Developing stronger muscles is one of the most common fitness goals people pursue. You’ll find that as with any goal in life, some of the routes that lead to this one are faster than others. A little self-education and common sense can help you get more out of your strength training routine and see the results you’re looking for sooner.
1. Train slowly. It may sound ironic to lead off with this point after emphasizing fast results, but there’s a great reason for it. The effectiveness of any strength training exercise is closely tied to “form.” Form is a little nebulous, but it comes down to executing the movements of an exercise smoothly and precisely to maximize its effectiveness. Powering through your exercises quickly leads to poor form, and it’s especially dangerous with new exercises you’re unfamiliar with.
2. Warm up. It really doesn’t matter how hard you’re going to be working out; starting your session with a warm-up is vital. Strength training concentrates on pushing your muscles hard. It’s difficult and dangerous to this without the right kind of preparation; your odds of injuring yourself are much greater if you don’t limber up before launching into your workout.
3. Progress from light to heavy resistance. Most strength training routines include both a variety of exercises and a variety of different resistance levels. (Resistance is provided by the weights in weight lifting or the machine settings on exercise equipment.) You’ll derive more benefits from the same amount of exercise if you arrange your sets in order of increasing resistance. This effectively extends the warm-up process and lets the lighter work prepare your muscles for maximum effort at the end of your workout.
4. Stretch between sets. Doing a few quick stretches in between sets and exercises is a great idea. When you work one muscle group, it is subjected to considerable tension and compression. A little stretching in the midst of this strain will help it perform better. Stretching before moving on to a new exercise is even more important, because you should not be using other muscles at all while you concentrate on one group. This isolation means they can stiffen up again while they’re not being used.
5. Work your abs and back. The importance placed on abdominal definition tends to rise and fall with passing fads. Regardless of how your abs look, you should make sure they’re strong, though. This goes for your lower back as well. These muscle groups are responsible for your posture. Without strength in these areas, it can be difficult to complete many other strength training exercises with proper form.
6. Stretch in the mornings and the evenings. This ties into the previous point. Your posture is important to your fitness all the time, not just when you’re working out. Taking a few moments to limber up at the start and the end of the day will help you walk tall throughout the intervening hours.
These points are broad enough to apply to any good strength training routine. Based on your personal interests and your current fitness level, you’ll want to look at other, more specialized information to put together a routine that works for you. Regardless of the final form that your workout takes, though, you should keep these points firmly in mind.