The weight room at a gym can look intimidating. You might ask yourself, "How do all these fancy machines work?" or "What is the proper weightlifting etiquette?" And even if you buy hand weights or other workout gear to use at home, you might not know how to use it. Complicated equipment and risk of injury may stop people from getting started with strength training. The good news is there are easy ways to begin building strength that benefit your body, bones, and more.
"Strength training is part of a whole program for healthy living that includes aerobic exercises, such as running, bicycling, or swimming, plus nutrition and diet," explains Michael Fong, MD, sports medicine fellowship program director at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center. "Now there are so many activities that include strength training, like yoga, Pilates, and high-intensity interval training classes. It’s easier than ever to get started."
What is strength training?
Also known as resistance training, strength training is any exercise that causes the muscles to contract while resisting an external force. When you add weights, it’s called weight training. You can even use your own body weight to build strength, muscles, and endurance. Regardless of how you do it, strength training holds many benefits for muscular strength, muscle tone, stronger bones, and more. Some of the benefits of strength training include:
- Stronger bones — Strength training can increase bone density, reducing the risk of fractures.1 Older adults often experience the bone-weakening disorder osteoporosis. According to Dr. Fong, weightlifting can improve bone density and reduce the risks of fractures from osteoporosis.
- Better balance and flexibility — Strength exercises may help joints stay flexible, and even reduce symptoms of arthritis.2 As you get older, this can help reduce injuries from falling. Stronger muscles help improve balance and flexibility.
- Weight loss — When paired with proper nutrition and diet, strength training can increase your metabolism to help burn more calories. This can be helpful when you want to manage or lose weight.3
Start small and go easy
One of the most important things you can do is start small. Each body is different, but a general rule is to start with light weights. "Try 2- or 5-pound weights before trying something heavier," says Dr. Fong. "You can also do strength-building exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, lunges, squats, and planks with your own body weight."
It’s also very important to go easy on yourself when you begin any new workout routine. Make sure to listen to your body when strength training. If you feel any pain during the exercise, it’s a good time to stop. Consider switching to a lower weight or trying the exercise again later. "Recovery is also part of the training. You need to let your body rest. So, you may work out one day, and then take a day off," explains Dr. Fong. "Getting good sleep is also important."
Simple ways to add more strength training to your routine
To get started, you don’t have to head straight to the weight room at your local gym. There are simple exercises you can do to stay active and build strength — even if you find yourself at home all day. Whether you use equipment or not, here are a few ideas to start your strength training today:
- Incorporate some push-ups, lunges, and squats into your routine. You don’t need fitness equipment to have an effective workout.
- Try a yoga, Pilates, or tai chi class. Many of the poses and exercises involve using your own body weight.
- Use resistance bands to maximize your workout benefits. There are different levels of resistance to choose from. And you can find many resistance band tutorial videos online to help you get started.
At the end of the day, remember that you can’t rush the process. “Go light and easy to get started,” says Dr. Fong. “You can work your way up to more weights and repetitions as you go. The important thing is to start somewhere and stay with it.”