Like cardio, it is important to incorporate strength training into your exercise regime as well. As you age, your muscle mass will naturally decline. However, keeping your muscles strong is important for burning fat, keeping your bones strong, boosting your stamina, managing chronic conditions, and it can even help keep you focused. As you build up your muscles, your body will be able to burn more fat and your bones can become protected from osteoporosis, fractures, and sprains. It can help you stay young as you get old and it can help fend of heart disease and diabetes. Many experts suggest scheduling in two to three strength training sessions a week into your exercise regime, each followed by a day of rest. By engaging in cardio, which burns calories, and strength training, which keeps your muscles strong and toned, your chances of looking and feeling great will be high.
Strength training is really good for preventing knee injuries. Your knees are an important part of your body because they serve as your support system. Your knees can be susceptible to arthritis, cartilage injuries, ligament injuries, and tendon injuries. However, if you keep your knees strong with strength training exercise, you can reduce your risk of damaging or injuring them and avoid having to use braces, wraps, ice packs, or heat therapy to heal them. Some knee injuries require surgery so you can also lower your chances of having to visit the doctor and shell out money for a restorative procedure. Squats, swimming, and lunges can be great for strengthening your knees.
Here are some basic strength training exercises for your knees:
Lie on your back and tighten your butt muscles for five seconds. You should repeat this exercise 10 times with a total of three sets.
Terminal Knee Extension
Lie on your back and place a rolled towel under a bent knee. Straighten the knee and hold the position for seven seconds before relaxing. A great YouTube video of the Terminal Knee Extension can be seen here: YouTube Terminal Knee Extension Video.
Lie on your stomach and place a rolled towel under the ankle below your injured knee. Push your ankle into the towel while straightening your leg as much as you can while holding it for five seconds.
For a more in-depth look at how to prevent or heal knee injuries, please see my book: Knee Pain Cure.
Another part of your body that can benefit from strength training is your back. Like your knees, your back is another major support system for your body. Back pain can be caused by a pulled or stained muscle or by something more serious, such as a spinal fracture. Preventing back injuries takes a combination of eating right, getting a good night’s sleep, not smoking, and exercising your core back muscles, which includes your abs and back muscle. It is also smart to remember when strength training that you need to keep both sides of major muscle groups equally strong or you have a higher chance of injury. For example, Chest/Upper Back, Bicep/Tricep, Quadriceps/Hamstring, and Abdominals/Lower Back. It is wise to try and keep all your muscles strong and not to focus too much on just one area. Yoga strength training exercises are usually the best for strengthening your back against any damage. Here are some basic strength training exercises for your abdominals and back:
Lie on your back and bring your knees towards you with your feet flat on the ground. Use your stomach muscles to bring your upper body up towards your knees. You can put your hands at your ears, hold them up over your head, or put them across your chest. However, don’t put them behind your head and pull your head upwards as you do each sit-up, as this can cause strain on the neck. If you need to, place your feet under a heavy object, such as a bed or couch.
Lay on your back with both legs straight and together, lift your legs in unison about 6 inches off the ground and hold them for 10 seconds. Then bring them back to the ground and rest. You can do this exercise in sets of 10, or simply hold each lift for as long as possible.
If you want to know all the solutions for back pain, be sure to check out my bestselling book: Back Pain Cure.
Before you dive into the world of strength training, it is important to remember some key tips before you start. Always stretch before doing any kind of exercising and remember to breathe. Even though breathing sounds obvious, some people unconsciously hold their breath, otherwise you may become lightheaded. Try to breathe in during the easy part of the strength training exercise and breathe out when doing the most difficult part. Take strength training slow and allow yourself to rest in between repetitions. Finally, start off easy and don’t overdo it-the more you work at it, the more you can eventually get done in a session. If you are more advanced, be careful not to over train, which is a waste of your time and energy. Also, when strength training, it is best to always do 3 sets minimum per exercise that you are doing.
Here are some tools that you can use to enhance your strength training sessions. You can use a stretch band to add resistance to your training, which can help you get stronger. A really good set of stretch bands are these Latex Resistance Exercise Bands. What I like most about this set is that it comes with three different bands for three different levels of resistance. So when you get comfortable with using the easy one, you can move through the medium and hard ones to build more strength. You can also use a medicine ball to add resistance to your session. Medicine balls are like heavy basketballs and they come in different weights. If you’re looking to add a medicine ball to your strength training program, I highly recommend looking into a Valeo Medicine Ball. What I like most about this product is that it comes in different weights. You can choose one that is between 4 lbs and 12 lbs. and can be used in the water.
More Strength Training Exercises
Weight lifting is a common type of strength training. Many people are under the misconception that weight lifting is only for body builders but the truth is that anyone can lift weights. There are some very basic weight lifting techniques that you can start out with as you get ready to work your way up. You can perform weight lifting in a gym or in your home gym if you have the proper equipment. I do the majority of my strength training with dumbbells from 10 pounds to 40 pounds. I also have a Bowflex Revolution, but if you want to get into strength training cheaply and effectively, dumbbells are a must have. You can exercise nearly every body part very effectively with them.
The first basic weight lifting technique you can try is a goblet squat. Start out with a dumbbell that is a comfortable weight for you. While holding it in front of your chest with your elbows pointing down, squat down until your hip crease is underneath your knee crease and your elbows reach the inside of your thighs. To maintain your balance while doing this, let your chest lean slightly forward. Keep your back muscles tight throughout the entire exercise. While in this position use your elbows to slightly stretch out your inner legs. After 20-30 seconds, squat back up again, and repeat 3-5 times. As you learn to master this technique, you can work your way up with heavier dumbbells. For a visual aid on how to do this, check out Phil Scarito’s YouTube video Goblet Squat.
Next, you can try a deadlift. To do this, stand in front of a barbell that is a comfortable weight. Keeping your back straight, bend your knees and body forward and wrap your hands around the bar, keeping each hand shoulder-width apart. While breathing out, start to pick the bar up while pushing with your legs and bringing your chest up at the same time. Once you have completely picked it up, keep your chest out and bring your shoulder blades back. Bring the bar back down by reversing the process. Once you have placed the barbell back on the floor, you can do another repetition. You can also perform this exercise with a dumbbell. For a visual aid on how to do this, check out this YouTube video, Coaching The Deadlift with Bill Grundler by CrossFit.
Another weightlifting technique to try is the barbell curve. This is a good beginner’s weight lifting technique. To do the barbell curve, stand and hold a barbell with a shoulder-width grip as you keep your chest out. Keep your elbows close to you and your palms facing forward. Keeping your upper arms stationary, begin to curl the barbell toward you as you exhale. Do this until your biceps are fully contracted. Once in this position, hold it for a minute and squeeze your biceps. While inhaling, slowly return to your starting position. For a visual aid on how to do this, check out Howcast’s YouTube video How to Do a Barbell Curl.
For a single leg dumbbell row, hold a small to medium sized weight in your left hand and lean forward until your back is straight. For added support you can put your right hand on a chair, bench or other stationary object. Slowly drop your hand holding the dumbbell to the floor and bring one of your legs up until your body is in a T-shape. Next, bring the dumbbell up until it is near your chest. Hold the position for a few seconds and then return it towards the floor. You can do this 15 times for each side for a total of three to five sets. For a visual aid on how to do this, check out this YouTube video, One Arm One Leg Dumbbell Row, by Performance U.
Resistance Band Training
If you’re not so much into lifting actual weights you can try resistance band training. This type of strength training allows you to use resistance bands instead of weights, which can save you money on a gym membership or expensive equipment for a home gym. Resistance training is great for building up your bones against osteoporosis. The first resistance band training exercise you can try is a lunge with a biceps curl. To start, simply put your left foot over the band as you position your right foot a couple feet behind you. Grip the handles of your band with your fingers facing up and do a biceps curl and then lunge. You can repeat this 20 times for each leg. For a visual aid on how to do this, check out FITASTIC’s YouTube video Standing Lunge to Resistance Band Bicep Curl.
The second resistance band training exercise you can try is a squat with an overhead press. To start, step on your band while keeping your feet aligned with your shoulders. With your palms facing away from you, hold the handles of your band at your shoulders. While bringing your arms over your head, squat, and keep your weight on your heels. You can do this 20 times. For a visual aid on how to do this, check out this YouTube video In Motion: Squat to Overhead Press byMilwaukee Journal Sentinel. The third resistance band training exercise you can try is a side lunge with a side raise. To start, stand with your feet aligned with your shoulders. Place your left foot over the band, near one of the handles. Using your left hand, hold the other handle. With your right foot, perform a lunge and bring your left hand toward your right foot. Then slowly bring yourself back. You can do this 20 times on each side.
The fourth resistance band exercise is called the monkey. To do this, stand with your feet spread out wider than your shoulders. Keeping your knees loose, grip each handle of your band with each hand. While bringing your left arm up, bend your upper body to the right and then quickly do the same with your other side, as if you were moving like a monkey. Do this 20 times for each side.
Yoga Positions for Strength Training
Yoga is a great way to help your body become stronger and more flexible. Anyone can do it, which makes it a great starting point in strength training if you’re not already used to lighting weights. Since yoga can help restore your body, you can practice it on the days that you take off from major strength training. It can also strengthen your mind and soul, which is an added bonus.
One great yoga strength training position is the dolphin plank. To do this, lie down on your stomach and point your toes on the floor. With your forearms on the ground, pull your abdomen toward your back and raise your hips until you’re in a planking position. While inhaling, lift your hips further up until your body is in a V-shape. Hold this position for a few seconds before returning to your starting position. You can do this 15 times in sets of three. For a visual aid on how to do this, check out this YouTube video by Do Your Own Yoga: Dolphin Plank.
A second great yoga strength training position is the curtsy lunge. To do this, align your feet with your hips and then, while taking a big step back with your left foot, place it behind your right foot. Bend your knees and extend your left hand toward your right foot. For each side, you can repeat this exercise 15 times in three sets. For a visual aid on how to do this, check out Woman v. Workout’s YouTube video Curtsy Lunges for Sexy Legs.
A third great yoga position for strength training is the Superman pose. To do this, lay with your stomach on the floor. With your arms and legs extending away from your body, breathe in while raising your arms and legs as high as possible. Hold this position for a few seconds before breathing out and slowly returning to your start position. You can do this 15 times in three sets. For a visual aid on how to do this, check out this YouTube video: Basic Yoga Poses: Yoga: Superman Position by expertvillage.
A fourth great yoga position for strength training is the triangle. To do this, keep your feet wide apart and turn your entire right leg 90 degrees while turning your entire left leg 15 degrees. Raise your arms until they are perpendicular with your shoulders. With your palms facing down, inhale and extend your arms and back. While exhaling, turn your upper body to the right, bend down, and place your hand on your lower leg. Be sure to keep your spine straight as you raise your other hand toward the sky. Slowly inhale and return to your starting position. This yoga pose can be a little hard to understand, so for a visual aid, check out this YouTube video, Yoga for Beginners: Triangle Pose, by YoBoFitness before you try it.
My Personal Strength Training Routine
Here is the bodybuilding routine that has been extremely effective for me over the last fifteen years. It is best if you can fit all four workouts into a 8 day period, but at minimum all four workouts should be done in a 14 day period, and then just make your strength training routine a habit and never stop doing it. Ideally you want to take 1 day off after each strength training session. This basic strength training routine has worked great for me, along with a variety of the other exercises mentioned in this book. Also, feel free to mix up the exercises on your own if you are more experienced in order to shock the muscles and stimulate growth.
Leg Day: I will do a short walk around the block to warm up my legs or jump on a mini trampoline to warm up my legs. I will then stretch out my quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles. When properly stretched, I will start off with 25 squats just using my body weight. I go nearly all the way to the ground and I am sure to use good form. I have a Bowflex Revolution, which mimics many of the major exercise machines in a gym. I do light weight leg extensions next to further warm up my legs. After a short rest of a minute or so, then I move on to hamstring curls with light weight and around fifteen or so repetitions. The last exercise will be calf raises. I like to stand on a curb or similar object and just use my calf’s to lift up my bodyweight. You want higher repetitions for your calf’s, so I will do around 25 repetitions. This completes one full set of all my leg exercises. I then do all these exercises again, only this time; now that I am warmed up, I push myself harder to complete even more repetitions or I will use more weight and fewer repetitions. I will then do at least one more complete set of all these exercises, as 3 is always the minimum amount of sets you want to do. If I feel like pushing myself, then I will do a complete 4th and 5th set as well. The fourth and fifth set is where you will get the most results if you are truly serious about putting on strength and size. If you are going for power and strength, then after the first warm up set, you want to add more weight and lower the repetitions.
Arm Day: On this day I work out my biceps, triceps, forearms, and grip strength. After stretching out my arms, I will take some lightweight, free weight dumbbells and do arm curls with them until I feel nice burn. I will then take an even lighter dumbbell and do my next exercise, which is for the triceps, called triceps kickbacks. The next exercise is for the forearms, and I will do wrist curls with a dumbbell. I then take a grip strength ball and squeeze it in my hands till I got a nice burn. The last exercise is triceps push downs. Near the end of the workout I will typically do a few extra sets of arm curls to really get them strong and looking great. As with all strength training routines, the first set is for warm-up, then you really want to push yourself on the remaining sets.
I start off by stretching my chest and back. I will then take some dumbbells and simulate a bench press motion. When my chest muscles are feeling a bit tired, I end the set with dumbbell flies. I then move to a back exercise, called upright rows. I use a dumbbell with this as well. I will then do another chest exercise called cable crossover on my Bowflex Revolution, and then on to another back exercise called seated rows. I will then do back hyper extensions or planking for my lower back, then some sit-ups, and finish the first complete set with push-ups. Chest back day is typically one of the tougher workouts, but yields great results.
I start off by stretching out my shoulders. This routine is done exclusively with lightweight free weight dumbbells. I start the set off with Arnold presses, take a rest, then rear lateral dumbbell raises, then lateral dumbbell raises, and then frontal dumbbell raises. I will then use heavier dumbbells and do shoulder shrugs that work the trapezius muscles. As usual, take a short rest between each exercise. There a few other things to keep in mind when strength training. You can do your abs and lower back every day, along with your calf’s. You can exercise your neck muscles daily as well, and it is good to do various motions with your neck to relieve stress and increase strength. It is also a good idea to eat a protein shake or another healthy food high in protein fifteen to thirty minutes after you have completed your workout. My favorite protein shake is: Muscle Milk.
Concluding Strength Training
Weightlifting, resistance band exercises, and yoga are some great ways to get yourself into strength training. There are many more exercises, moves, and techniques to strength training but this chapter was aimed at helping you become familiar with each category. Try starting out by doing some of the exercises listed in this chapter and then allow yourself to explore and learn more styles of strength training as you get better at it. Life is so much better when you’re strong and healthy.