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Strength Training 101: Give your health a lift

Want to introduce strength training into your world to fight age-related muscle and strength loss? You know that it helps in developing lifelong independence, but you are hesitant . . . simply because getting started seems too confusing. You may be questioning which exercises you should be doing and which muscle groups you should be working. Consider this a brief lesson in Strength Training 101. And if you need motivation to stay on track, remind yourself of the many benefits of these exercises: stronger bones, muscle endurance, weight management, improved posture and balance, better flexibility and coordination. And then, of course, there's the wow factor: You just feel so darn good!

Optimally, strength training exercises for the major muscle groups should be performed at least twice a week. To prevent muscle imbalance, it's best to select at least one exercise for each muscle group. Here are some of the muscle groups you will be strengthening and an example of one exercise for each.

Quadriceps: Often called the "quads," the primary function of these four large muscles in the front of the thighs is to bend and straighten the knee. The quads are involved in nearly every leg movement. Exercise: squats.

Hamstrings: The "hams" consist of three main muscles in the back of the thighs and are responsible for bending your knees. They work to stabilize hips and keep your spine in alignment. Exercise: walking.

Back: The back is made up of three major muscle groups. The latissimus dorsi, located on each side of your back, help to extend, rotate and pull your arms toward your body. The lower back, erector spinae, has three muscles that extend from the neck to your bottom and straighten and rotate the back. The rhomboids, or "posture" muscles, are between the shoulder blades. Exercise: bent rows.

Chest: These muscles include the pectoralis major and minor, often referred to as the "pecs." They are responsible for movement of the shoulder joint. Exercise: pushups.

Shoulders: The deltoid muscles, located on the upper arm and top of the shoulder, along with the rotator cuff muscles, help move your arms. Exercise: lateral raise.

Bicep: This front upper arm muscle extends from shoulder to elbow, with the primary function being to bend your elbow. The bicep acts as an assistant to the shoulder muscles when you raise your arm. Exercise: bicep arm curl.

Tricep: Another upper arm muscle, but in the back. It is primarily responsible for straightening the arm. Exercise: pushups.

Abs: Abdominals are only a small part of the core. Developing a strong core requires a variety of exercises throughout the torso. Exercise: bicycle on floor.

Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but can't respond to individual inquiries. Contact her at

Alternating side lunges: Targets the obliques, thighs, lower back and glutes.

Take a wide step to the right, bending your knee into a lunge position without letting your knee go over your toes. (Your left leg will be stretched out while your right leg is bent.) Reach your left hand toward your right foot, touching it if you can, while keeping your chest lifted. Push off your right foot to return to a standing position, then repeat the lunge on the left side. Lunging to the right then the left completes one rep. Repeat 10 times.

Assisted lunge with one-arm lateral raise: Targets the hips, glutes, thighs and shoulders.

Holding a light weight in your right hand, palm facing inward by your side, hold your left hand onto a sturdy chair or a wall. Looking straight ahead, step forward with your right foot. (Feet will be about 3 feet apart.) With your back straight and your abdominals contracted, lower your hips toward the floor, keeping your front knee behind your toes. (Your back heel will be lifted off the floor.) As you lower your hips, slowly raise your right arm with a slightly bent elbow to shoulder height. Push through the heel as you return to a standing position, slowly lowering arm. Repeat eight to 12 times, then change sides and repeat.

Knee drop: Targets the abs and the back.

Lying on a mat, extend your arms to your sides, shoulder height, palms facing down. Bring your knees in directly over your hips; feet, knees and hips should be in alignment. With your abdominals contracted, lower your bent knees to one side without lifting your shoulders off the floor. Bring your knees in and drop to the other side, alternating sides 10 to 12 times. Only drop your knees as far as you comfortably can, and avoid straining or arching your back.

Don't forget

to . . .

Warm up: Rev your circulation and get those muscles warm by doing five minutes of light cardio movements before your workout.

Avoid momentum: Lift and lower weights slowly. You will increase the tension and engage more muscle fibers with controlled movements.

Protect your back: Contract your abdominals with each exercise to help protect your spine and improve balance.

Breathe: Avoid holding your breath.

Begin with light weights: Start with a weight you can lift 12 times. Gradually increase the weight, reducing the repetitions, until you are comfortable repeating an exercise 12 times. As you become stronger, selecting the right amount of weight becomes easier.

Strength Training 101: Give your health a lift 05/23/16 [Last modified: Monday, May 23, 2016 12:45pm]
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