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Questions and Answers about Weights and Strength Training

Getting to Know the Basics of Weight Training


Updated June 26, 2014

Smiling woman exercising.
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Updated June 26, 2014

If you’re new to weight training, below is a brief summary of the basic principles.

When you have digested this primer you may wish to follow up with these additional articles, which should ensure you have a solid knowledge foundation.

The basics of weight training are relatively simple but you can progress all the way to the complex Olympic lifts, the clean and jerk and the snatch, if that's your inclination. There's no need to get too fussy about which particular exercise version you do when starting out, as long as you protect yourself from injury with correct technique. Like starting any new exercise program, go easy at the beginning, build complexity later. As one well-known lifter was heard to say: "Get on with it: lift the darn weights!"

What is Weight Training?

Weight training is organized exercise in which muscles of the body are made to contract in response to external weights, body exercise or resistance, or other devices in order to stimulate growth and strength. Weight training is also called ‘resistance training’ and ‘strength training’.

What are the Benefits of Weight Training?

Weight or resistance training or strength training has important benefits beyond building big muscles, which is often the focus of much media attention. Weight training can:

  • Tone and shape the body for weight loss, personal appearance or bodybuilding competition.
  • Improve sporting performance by increasing bulk, strength, power and endurance in sports such as football, baseball, hockey, cycling and most individual and team sports.
  • Prepare you for competition weight lifting in Olympic lifting and Powerlifting sports.
  • Prevent lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis and obesity.
  • Build strength and improve balance and functionality, especially as we age.
  • Assist in recovery from, or management of, chronic illnesses or conditions such as heart disease, stroke, hip replacement and arthritis.
  • Assist in physical therapy during recovery from accident and hospitalization.
  • Prepare soldiers for service and combat readiness or for any other activity requiring strength and power.

Where Should I Do My Weight Training?

You can train at a gymnasium, health club or fitness center or at home. Some workplaces install workout gyms and many holiday resorts also have at least basic equipment. Some people prefer to train at home with their own weights and equipment. You will find advantages and disadvantages to each approach.

Still others like open air activity and take portable equipment such as resistance bands and tubes to parks and fields.

What Equipment Do I Need To Start Weight Training?

At the very least you need a solid pair of shoes with a non-slip sole, a water bottle, a towel and appropriate clothing. For a home workout, starting equipment could include an adjustable weights bench for doing various exercises; dumbbells -- perhaps even only two or three different weights; an adjustable step for aerobic stepping; an exercise or yoga mat for floor exercises, and a fitness ball, which is an inflatable ball on which a variety of body exercises can be performed.

Using your own body to contract muscles is a substantial part of weight training. A pushup is a good example of using the body's own weight to train arm and chest muscles. Chinups and situps are other examples.

What Equipment is Available at Gyms and Fitness Centers?

Gyms usually have a combination of free weights, machines, chairs, benches, balls and bands. The free weights tend to be used in a room or area separate from the machines and other equipment, but not always. It depends on the club.

Free weights tend to be fairly standard with barbells, dumbbells, bars with adjustable plate weights, perhaps Kettlebells and a few other pieces of ancillary equipment such as racks and cages.

Machines such as treadmills, step machines, cross trainers, rowing machines, cable weights, pulldown machines, assisted dip machines and multi-gyms, to name a few, seem to be growing in design and function faster than global warming, while even fancy electronic things with swipe cards to remember you by are seen in some places.

Do I Need a Personal Trainer?

Hiring a personal trainer (PT) is a good idea, but you need to be sure that the person is qualified and has some sort of track record of quality work. A PT can be engaged privately or you can usually hire one at the gym for an hourly rate. Many gyms include at least one training session or walk-through with your membership, during which you get to try out different exercise machines and weights. A training program may also be included. You should check this out with any prospective gym before signing up.

High school, college and university gyms, coaches and trainers no doubt vary in quality and expertise, yet they can be an excellent introduction.

How Should I Warm Up and Cool Down?

A warmup should include light aerobic exercise for ten to fifteen minutes. Before doing any lifting exercise with weights a few repetitions with a lighter weight than chosen for the main exercise is a good strategy.

A cool down may help to reduce muscle soreness in the following hours. Cool down with light stretching, callisthenics or by performing a slower version of the activity; for example, a slow jog for runners, a slow swim for swimmers.

Related Video
Weight Lifting Exercises for the Chest
Exercises for Biceps and Triceps

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