First steps on the road to fitness
- Before beginning a strength-training program, you should consider if you need a medical evaluation.
- If you have access to a gym or health club that has weight-lifting machines, sign up for an orientation to learn the proper use of each machine.
- If you plan to work out at home, purchase a pair of adjustable-weight dumbbells (with metal plates that can be added or taken off).
- Before trying any strength exercise, practice it several times with a very light weight, to learn the movement.
- Start with weights that feel comfortable for you and that allow you to do eight to 12 repetitions without pain. If you can't make eight repetitions of a given exercise, switch to a lower weight. Each lifting motion should take two seconds (counting "one 1,000, two 1,000"), whereas the recovery motion (returning to starting position) should take four seconds. If you're using a weight machine, one set per exercise is enough. If you're using dumbbells, two sets (with a couple of minutes of rest in between) are recommended.
- As you work out for several weeks or months, your muscles will get noticeably stronger, to the point where you'll need to increase the amount of weight you're lifting to continue improving. Whenever the 12th repetition becomes easy on a given exercise, add 5 pounds to each dumbbell, or 10 pounds to the load on the weight machine for that exercise.
- Each strength workout should include a variety of exercises that work both the pushing and pulling muscles of the upper body (arms, shoulders, abdomen and back) and lower body (legs, hips and buttocks). We recommend beginning with the four level I exercises below, and supplementing them with the four level 2 exercises if and when you want to expand your strength program.
- Always allow at least 48 hours of recovery time between strength workouts, to give your muscle tissue time to rebuild.