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A Beginner's Guide to Weight Training

By: Dr. Patrick Schroeder, PT, DPT, OCS


You may have heard from either friends or healthcare providers that resistance training can be very beneficial for your health in a number of ways. There is a wide body of research showing that weight training can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and neurological damage.(1)  Not to mention the tremendous impact that it can have on your strength and function that we will discuss. It is safe to say that this is something that just about every person should incorporate into their fitness routine that they will benefit from.



However, it can be challenging to know where to begin for a novice. If you are looking to start your resistance training journey you may have several questions such as:


  • What types of exercises should I do?

  • Is my form ok?

  • Am I going to get hurt?

  • Am I too old to be doing this?

  • How often and how much weight should I be lifting?


This post will go through all of these questions and attempt to bring you the information you need to safely and comfortably begin a strength training program. 


What types of exercises should I do?

This is one of the most common questions that people have. The good news is that there are several different options that are beneficial, which makes it easier to find a routine that fits best for you. The two main options that you are most likely to find at your local gym are free weights and machines. Using machines is often advantageous for beginners as it is easier to control the weight and thus a shorter learning curve. This makes it easier to isolate the specific muscles that you are trying to strengthen. Free weight exercises are defined as lifting or moving weights that are not attached to some type of equipment. Some common examples of popular free weight lifts are bench press and squats, but there are countless more. Free weights are a little more challenging because it takes more neuromuscular control and technique to perform the movement safely and efficiently. This can be helpful if you have goals to improve in these areas, and can also be a goal to progress to once you have built up some confidence and comfort using machines.


Is my form OK?

It is also very important to ensure that you are using good form when performing resistance training. This can help ensure you are hitting the targeted muscles, while being careful to not overload specific joints. Fortunately there are plenty of resources available to help with this. Many gyms will offer a complimentary personal training class to new members where a trained professional can review certain movements with you. This is a good thing to take advantage of. It also may be a good idea to join a class that is led by an instructor, who can observe and make sure that you are doing things correctly. If neither of these seem like good options for you, there are countless videos on the internet going through proper movement patterns for certain exercises that you can take advantage of. We also offer appointments at The Green Room for wellness visits where we can help get you started on your strength training journey!


Am I going to get hurt?

This is a concern of a lot of people as the last thing anybody wants is to suffer an injury! There is always some degree of risk in every form of exercise we do, but when you look at the risks associated with resistance training compared to the risks associated with being inactive, it is easy to make the argument that the pros for exercising far outweigh the cons. Research has shown that there is not a significant difference in injury rate between an active and sedentary population.(6) When you take this information and couple it with all the other health benefits of resistance training, it shows that there are many more benefits than there are negative to resistance training. These health benefits include increasing chances of living longer, maintaining independence as you age, decreasing chance of heart disease, and much more. I am of the belief that the risks associated with not performing some type of resistance training are greater than the risks associated with performing resistance training.


Am I too old to be doing this?

This is an easy one to answer: NO! You are never too old to safely weight train and benefit from it. In fact there is an argument to be made that the older adult population stands to gain the most from resistance training. One concern for the older population is developing sarcopenia, which is defined as a syndrome characterized by progressive and generalized loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength and it is strictly correlated with physical disability, poor quality of life and death.(2) 

This can be very debilitating and is one of the main reasons individuals lose their independence in their later years. Studies have shown that resistance training can prevent or delay the onset of this condition.(5) There is no doubt that the earlier you start training the better it is for you, but it is important to get started before you encounter any of these symptoms. Another reason that strength training is beneficial in the older population is that it helps to maintain bone mineral density, which helps to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis and associated fractures.(4)


How often and how much weight should I be lifting?

This is an important question that many people have as well. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends training all major muscle groups 2-3 times/week. A good starting point is 8-10 multi joint resistance exercises, while performing 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions per exercise.(3)

However, you can still see some positive benefits by doing less than that, as some exercise is always better than nothing.


Hopefully this gives you the basic knowledge you need to start your resistance training journey! If you have any further questions it is always a good idea to consult with a health professional before beginning a fitness routine.




References


  1. Syed-Abdul MM. Benefits of Resistance Training in Older Adults. Current Aging Science. 2020;13. doi:https://doi.org/10.2174/1874609813999201110192221

  2. Santilli V, Bernetti A, Mangone M, Paoloni M. Clinical definition of sarcopenia. Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism: The Official Journal of the Italian Society of Osteoporosis, Mineral Metabolism, and Skeletal Diseases. 2014;11(3):177-180. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25568649/#:~:text=Sarcopenia%20is%20a%20syndrome%20characterized

  3. O’Bryan SJ, Giuliano C, Woessner MN, et al. Progressive Resistance Training for Concomitant Increases in Muscle Strength and Bone Mineral Density in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine. 2022;52(8). doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-022-01675-2

  4. Giallauria F, Cittadini A, Smart NA, Vigorito C. Resistance training and sarcopenia. Monaldi Archives for Chest Disease. 2016;84(1-2). doi:https://doi.org/10.4081/monaldi.2015.738

  5. Campbell K, Foster-Schubert K, Xiao L, et al. Injuries in Sedentary Individuals Enrolled in a 12-Month, Randomized, Controlled, Exercise Trial. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2012;9(2):198-207. doi:https://doi.org/10.1123/jpah.9.2.198


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