Are you ready to take that next step in your life and gain strength and build muscle? Perhaps you admit that envy is playing a role.
Or you’ve realized just how out of shape you are, and you want to change that.
There’s always learning about the mental and physical benefits that you would enjoy by doing so, and, with determination, wanting to take advantage of those.
Hopefully, what’s driving you to read this article and improve your physical physique has more to do with what you can get out of it, not what you believe others’ reactions to it will be, as that is what is going to push you to test your limits.
Getting into better shape will provide you with so many benefits unrelated to how you may look.
The increased blood flow, temporarily as well as permanently as you make this a habit, will help your brain function at its peak much more often than is likely the case now.
Connected with that point is that you will be more productive at work and elsewhere. The quality of your sleep will improve.
Your resting heart rate will drop, which results in a decrease in your chances of suffering from a heart-related disease.
The number of and chances of experiencing migraines will decrease. You won’t have to use nearly as many sick days as you used to.
How to Build Strength and the Benefits of Dumbbell Workouts
Now that you’re convinced that you want to build strength, your next question is likely, “How do I do that?” Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be complicated. You could simply pick up some dumbbells at a sporting goods store and use them whenever the mood strikes.
Or you could get some running shoes and go run for however long feels right when you’re in the mood. But, even if you go into this with that mentality, which is fine, do keep in mind that if you’re looking to build strength, you’re going to need to increase the amount or type of exercise that you do.
But, for the best, most efficient results, you will want to follow a plan. That can be taken from a trusted source on the internet or done with a coach’s assistance.
However, if you do just want to have a go on your own without access to a gym, initially focus on dumbbell workouts. They’re very affordable and versatile; you can work so many muscles with them.
Another plus is that they focus on the arm muscles, ones that often are not worked out nearly enough by those who do not go to the gym on a regular basis.
Also, if you already regularly run but do little other exercises, at least getting some barbell workouts in is highly recommended so that your fitness can become more well-rounded than being focused on your legs.
How the Body Responds to Resistance Training
The simplest way to describe what happens to the body when you challenge it with resistance training is by saying that you’re breaking your muscles down so that they will build back stronger.
As with anything in life, testing and challenging yourself will cause minor setbacks as you get used to the new circumstances, but you will be improved in the long run as a result of doing that.
Specifically, engaging in a workout results in microscopic damage to your muscles.
They will then heal, which, depending on the toughness of the workout, can last a relatively short amount of time or even up to a week or longer.
Once they’re done healing, a process that also strengthens them, your muscles will be stronger.
However, do be careful, especially if you’re a beginner or haven’t taken advantage of resistance training in a while because you don’t want those microscopic tears to be significant.
Ease into your initial workouts. And take note that if you are sore, that indicates that you do need to take at least an abbreviated break from working out those sore muscles.
Oftentimes, athletes neglect to take enough rest and don’t allow their muscles to recover and rebuild themselves stronger because they keep on working them.
That’s why many who take part in resistance training on a regular basis will focus on one part of the body one day, another on the next and so on.
Calorie Needs and Nutrition
A very important step in the recovery process – the time between those microscopic tears happening and those muscles being built back stronger – is nutrition.
If you want to maximize recovery time and how fit you became, what you eat and drink will play a significant role.
The argument over whether training or nutrition is more important is an ongoing one, but what cannot be argued is how important both of those aspects are to your overall health.
Fortunately, exercise causes you to crave healthier foods, so you don’t need to obsess over what you’re eating as your natural cravings should turn healthier the more you work out.
Regardless of what your cravings are telling you to consume, make sure to focus on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and white meat.
Many also recommend eating several smaller meals spread out throughout the day such as six as opposed to two or three large ones.
Protein is important, especially for those who work out on a regular basis.
When you are in the recovery phase after creating those microscopic tears, foods high in protein help your muscles build back stronger and quicker than they would in a low-protein diet.
Also important are carbohydrates. Unfortunately, low-carb diets have been taken up by many people despite them not offering long-term benefits.
Sure, you initially lose weight on them. However, keeping a low-carb diet in the long run can cause some seriously negative repercussions. And this is even more the case for those who work out regularly.
Things that can result from this unhealthy combination include an increase in stress hormones and a decrease in muscle-building hormones.
Bottom line, you need carbs for energy, and you need energy to finish workouts as completely as possible. Of course, don’t overeat carbs, but don’t unnecessarily limit them either.
Do note that those focused on lifting weights will need fewer carbs than people who are involved in endurance training that involves doing things like running long distances.
Fat is also something that has been demonized for a while. However, as with anything, it’s fine in moderation, and you do need some fat to be at your best self physically and mentally.
And one of the best benefits of eating a healthy amount of fat is that it helps give you that satiated feeling that proteins or, especially, carbs don’t offer. Healthy options include avocados and nuts.
How many calories worth of food should you eat every day? That’s not a simple question to answer as it depends on the type of workouts that you do.
But, in general, a moderately active man would need around 2,500 per day and a similar woman would require about 2,000 on a daily basis.
Although there is a limitless number of exercises that you can do with weights, a few do stand as the ones that most engage in and that are the most productive for building muscle and improving fitness.
In addition to engaging in an active dynamic warm-up that gets the heart pumping prior to even touching a weight, you’re going to want to do some warm-up sets before you get the serious part of your workout going.
Sure, if you walk into a gym and start popping out heavy-weight sets, more times than not you’ll be fine. But you would be needlessly playing a dangerous game.
Those who you see doing that have drastically increased the odds that they’re going to hurt themselves and then not be able to lift any weights for days, weeks or even months.
The risk is just not worth the reward.
Another benefit of doing warm-up sets first is that you can work on your form and fix any form issues before you move on to heavier, more dangerous weights.
Note that you will want to be warming up on really light weights – some even recommend doing warm-up sets with just the bar – as compared to what you’ll be lifting later.
The general consensus is that, once it’s time to get down to business, you’re either going to essentially lift the same weight throughout or you’ll be starting as heavy as possible and then working your way down, so you don’t want to tire out your muscles during the warm-up.
This is often recommended as the first weightlifting exercise that beginners should do for a number of reasons.
Learning how to squat properly will aid you when doing other types of lifts, and using good form is an absolute necessity when squatting; getting in the habit of using good form here will serve you well when you start incorporating other types of lifts into your workouts.
For that reason, you’re going to want to be especially careful with your form when doing this exercise.
To do squats, move a barbell on to your shoulders or your traps, the muscles just above them.
If you’re just learning how to squat, you might want to initially do it without a barbell. Regardless, keep your shoulder blades together and your feet either slightly wider than shoulder-length apart or right at your shoulders.
If you’re doing this without a weight, keep your balance by extending your hands. Squat.
The bench press is arguably the best exercise for the upper body as far as improving strength, increasing muscle size and having better overall fitness and athletic function goes.
When doing this exercise, make sure to keep your feet on the floor and your back on the bench.
If you’re moving any of those body parts while engaging in this exercise, you need to stop because you’re lifting too much, and the poor form that is resulting could result in an injury.
Otherwise, the exercise is relatively simple. Lower the bar to your chest and then push up until your elbows lock. In addition to your arm muscles, use your torso and hips to help push the bar upwards.
The deadlift is the weightlifting exercise that reminds us of our caveman days when the only way to move something heavy – say a rock or a deer – was by picking it up and moving it through brute strength.
In other words, this is one weightlifting activity that is about as natural as it comes.
To do a deadlift, bend down to pick up the weight and lift it. As you are lifting the weight, make sure to keep your abs tight and your back straight.
Just as you were likely told when lifting heavy boxes, let your legs, hips and, of course, your arms do the work. Not your back. Never your back.
Barbell rows offer a number of positives. These include building a strong back with larger muscles and gaining strength that will help you do other types of major lifts.
This exercise starts out similar to a deadlift in that you reach down to pull up a weighted bar.
The difference comes after you start lifting. Here, you want to pull it up to your lower chest while keeping your torso parallel to the floor.
Make sure to keep your lower back in a neutral position, and also don’t hold the bar between your reps; your resting should be done after the bar has been placed on the floor.
The overhead press offers several benefits too. One is that it uses more muscles than may seem apparent; these are located in the arm, chest and back.
In fact, this exercise is a good way to discover if your lower back muscles are in special need of strengthening.
To do this, first ensure that the bar is placed on the rack at roughly the same height as your shoulders.
A little lower is fine, but higher can cause issues. Walk up to it, grab it and lift it over your head.
Keep your feet shoulder width apart and your elbows in front of the bar. Grip the bar with the base of your palms.
Squeeze your shoulder blades as you’re extending your arms. Keep abs, glutes and back tight.
Push-Ups and Chin-Ups
Let’s not be remiss and neglect to mention some effective exercises that require you to use your own body and, in one case, only your own body to do.
Push-ups, obviously, fall into the latter category, making them a great workout for when you do not have easy access to heavy things to lift such as are available in a gym.
And, although you can obviously lift more than your body weight in a gym, as long as you do push-ups to fatigue, this can be a very effective exercise as well.
Meanwhile, chin-ups are so effective that SWAT teams and Special Forces units require a minimum number of them be done before you’re allowed entry.
This is mostly due to chin-ups being an exercise that is easily replicated in real-world situations. And, although you can’t do chin-ups quite anywhere like you can with push-ups, if you find a bar that can handle your body weight, you’re good to go.
Reps, Sets and Length of Workouts
There is no secret formula as far as reps, sets and length of your workout goes, but there are some general guidelines that you should consider.
If you’re looking to focus on endurance, you probably want to aim for around 12-20 reps per set, and you will want to decrease how much down time you have between your sets.
Around 30 seconds is a good guideline. Runners who are already building endurance in the lower half of their body may want to consider this type of workout for their upper half.
Those of you looking to focus more on power and building muscle size will probably want to do around 6-12 reps per set with heavier weights than those focusing on endurance.
Do around 3-5 sets and rest for a minute or maybe a little longer between sets.
One secret that many weight lifters don’t take advantage of is doing your reps slowly.
This type of rep allows you not to be helped by momentum and allows your muscles to be more fully activated for a longer time period. They will also fatigue in a more complete, healthier way.
The length of your workout should be no more than an hour, especially if you’re a beginner.
After you’ve done these types of workouts for a while, you can consider extending that to around 90 minutes.
How Many Days of Training?
One again, there’s no formula that works for everyone. It all depends on your current level of fitness, what you can safely do and your goals.
However, once again, there are a few guidelines that you should follow. One recommendation for somebody who is looking to be really active is to spend three days strength training and two on cardio or maybe four and one or two and three, respectively.
It’s also important to spread out your strength training days. For example, you could focus on upper-body workouts or pushing exercises one day and lower-body workouts or pulling exercises the next.
Those who are generally taking their workouts to the max will be in the gym six times a week, alternating parts of the body from one day to the next.
Of course, do take into account the rest of your life when deciding how many days to train. These can include family members, friends, work obligations, important hobbies and so forth.
It’s important to be physically healthy by training on a regular basis – working out three times a week is probably a good minimum to consider – and the benefits attained from doing so will help you be productive in every area of your life, but you do want to ensure that you also have the training-life balance that you’re looking for and are not overdoing the physical aspect.
How to Rest
In general, you should be resting at least two days and no more than four. However, just one day a week of rest is fine if you’ve gradually built your training schedule to that point.
On your off days, feel free to still be active, just nothing strenuous. In fact, the worst thing that you can do on your off days is completely take them off and veg out with Netflix or otherwise.
At least do something like go on regular walks or easy bike rides on your off days.
Another option would be a relaxing yoga class, which can also help your flexibility a bit, something that you may not be focusing much on during the rest of the week.
This way you can avoid stiffening up and will be much more productive on your “on” days, when you are fully focused on working out.
A simple way to view rest days is that they are a rest as compared to your workout days, not that you remain in bed all day or are otherwise inactive.
But it is important to stress that rest days should definitely be easier than your workout days.
They are there for a reason, and working out hard on your rest days will not allow your body to recover and will cause you to not get as strong as you could and to suffer from higher injury rates too.
More on Cardio
Of course, if you have your eyes on a 5K, 12K, half marathon, marathon or similar race, then you really do need to do cardio on a regular basis, possibly even more often than resistance training. However, if your focus is on resistance training, then the time spent on cardio can be a bit less.
But, with that said, you do need to incorporate some cardio into your workout routine to experience full-body fitness.
Some of the benefits of cardio include increased metabolism and improved heart health. This type of exercise can also help you recover from a hard workout with the weights.
For example, consider heading out on a leisurely jog or jumping on the treadmill before you leave the gym. Doing so will help remove by-products from your workout and allow you to recover quicker.
Bottom line, cardio exercises really round out a workout program as it trains your heart and muscles in a different manner than other types of exercises do.
Types of cardio exercises vary. There are elliptical machines, stair climbers, jump ropes, rowing machines as well as actual rowing on a lake, river or ocean, swimming at the gym or in a lake, river or ocean, cycling on a stationary bike at the gym or using a full bicycle outdoors or running, whether that’s on a treadmill or in the great outdoors.
First, it’s important to realize that supplements are not necessary, and you can build quite a bit of strength and be healthy without ever using any.
With that said, supplements can help you get the most out of your workouts. But it can be overwhelming to consider which ones to use since the market is so oversaturated.
However, doing your due diligence in researching them can result in noticeable benefits in the gym.
Creatine monohydrate is generally safe and effective and helps the muscles work more effectively during a workout.
Benefits from taking caffeine-infused products are not as clear, and long-term effects of caffeine on workouts has not really been studied in depth.
However, caffeine does tend to offer short-term benefits such as lowering fatigue rates. Whey protein can help muscles recover so is best taken after a workout.
Glutamine can be of special help following especially intense forms of exercise as it helps remove excess ammonia.
Fish oils provide antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits and can help the recovery process as well.
But don’t just take supplements because others around you are. See if any work for you and decide on that basis alone.
And don’t expect any to be a magic pill that will create significant changes. Take note of the name; they are used to supplement a workout or a diet, not to replace anything.
But, as part of a balanced workout routine and diet, they can be helpful.
We’ll leave you with some final thoughts.
As you establish a workout routine for yourself, do make sure to not overdo it at the beginning.
It can be so easy to be all excited and driven in the early going, which is great in and of itself, but then to use all of that energy to do way too much way too soon.
Ease into it. Think of it like a marathon. Experienced marathon runners don’t even consider speeding up if they feel great until they are at least 20 miles into the race. Have the same mentality here.
Even if you feel like doing a lot more, hold back in the early going unless you can honestly say that your early standards were ridiculously low. Future you will thank you.
Related to that last point: Leave your ego at the door. Don’t do more than you should simply because you see somebody else doing it.
Focus on being the best you. Don’t compare yourself with others.
It’s better to focus on free weights over weight machines since they work out your stabilizer muscles too.
Warm up before you work out. Jog to the gym. Do jumping jacks. Use the treadmill. Build up the weights you lift.
Don’t just take a short walk from your car straight to the weights and start going full tilt.
Keep a journal and write down what exercises you did and how you felt afterwards.
Doing so will help you realize when you’re doing too much, when you’re doing too little and when you’re burned out and why.
Don’t focus on how much you weigh. Since muscle weighs more than fat, you could be getting in spectacular shape but not be losing any weight.
However, you will surely be slimmer as a result. Also note that if you’re looking to gain muscle weight, you might need to eat more. It depends.
Another point: Even if you aren’t changing fat to muscle and are losing weight in the long run, keep in mind that weight losses tend to not be steady.
In other words, you won’t lose the exact same amount of weight every day. A good comparison would be the stock market.
Even if it gains or loses in the long run, when you look at the day-by-day breakdowns, there are many variations from that trend, and the same can be said for your weight.
Lastly, have fun with it. Enjoy challenging yourself and the healthier you that you’re becoming.