The exercises included as part of the Wellness Letter Workout are an excellent way to start an exercise routine. Getting some formal instruction (at the local Y, for example) is also worthwhile. Weight machines at gyms are easy to use, but for safety’s sake, beginners should get some instruction.
Keep in mind: Although working with light weights is very safe, if you’re over 40 or have heart disease or another medical condition, you should check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. Here are some essential workout tips to get the most out of your exercise session.
- Warm up before each workout—for instance, run or march in place for a few minutes. Then do some gentle stretches.
- Start with light weights, ones you can lift comfortably 8 to 12 times. This is called a set. Doing one set is beneficial, but you can work up to two or three sets. Gradually increase the weight; you may have to reduce the number of repetitions at first. Vary your routine by adding new exercises. This is called progressive resistance training. Lifting the weights should not be effortless: The goal is to tax your muscles somewhat. But don’t overdo it: if you can’t repeat an exercise eight times, the weight is too heavy.
- Rest between sets for one to two minutes.
- Work slowly and smoothly through the entire range of motion. This reduces the chance of injury and soreness. Lowering the weight in a slow, controlled manner is also important. Don’t “lock” (fully straighten) your knees or elbows when these are involved in an exercise, since that puts excess stress on the joint itself.
- Exhale while you lift and inhale when you bring the weight down. Breathe evenly with every repetition: holding your breath when lifting can raise blood pressure precipitously.
- If you feel any pain during an exercise, stop immediately. Continue only if the pain subsides, but reduce the amount of weight. Soreness the next day is normal when first starting to exercise or when increasing the amount of weight you lift.
- Avoid arching your back when lifting a weight.
- Work large muscle groups first, such as those in the legs, chest, and back, which require heavier loads.
- Pair your exercises. Each muscle group has an opposing or antagonist) one with which it works, so it is important to work both—for example, the quadriceps and hamstrings (on the front and back of the thigh), or the biceps and triceps (on the front and back of the upper arm). An imbalance between opposing muscles increases the risk of injury.
- Cool down after the workout. Repeat part of your warm-up and stretching routine to help muscles recover.
Note: A good resource for beginners, men and women, is Miriam Nelson’s book Strong Women Stay Young.