Last time out, we talked about the benefits of resistance, or strength training. This time we’ll talk about how to get started. First, there’s a huuuuuuuuuuuuge difference between the strength training that made Arnold Schwarzenegger look like Ah-nold and what the rest of us do to stay healthy. No one’s talking about lifting Volkswagens over your head. You’ll probably start with pretty light weights. I’m doing complete pull-ups and I still top off at around 35 pound dumb bells for most of my exercises and that’s after almost four years.
Here are some tips for easing into strength training. Do not, do not, do not ignore tip number one.
Tip 1. Consult with your physician. This is the most important tip there is. It’s not just boilerplate or something included to scare away the lawyers. If your body is damaged, you do anything from straining a back muscle (been there, done that) to any number of more serious injuries. This is especially important if you have a history of back, neck, or knee problems.
Tip 2. Find someone who knows what they’re doing. I started with P90X and I watched the videos first to get the form down. Even so, I didn’t nail it completely and I strained some back muscles. You can book a session with a personal trainer at most gyms. Costs vary–and they aren’t cheap sometimes–but it’s worth the extra. You want to get fit, not get hurt.
Tip 3. Don’t overdo it. When I started, I did push-ups from my knees. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with doing an exercise with an eight or ten-pound dumb bell, even if other people are using more. Worry about technique more than numbers. You’re working out to build some muscle, build your metabolism, and help with your bone density, not to be Mr. or Mrs. Universe. As a guy, I understand the pressure of not wanting to do knee push-ups and look like you’re lifting Q-Tips. Get over that now. The numbers will come.
Tip 4. Consider exercise bands. Exercise bands are a great way to start. They don’t cost a ton (I got mine at Play it Again Sports and started with about a $50 outlay–not bad to begin). Although they’re less likely to hurt you, good form is still paramount. Bands are also easy if you’re traveling. (Personal note: I started with bands.)
Tip 5. Make sure your equipment is in shape. If you’re at a gym, this isn’t a problem–they should keep track. If you’re home, it’s a must. Are the weights you’re using staying securely on the dumb bell? If you have a chin-up bar, does it stay secure where you mounted it? Will it take your weight? Are your bands in good shape (especially if you bought them used)?
Tip 6. Accept you might be sore. Even if your form is right, there’s a good chance you’ll be sore after the first few times. You should be able to take weight and use your limbs the day after a workout, even if you’re stiff and achy. As long as you can do those things, you’re okay and the soreness will go away over time. The first week I start a new set of resistance routines, I’m typically sore. Sometimes, I’m really sore. It’s worth working through it.
Tip 7. Be patient. You aren’t going to be pumped after the first couple weeks. It takes time to build muscle. The goal is doing the exercise with good form and working hard. Again, the goal is building a little muscle, increasing your metabolism to burn fat, and protecting bone density. Anything else is bonus.
With that in mind, here are some links to simple beginner routines that can help you (see :
And here are some gym membership options:
- Crunch gym — Low frills, relatively low cost. It says No Judgements on its website, which is important if you’re just starting. In Tampa, I can join for an initial fee of $53.13, then a monthly fee of less than $20, which includes monthly dues and a pro-rated annual fee.
- Youfit — Similar to Crunch. In Tampa, I can join for an initial fee of $22, which includes first and last month’s fee, but there’s a $43 annual fee I’ll be charged for later.
- Planet Fitness — Caters to beginners. Their gyms typically have no free weights (machines instead) and “No lunks” (which is to say, they don’t like gymrats). You can join for a minimal startup fee and $10 a month.
- YMCA — Google your local branch. Options and costs can vary.
- LA Fitness — More options and more frills. $99 to join and $30 a month.
If I didn’t list a gym in your area, Google is your friend. Take the tour, use the free guest pass most gyms offer and run if they sell too hard.