Planning Your Weight Training Program

9 Benefits of Weight Training

Why should you begin weightlifting? Appearance aside, there are many physical, mental, and emotional health benefits associated with lifting weights. In addition to improving your strength, an expected benefit most people think of when it comes to weight training, there are numerous other physical benefits, such as increasing bone density, metabolic rate, cognitive ability, coordination and stability, cardiovascular capacity, energy, and cell function, as well as reducing stress. All of these benefits aid in empowering you to feel both physically and mentally strong and help in how you view each day. Below are the details and science supporting each of these impressive benefits.

1. Increased strength

By lifting weights, you will develop the muscle strength necessary for lifting heavier objects inside and outside the gym. Think how much easier tasks like bringing in the groceries and picking up your kids and pets would be with strong muscles! Having stronger muscles will also aid in maintaining an upright posture and supporting your bone structure.

2. Increased bone density

Speaking of bones, many women are at risk of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis—the weakening of your bones with age. Weightlifting can help keep your bones strong as you age by increasing bone density. Working the muscles attached to your bones forces your body to lay down more bone-making materials, which strengthens your bones and increases their density. It’s two great benefits in one!

3. Increased metabolic rate

Strength training will also result in you having more overall muscle mass, and the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest. This is because muscle tissue burns more calories. This means you’ll burn extra calories even when you’re not working out, simply because you have more muscle mass.

4. Increased cognitive ability

Basically, strength training makes you smarter. Your brain has to work differently while strength training. It needs to remember movement patterns, know where your limbs are in relation to your body, and pay attention to the stimuli around you. This is a lot of work for your brain— especially if you are new to weight training. Therefore, it’s an excellent way to give your brain a workout. In addition to making you smarter, weightlifting also helps improve your mood and increases your self-esteem, a result of happy hormones (endorphins) being released into your bloodstream.

5. Increased coordination and stability

Lifting weights and coordinating movements help you gain better stability, coordination, and proprioceptive feedback (how your brain recognizes where your body and limbs are when performing movements). This is helpful for preventing you from having clumsy moments or falling.

6. Increased cardiovascular capacity

Weight training may not seem like cardio, but it is when you train at an intensity that raises your heart rate. It’s rhythmic in nature, and you repeat the motions of the exercises several times. Also, your heart rate stays increased when you superset exercises—that is, perform movements back-to-back with little to no rest between them. This makes weightlifting a form of cardio (and way less boring than using cardio equipment!).

7. Increased energy

Weightlifting releases hormones in your body that signal your brain to wake up. These happy endorphins give you a natural boost of energy. That’s why many people like to weightlift in the morning or during their lunch breaks—to get a little energy boost before starting their day or getting back to work.

8. Better cellular functions

Weightlifting increases the blood lactate concentrations, hemoglobin levels, and capillary-to-fiber ratio in your cells. These increases allow your cells to function more efficiently by causing blood to flow more smoothly throughout the body. With increased blood flow efficiency, oxygen and nutrient delivery to the muscles increases and creates optimal cellular performance.

9. Stress reduction

Weightlifting helps you relieve stress by giving your brain and body a way to externalize any pent-up emotions. The hormones released when you work out help your body counteract the stress-causing hormone cortisol. In addition, with weightlifting, you build confidence and self-esteem, which also reduce stress. So not only do you get to throw some weight around to feel better and relieve tension, but you also get a nice dose of stress-relieving hormones to relax your brain and improve your confidence post-workout.

Identify Your Weight Training Goals

Now that you know some of the awesome benefits of working out, it’s time for you to decide on a goal. Setting a goal drives personal motivation and satisfaction. First and foremost, you need to start by picking a goal that is deeply rooted in your “WHY.” Your WHY is something that is very important to you. It isn’t something superficial or shallow. Rather, your WHY is something that has a personal emotional trigger associated with it—a deep internal motivation that is unique to you. If your goal doesn’t have a WHY attached to it, then you will be less likely to succeed at it. Furthermore, you have to want to achieve that goal for yourself, not because someone else gave you a goal.

The next step is to make sure that your goal is SMART—that means it is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time sensitive. For example, a SMART goal could be “I want to lose 10 pounds in 2 months so that I can participate in more activities on our upcoming family vacation. I’m going to achieve this by weightlifting 3 times a week.” Losing 10 pounds in 2 months is very specific, measurable, and attainable within the time frame established. It’s also realistic that this person can weightlift 3 times a week. Now, to take the SMART goal a step further, the WHY associated with it could be “I want to participate in more activities on vacation because I don’t want to be left out of the family photos or miss out on building memories as a family.” That WHY has a strong emotion associated with it; therefore, this person is much more likely to lose the 10 pounds, since they decided on this goal for themselves as opposed to someone else deciding on it for them.

When and How Often to Work Out

When and how often to work out really depends on your goals and lifestyle. The important thing is to decide on a routine and stick with it. Check your schedule and realistically determine how many days a week you can commit to working out. Decide if mornings, afternoons, or evenings are best for you based on your schedule and energy levels throughout the day. You may even decide that switching up the time of day works best for you. It will not affect the results of your program, as long as you are consistent about working out for the number of days you commit to. Two days of working out a week is the minimum amount you will need to commit to in order to see changes in your body. At least 3 days is optimal, but some people can handle doing 4 or 5 days depending on their style of working out and goals. You might want to consider starting with fewer days and adding more as you build your workout program. Being aggressive and starting with too many days can lead to unrealistic self-expectations and harm your motivation.

You should plan for your workouts to last anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, including your warm-up and cooldown. Your goals will determine the length of your weightlifting program. If your goal is to burn fat or lose weight, then you should create circuits of 3 or 4 exercises that you do one after another for one set. This type of workout will include fewer rest breaks and will take less time. If you are trying to put on muscle mass, then your workout will focus on one exercise at a time or supersets with maximum rest and recovery times. This type of workout will take longer and may include more exercises to fatigue a particular muscle group. Another factor that will affect your workout time is the number of days that you commit to working out. If, for example, you’re working out 4 or 5 times a week, then 30- to 45-minute intervals would be a good amount of time to help prevent overtraining. (Overtraining happens when you are working out too much and not getting the proper amount of recovery time.) If you are only able to work out 2 or 3 times a week, then 60 to 90 minutes would be ideal to maximize results, since you are committing to fewer days.

Weight Training Warm-up Best Practices

Warming up is an important part of the weightlifting process. You need to make sure that your muscles have proper blood flow and your joints are sufficiently lubricated and mobile before loading them with additional weight. This will make your weightlifting sessions more effective and also prevent injuries from occurring. Here are three best practices for making the most of your warm-up.

Warm the muscles you’ll be working

What you include in your warm-up should be based on what you plan to do as a workout that day. For example, if you are working your upper body, then you should include movements that use your arms, such as jumping jacks, bear crawls, or Planks. If you are working your lower body, then you would include movements like lunges, squats, toe touches, and Butt Kickers. In the exercise articles to come, you will see some suggested warm-up movements you can use to prepare those specific muscles to work.

Start to elevate your heart rate

Your warm-up should take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. By the end of it, you want to feel like you have a light sweat going. You should also have an elevated heart rate at this point, somewhere around 115 to 125 beats per minute (bpm). Using cardio equipment, such as jogging or walking on an incline on the treadmill, can certainly aid in your warm-up. However, you still want to include a few specific movements to target whatever muscle groups you plan to work that day.

Use dynamic movements

You want your warm-up to be dynamic. This means that you want it to mimic the exercises you plan to do later in your workout—it should serve as movement preparation. For example, standing and reaching toward your toes to stretch your hamstrings is great but not dynamic. A better way to stretch your hamstrings before lifting would be to do walking Straight-Leg Kicks. The more dynamic a movement is, the more closely it relates to the actions your leg muscles will need to perform to lift effectively.

The Critical Cooldown

Your post-workout cooldown is just as important as your pre-workout warm-up. Just as it is necessary to prepare your muscles and joints for movement, you also need to signal to them that they can relax and move blood to other parts of your body. Pick your cooldown based on what you did for a workout. For example, if you did upper body, then it might be good to passively stretch your back and arms for a few seconds to relieve some of the tension you’ve built up in them. Passive stretches are great to include in your cooldown. You can hold each stretch for 30 to 45 seconds. You can also use cardio equipment or go for a short walk or very mild jog to cool down.

You do not want to skip your cooldown. Even if you’re very tired, it’s essential to cool your body down. (Walking to your car or taking a shower does not count.) If you do not, your muscles could experience severe cramping post- workout. Your muscles will also remain in a shortened state, which will negatively impact your joint range of motion and posture.

Rest Days And Recovery

Rest and recovery are important to take into consideration to maximize your results. If you don’t rest and recover, then you’ll be at risk of overtraining. The symptoms of overtraining include getting sick, feeling sore, achiness, decreased performance, moodiness, excessive fatigue, insomnia, increased perceived effort during exercise, and injuries.

It is optimal to have at least 2 rest days per week. When you weight train, you break down your muscle tissue. Therefore, your muscles need at least a day to rebuild the muscle fibers stronger than before—this process can sometimes take up to 3 days. You will want to be aware of what muscle groups you are working each day and give each muscle group at least 1 to 2 days to recover. As you progress in your weightlifting journey, you’ll become more in tune with your body. When this happens, you’ll be able to gauge how much rest and recovery time you need for each muscle group.

Be aware that you will experience some muscle soreness after your first few days of weightlifting. This is called DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness). It’s the period 24 to 48 hours after weightlifting when your muscles are rebuilding the muscle fibers. The goal is not to be sore after every workout. Eventually, you’ll find a balance where you feel worked but not overworked after weightlifting. This also comes with being more in tune with your body as you progress.

6 Tips to Maintain a Life of Lifting

Weightlifting has so many more benefits beyond just aesthetics. While aesthetics may be why you get started or what you hear more about, the other benefits detailed at the start of this article can bring so much more to your life. For this reason, you find that you want to make weightlifting a part of your lifestyle. The key to accomplishing this is to find the other motivating factors that keep you connected to a WHY that goes deeper than appearance. Here are a few tips on how to discover those extra motivational factors that will help you maintain a life of lifting.

Tip #1: Don’t lift for aesthetics

Looking good is a great way to motivate yourself when you start, but what happens when you get older? As your body starts to change with age, you may not look the same as you did before. If you do, awesome! But it’s likely that your ideal aesthetic look won’t be manageable long-term. Focus on mastering a particular movement that you couldn’t do before or on lifting a specific amount of weight. These types of imperative goals are more motivating to keep you lifting for life than aesthetics alone.

Tip #2: Listen to your body

Weightlifting is great, but it does put a little extra strain on your body, so you want to be smart and listen to your body. Do movements that make your body feel good. Also, rest when your body says that it needs it.

Tip #3: Dedicate time to recovery

As mentioned above, taking care of your body is very important, and there are several things you can do. Spend time stretching and foam rolling every day, or teach yourself other self-myofascial release (SMR) methods. SMR is the process of eliminating knots, or trigger points, in the fascia of your muscles using various massage techniques and tools. Massages are also beneficial to helping your muscles recover, and making sure you get plenty of sleep and water is important.

Tip #4: Get a personal trainer

A personal trainer can help you keep your routine fresh and not boring. They can also program workouts for you to help prevent injury and get the proper rest between workouts. Personal trainers are worth the money. There is no price tag too high on investing in your health.

Tip #5: Switch it up. Mixing up your routine keeps you from getting bored. As you become more confident in weight training, try adding different modalities and equipment, such as kettlebells, TRX (total-body resistance exercise) straps, a ViPR (short for “vitality, performance, and reconditioning”), resistance bands, machines, and cables, into your workout routine. Learning to master movements with new training stimuli will challenge both your brain and body.

Tip #6: Keep it moving

Inspire yourself to do something every day. Make weightlifting a part of your lifestyle, not a chore. A little movement each day helps you maintain what you have—so move it or lose it!

The Fundamentals Of Lifting

There are a handful of basic guidelines for building a solid weightlifting foundation. Keeping these 8 core items in mind whenever you lift weights will help you remain safe and be effective in hitting your goals. Over time, these fundamentals will become second nature to you.

1. Always engage your core

No matter what muscle group you’re training, your core should be engaged with every movement for stability and safety. To “engage your core” simply means drawing your belly button into the spine. It should be a similar feeling to what you would do if you were planning to blow up a balloon or preparing for someone to poke you in the stomach. As you become a more experienced weightlifter, engaging your core will happen automatically, and you won’t need to think about it as often. That said, in each of the exercise articles, I have included a reminder to engage your core while performing every movement. These reminders are important as you build your program because engaging your core is key to building stability and strength, moving safely, and developing an effective workout.

2. Never skip warm-up and cooldown

Always warm up properly before you lift and leave time to cool down when you finish. Warming up is important because it prepares the body for activity. When you warm up, your temperature rises, which results in loosening your joints and increasing blood flow. With loosened joints and increased blood flow, you will create less stress on your joints, which will create more ease in performing exercises. Cooling down is equally important because it reduces heart and breathing rates, which lowers your body temperature. In addition, your muscles return to their resting lengths and your body is then ready for normal activity. When you skip warming up or cooling down, you risk injury or other issues. For example, if you abruptly stop exercising, your heart rate may drop too quickly, which could result in fainting.

3. Be safe when you are lifting

Make sure the space around you is open and safe, and there are no free weights lying around or any equipment that you can trip over. Additionally, make sure you have someone around to spot you if you plan on lifting heavier weights than you are used to.

4. Do not drop your weights

There’s a chance they can rebound and hit you or someone else. Try to control the return of your weights or ask your spotter to assist you if you run out of strength.

5. Keep recovery in mind

You don’t want to work the same muscle groups two days in a row. If you are planning to do full-body workouts each day, then switch up the plane of movement or modality. For example, if you did Forward Lunges yesterday, then do Lateral Lunges today.

6. Work in different planes of motion

This will help keep the muscle groups of your body balanced. It will also ensure that your body is prepared for daily functional movements. The three planes of motion are sagittal, frontal, and transverse. The sagittal plane divides the body into left and right halves. Activities such as walking and running are done in the sagittal plane—in fact, most of us tend to stick to sagittal plane movements. However, it is key to mix up your training to include movements in all three planes in order to keep the body balanced and to avoid injury. The frontal plane divides the body into front and back halves. Movements in the frontal plane include jumping jacks and Lateral Lunges. The transverse plane divides the body into top and bottom halves. The transverse plane includes movements such as twisting (wood chops), swinging (think golfing), and push-ups.

7. Track your progress

You can’t tell where you’re going if you don’t know where you came from. Write down your exercises, weight, sets, reps, and rest time for each workout. This will help you keep track of your progress and determine your next set of goals.

8. Stay hydrated

Make sure you’re properly hydrated before a workout. Also, have water or another proper hydration beverage with you while working out to prevent cramping and feeling light-headed, and to rehydrate post-workout.

The Role of Cardio

Cardio is important to add into your routine if you are looking to lose weight or body fat. There are two main types of cardio: steady state and HIIT (high- intensity interval training). 

Steady-state cardio is when you maintain a steady and continuous effort in your workout. The recommended time for steady-state cardio is 1 hour for maximum results where you maintain a heart rate of 45 to 50 percent of your maximum heart rate. This could be walking on the treadmill at an incline, using the elliptical or StairMaster, rowing, swimming laps, or going for a hike outside. Wearing a heart rate monitor is really helpful because keeping your heart rate within a certain “fat burning” range is important. The fat-burning range is the heart rate range that is optimal for burning fat, rather than carbohydrates, for fuel.

HIIT is when you do a mix of high-intensity and low-intensity cardio intervals. You can choose various lengths of time for your intervals. For example, intervals can be up to 1 minute each, during which your heart rate will increase to a high “anaerobic” rate, followed by a rest period of 1 minute if you’re looking to have a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio for your interval. Another example would be to sprint for 30 seconds and then walk for 1 minute. The sprint is the high-intensity portion, and the walk is the low-intensity portion. You can vary the work-to-rest ratios depending on your goals. Again, having a heart rate monitor can be very helpful for determining these times.

Cardio can still be done if you’re working on increasing your muscle mass. However, you want to focus on high-intensity cardio—things like sprinting, sled pushes, or biking with high resistance. These types of explosive movements will help you gain strength and power. When performing these exercises, you need to do 2 to 8 sets of maximum-effort intervals to build strength and power without burning muscle.

A Note on Diet

Let’s start by reframing the word “diet” to mean nutrition and eating habits. Nutrition is an important element of achieving your goals. You want to eat foods that promote high energy levels and that have beneficial nutritional value. These foods are going to be fresh and nonprocessed items—typically, what you would find in the outer aisles of the grocery store (think produce and meat) as opposed to the frozen premade food and center aisles. Your goals will determine how much food you should consume. If you want to gain muscle mass, then you’ll need to eat more calories than what you burn on a daily basis. If you are trying to lose weight, then you’ll need to eat fewer calories than what you burn on a daily basis.

Instead of approaching food with a mind-set of restriction, think of foods as what you want to eat more of, eat some of, or eat less of.

Eat MORE of foods like eggs, fish, chicken, turkey, duck breasts, lean beef, bison, lamb, plain Greek yogurt, tempeh, lentils, beans, whole grains, quinoa, plain kefir, fruits and vegetables, potatoes, olive oil, avocado, olives, nuts, and almond and cashew butters.

Eat SOME of foods like tofu, medium lean meats, edamame, Canadian bacon, meat jerky, poultry sausage, protein powder, white rice, milk, vegetable juice, flavored yogurt, pancakes/waffles, whole-grain crackers, oat-based granola bars, canned/dried fruit, virgin and light olive oil, sesame oil, flaxseed oil, coconut milk, peanut butter, dark chocolate, cream, and flavored nut butters.

Eat LESS of foods like fried foods, high-fat ground meat, processed meat or deli meat, protein bars, high-mercury fish, fruit juices, cereal and cereal bars, sugar, flavored milk, soda, honey, syrups, jellies, pretzels, crackers, chips, pastries, butter, processed cheeses, marinades and dressings containing saturated fats, trans fats, and hydrogenated oils.

Some people might also use natural fat burners as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle to increase metabolism or decrease appetite. When combined with a healthy diet, it will further increase the loss of excess body fat – and may also have other beneficial effects.

Resurge is of the most popular weight loss supplements that promise to help you shed pounds and sleep better. Because studies have shown that sleep deprivation is associated with deficiencies of growth hormone and elevated levels of cortisol, both of which contribute to obesity.

While other supplements promote nutritional factors, meal replacement forms, appetite suppression, or similar effects, Resurge boosts your body’s metabolism by increasing your core temperature. However, before making any purchases, you might want to read some Resurge reviews because the supplement industry is rife with scams.

Pre-workout Nutrition

It is important to be properly fueled before starting your workout. You need enough energy to make it through your workout so that you don’t become light- headed or dizzy as a result of low glucose levels from a lack of food. A good rule of thumb is to eat about 2 hours before your workout—that way your body has enough time to digest everything. Your meal should consist of protein, vegetables and fruits (considered fibrous carbohydrates), good fat (like olive oil or avocado), and some complex carbs (such as quinoa or rice). Complex carbs help keep your blood glucose levels stable while you work out. If you don’t have time for a full pre-workout meal, opt for a small snack at least 30 minutes prior to training. This snack should ideally combine a carb and protein for optimal energy, like an apple and nut butter or chicken breast, rice, and sweet potato. Additionally, you want to make sure you are well hydrated before your workout. Drink about 16 to 32 ounces of water within that 2-hour window before your workout.

Post-workout Nutrition

It is important to fuel your body properly after a workout to maximize muscle repair. Though nutrition is unique to each individual, generally speaking it is best to consume about 25 grams of protein and 25 grams of carbs within 30 to 60 minutes post-workout for optimal results. This is because of the excess post- exercise oxygen consumption state that your body will be in post-workout, due to the number of calories you burned as a result of weightlifting. Consuming this amount of protein can be done by having a protein shake; however, it’s best to consume whole foods if you can. A good carb source like vegetables or fruits would suffice, as you do not need as hearty of a carb as you did pre-workout. Although it is optimal to eat within 30 to 60 minutes post-workout, don’t stress if you need to eat a little later due to not being hungry or not having the time. New research shows that your body is breaking down muscle and rebuilding it all day after weightlifting. Therefore, as long as you consume the necessary amount of protein and carbs for recovery, the time doesn’t matter for most people. Remember that your pre- and post-workout nutrition is going to vary slightly with your goals. Consult a dietitian if you are in need of a specific nutrition plan.

Tracking Your Progress

As mentioned earlier, tracking your progress is important for making sure that you are on target to achieving your goals. You should track both your food and your workouts to make sure that you are making progress. A few good ways to track these are by writing them down in a workout journal, creating a spreadsheet on your computer, taking notes on your phone, or using a fitness app. A nutrition app like MyFitnessPal is prepopulated with popular food and restaurants, so you can see how many calories you’ve consumed throughout the day. Most fitness trackers, such as Fitbit, Garmin, and Apple Watch, have workout tracking capabilities, providing additional motivation to hit your goals. They are great for monitoring your vitals and also for sharing your progress with friends and family for some group support. The more ways you have of holding yourself accountable, the more successful you’ll be at reaching your goals and seeing results.

Speaking of accountability, you can also have an online personal trainer send you workouts digitally via apps like Trainerize. This is great for having a weekly custom program sent to you and for tracking your progress. There are many top- notch trainers to choose from, and the app is easily accessed from your phone, tablet, or computer.

If you would prefer to write down your workouts as opposed to using an app, make sure you include the number of reps, sets, time rested, tempo, and weight used. If you are tracking your food manually, then simply write down what you eat and the portion size throughout the day. Taking photos of your food is another great way to manage what you eat. It’s also great data to share with your dietitian or trainer when they ask for your food log.

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