Aerobic activity is important to our health, a directive most people probably already know (even if they don’t always follow it). Getting the heart pumping and our bodies sweating—all good. But training for strength and power? It’s just as important, especially as we grow older.
But here’s thing: if you’ve been mindful about taking part in regular aerobic activity, such as walking, jogging, biking, and so forth, but you’ve been ignoring the strength training part, where should you begin? How much is too much? And what resources should you check out?
That’s where this article comes in. Here’s what beginners should keep in mind about training for strength and power.
But before we begin, here’s a short explanation on the difference between strength and power. Think of strength as the amount of weight you can lift. Think of power as how fast you can lift that weight. (And for a more thorough explanation, check out this article.)
For the purpose of this post, we’re going to focus mainly on the strength part, since if you’re just starting out, this will be your focus: getting stronger. Then, as you get stronger, you can adjust your focus to getting faster and boosting the power aspect, if you desire.
Watching people with ripped muscles bench press impressive amounts of weight can be incredibly inspiring—and a great thing to shoot for over time—but it’s not a realistic goal straight out of the gate.
If you’ve never focused on strength training before, you should start slowly and build up over time. If you start too fast, you could risk injuring yourself.
Four ideas to get you started:
- Hand weights
Hand weights are a good, economical, and easy way to add strength training to existing regimens. For example, if you’re already a brisk walker, try carrying two- or five-pound weights in each hand and pump your arms to match your stride.
- Resistance bands
Resistance bands are a great and fun way to get started with strength training. Best part? They’re portable, so if you travel a lot for work, throw them in your suitcase and turn your hotel room into your own private gym. You can find plenty of exercises online that use resistance bands. Not to mention, a good personal trainer can provide you with exercises as well.
- Free weights/dumb bells.
If you want a more formal routine, get your dumb bells out and do a weight lifting session twice a week. This article from Shape magazine has a great regimen that’s perfect for beginners.
If you ask a personal trainer to choose one and only one exercise to do (the “ideal” exercise, if you will), we bet push-ups will consistently bubble up to the top. As this article notes, “It’s time to stop considering the push-up an arm workout and start accepting it for the body-altering, core-strengthening move it truly is.” If training for strength and power is your goal, add push-ups to your regimen.
2. Work with a personal trainer. Yes, it might sound self-serving for us to make this recommendation, but, honestly, if you want to get strong and powerful—and to do so safely without damaging your body—working with a personal trainer is a smart strategy. Your trainer will…
- Assess your current fitness level
- Take your age into account and any health issues
- Develop a customized strength training program that works for your body—and mindset
- Adjust the program over time as you hit milestones
- Hold you accountable and cheer you on
If you’re reading this and you’re in the greater New Jersey area, check out our personal training program here.
3. Take classes that focus on your core. The key to a powerful, strong body is a powerful and strong core. Classes that focus on core training, such as Pilates, provide the fun of a group activity while under the watchful gaze of an instructor who can make sure you’re doing the movements correctly. Check out our Group Core class and Pilates class. Note: you’ll find classes that focus on the power aspect as well, like our Power class.
4. Don’t underestimate the inherent power found in rest days. Some of the biggest mistakes we see people make include doing too much too quickly or ignoring the fact our bodies need rest.
“Rest days”—days you take off from training for strength and power—are critical. While you can certainly be fine if you do something like walking, swimming, and even jogging every day, strength training is different. Taking rest days and alternating muscle group focus (e.g. working on strengthening your lower body on one day, your upper another, and so forth) are important strategies in achieving your strength training goals.
Remember, slow and steady wins every time. Don’t overdo it. But definitely get started. Your body will thank you!