!
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1. Improves your flexibility
Improved flexibility is one of the first and most obvious benefits of yoga. During your first class, you probably won’t be able to touch your toes, never mind do a backbend. But if you stick with it, you’ll notice a gradual loosening, and eventually, seemingly impossible poses will become possible. You’ll also probably notice that aches and pains start to disappear. That’s no coincidence. Tight hips can strain the knee joint due to improper alignment of the thigh and shin bones. Tight hamstrings can lead to a flattening of the lumbar spine, which can cause back pain. And inflexibility in muscles and connective tissue, such as fascia and ligaments, can cause poor posture.
2. Builds muscle strength
Strong muscles do more than looking good. They also protect us from conditions like arthritis and back pain and help prevent falls in elderly people. And when you build strength through yoga, you balance it with flexibility. If you just went to the gym and lifted weights, you might build strength at the expense of flexibility.
3. Perfects your posture
Your head is like a bowling ball—big, round, and heavy. When it’s balanced directly over an erect spine, it takes much less work for your neck and back muscles to support it. Move it several inches forward, however, and you start to strain those
muscles. Hold up that forward-leaning bowling ball for eight or 12 hours a day and it’s no wonder you’re tired. And fatigue might not be your only problem. Poor posture can cause back, neck, and other muscle and joint problems. As you slump, your body may compensate by flattening the normal inward curves in your neck and lower back. This can cause pain and degenerative arthritis of the spine.
4. Prevents cartilage and joint breakdown
Each time you practice yoga, you take your joints through their full range of motion. This can help prevent degenerative arthritis or mitigate disability by “squeezing and soaking” areas of cartilage that normally aren’t used. Joint cartilage is like a sponge; it receives fresh nutrients only when its fluid is squeezed out and a new supply can be soaked up. Without proper sustenance, neglected areas of cartilage can eventually wear out, exposing the underlying bone-like worn-out brake pads.
5. Protects your spine
Spinal disks—the shock absorbers between the vertebrae that can herniate and compress nerves—crave movement. That’s the only way they get their nutrients. If you’ve got a well-balanced asana practice with plenty of backbends, forward bends, and twists, you’ll help keep your disks supple.
6. Betters your bone health
It’s well documented that weight-bearing exercise strengthens bones and helps ward off osteoporosis. Many postures in yoga require that you lift your own weight. And some, likeDownward- and Upward-Facing Dog, help strengthen the arm bones, which are particularly vulnerable to osteoporosis
fractures. In an unpublished study conducted at California State University, Los Angeles, yoga practice increased bone density in the vertebrae. Yoga’s ability to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol (see Number 11) may help keep calcium in the bones.
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What’s the best exercise for burning fat?
You may read books or magazine articles touting the ‘best’ workout or exercise for burning fat, but the truth is, any exercise that gets you into your target heart rate zone can help you burn calories and lose fat. The best exercise is the one you enjoy. When you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll do it more often and work harder at it. The key to doing exercise work for you is to focus on:
Intensity: How hard you work is important for losing fat. The harder you work, the more calories you’ll burn and that is ultimately how you burn more fat. That doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself during every workout, but working at a variety of intensities throughout the week, rather than staying at the same pace every time, can help you maximize your fat burning. Interval training once or twice a week is a great choice for mixing up the pace, burning more calories and building endurance.
Duration: How long you exercise is also important for burning calories. The longer you exercise, the more calories you can burn, but again, that doesn’t mean every workout has to last for an hour or more. Your intensity will often determine how long you exercise so, for example, if you’re doing high-intensity interval training, your workout will be shorter while moderate intensity workouts allow you enough energy to workout for longer periods of time.
Should I work in the ‘fat burning zone’ to burn more Calories?
While it’s true that exercising at a lower intensity (usually 60-70% of your maximum heart rate) does use more fat to fuel your body, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re burning more fat. It’s much more important to focus on overall calorie expenditure if you want to lose fat.
Following a balanced program of cardio, strength training and a healthy diet will help you create the calorie deficit you need to lose fat.
How can I burn fat with cardio exercise?
Cardio is one of the best ways to burn more calories in one fell swoop, making it an essential ingredient if your goal is to lose fat. How many calories you burn depends on the activity, how hard you work and your fitness level, among other things.
As mentioned above, there isn’t one cardio exercise that helps you burn more fat, but some activities do get your heart rate up faster than others. One way to maximize your calorie burn is to choose:
• Exercises with impact – Impact exercises, like walking or aerobics, will usually get your heart rate up faster than no-impact exercises such as swimming or cycling.
• High impact exercise: High impact exercises like running, jumping rope or jumping jacks also get your heart rate up faster than lower impact. For example, a 150-lb person can burn about 170 calories walking at 4 mph for 30 minutes, or 272 calories running at 5 mph for the same period of time.
• Whole body exercise: Using both the upper and lower body, as in cross-country skiing, will often get the heart rate up quickly, allowing you to burn more calories in a shorter period of time.
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