Smart Strength-Training Strategies

Strength training – using free weights or exercise machines such as those for leg presses – is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, strength training can help reduce the signs and symptoms of a number of serious conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, back pain and depression.

As with every exercise program, it’s essential that you ask your doctor if this kind of exercise program is right for you, and at what level. You’ll also get the most benefit from the exercise if you can take advantage of a local gym or senior center to make sure you are doing them right. Additionally, the experts at Harvard Medical School offer these overall strategies to make your workout a success:

Focus on form. It’s better to do a lower level of exercise correctly than to do a higher level with bad form. The Harvard experts say that poor form can be detrimental because it prevents you from working on muscles in the correct way. Take your time, too. Focus on slowness and accuracy when you are lifting a free weight or a machine, and when you are bringing it back down.

Control yourself. The right tempo will help you stay in control of your movements, the Harvard experts say. They suggest, for example, lowering for three counts and lifting for one count because varying tempos can help advance your routine. (But be sure to maintain your control even when you vary the frequency.)

Breathe. The Harvard experts point out that blood pressure rises if you hold your hold your breath during the exercise. Breathe out as you lift, push or pull; breathe in as you release.

Continue to challenge yourself. According to the experts from Harvard, you should choose a weight that lets you maintain good form, while tiring tires the muscle you’re working on by the last two repetitions. If you can’t do those last two reperition, pick a lighter weight; and if the reps are too easy, go to a heavier weight. Don’t add a lot of weight, though – the recommended numbers are 1 to 2 pounds for arms and 2 to 5 pounds for legs.

You could also add a set to your workout, the experts suggest, bringing your routine to a maximum of three sets, or you could work out on additional days provided you rest muscles for 48 hours in between sessions.

Stay with it. The Harvard experts suggest doing a complete upper and lower body strength workout two to three times per week.

For additional advice on getting the most from your workouts, buy Workout Workbook, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.