Build Muscle With Strengthening Exercises

You run, walk, and ride your bike to keep your heart and lungs in good shape. You stretch your muscles and do yoga to stay limber and flexible. But are you also doing regular strengthening exercises?

Strengthening or resistance exercises help keep your muscles that support your back, abdomen, knees, chest, shoulders, neck, and wrists strong and less likely to get injured. Strong muscles mean greater endurance and energy, a faster metabolism (which burns more calories), and better posture.

What Are Strengthening Exercises?

Strengthening exercises work muscles as they move against resistance. This resistance can come from workout machines, free weights or barbells, elastic bands, water, stairs, hills, cans of vegetables from the pantry -- even your own body weight as you do a pushup.

For example, walking on a treadmill (which is aerobic exercise) becomes strengthening as you raise the incline of the treadmill.

Benefits of Strengthening Exercises

Just as aerobic exercise keeps your heart in peak condition, regular strengthening exercises help keep your other muscles strong and healthy.

For example, your lower back and abdominal muscles stabilize the spine, allow proper spinal movement, and help with posture.

Strengthening hip and leg muscles is also important, so you can safely lift objects from the floor using your leg muscles rather than those in your back.

Strengthening exercises also build muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn all day.

Strengthening exercises lower blood pressure and help cholesterol levels, and help make your bones stronger.

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Should I Use Weight Machines or Free Weights?

Weight machines and free weights each have advantages and disadvantages. Machines help you do the movement with proper form. You can also get a pro to show you how to use the machine correctly.

Machines also isolate specific muscle groups, letting you target your biceps, triceps, leg muscles, abdominal muscles, chest, shoulders, back, or other area.

Free weights can be more convenient. You can use them anywhere. Although free weights require strong hands and wrists, they let you do more types of exercises and give you a greater range of motion than machines do.

Because the risk of injury is higher with free weights, it's best to exercise with someone when using heavy weights. This way, you can "spot" for each other and keep each other safe

Get trained in how to lift properly using free weights, so you don't get hurt.

How Do I Start Strengthening Exercises?

Start strengthening exercise with light resistance or weights at first. Add more weight very gradually as you get stronger. Start slowly, and allow your body time to adjust.

Never hold your breath during the exercise. Follow this pattern:

  • Exhale when pushing against the weight or resistance.
  • Inhale when there is little or no resistance.

How Quickly Do Resistance Exercises Work?

It takes about 2 weeks for your muscles to get used to resistance exercise. Always allow for a day or two off for rest after training, even when your body is used to the exercise.

Your muscles need that rest period to get stronger. If you work out daily, you will end up exhausted and sore, making injury, strains, and sprains more likely.

If you stick with your strengthening program, within a few weeks you'll start to feel stronger, have better posture, and have noticeable muscle definition.

Listen to Your Body

Only you know how much weight or resistance you can handle during exercise.

You need to choose weights and exercises that fit your size and ability.

If the weight or movement feels like it's too much, then it's too much. Stop, and let your body rest. The next time you work out, start with a lower weight (or no weight). You should feel like you're challenging yourself without causing too much stress on your body.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on June 12, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Mazur, L. Sports Medicine, July 1993.

PBS.org: "Strengthening Exercises: What You Need to Get Started."

MedicineNet: "Exercise Strength and Endurance Levels."

American College of Sports Medicine.

CNN.com.

Mayo Clinic.

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