Keep reading that strength training is good for you but you have no idea where to start? Addicted to cardio but not at all interested in weights?
Self-confessed cardio junkie Jen Pinarski talks to a strength training expert on how beginners can safely include a strength training in her workout routines.
There is a cheeky analogy in the bicycle world that cyclists are like Oreo cookies: we’re strong on the top and bottom, but a little squishy in the middle. Sadly, my body composition is like that, too. From long distance running and cycling, I have legs that strike fear into skinny jeans and from endurance swimming, my back and shoulders are equally as strong…but my core resembles a double-stuffed sandwich cookie more than it should. As an admitted cardio exercise junkie, I often shrug off strength training for two reasons: I don’t want to bulk and, and I simply just don’t know how and where to get started.
How to Include Strength Training in Your Exercise Routine
Those are concerns fitness specialist David Kittner often hears from newbies. Kittner, who co-founded Peterborough-based Prowess Strength and Conditioning, has more than 20 years of experience helping youth and adults achieve their muscle and fitness goals.
“They know it’s important and they know they should be doing something but are overwhelmed by the amount of information available so they do nothing,” says Kittner. On occasion Kittner has gently chided me on Twitter for my own all-cardio all-the-time workouts, and it’s always the motivation I need to swap a plunge in the pool for planks and lunges.
Why Cardio Isn’t a Cure-All
There is one thing that newbies need to know know about strength training: it’s important in an overall healthy lifestyle, especially as we age. Sarcopenia, age related muscle loss, can begin in your 40’s and over time can have serious consequences as you age, making starting a muscle building routine even more important.
“Cardio alone does not build what we need most of as we age: muscle,” warns Kittner. “Strength training helps the body to build muscle, strengthen tendons and ligaments and improve our resistance to injury. An increase in power and strength is known to slow down the aging process at the cellular level.”
In fact, excessive cardio workouts could cause muscle loss and increase your risk of injury. So while you shouldn’t shelve that dream of completing your first half marathon, know that running alone isn’t enough for total body wellness.
Work With a Personal Trainer in the Beginning
If you don’t know how to start a strength training routine, Kittner suggests rather than going it alone, seek out the help of a certified coach or trainer. With a personal trainer as your guide, first learn the basics using your own body weight before considering using barbells, kettle bells or other weight machines. This way of approaching weight training which will help prevent injury.
Don’t think that a mirror and heavy weight filled gym is the only place you can build your muscles! Be creative: studios, playgrounds and parks are all places where a simple bodyweight workout can take place. If you feel self concious (and I can relate to that feeling), ask your personal trainer to visit your home and workout alongside you when you’re starting out.
If you’re not able to work with a personal trainer or go to a gym, you can still incorporate strength training into your workouts. Easy body weight exercises like lunges, squats, planks, push ups and burpees require no specialized equipment and can be done anywhere. Combine a variety of moves into a 15 minute workout and your muscles will be stronger in no time!
Slow and Steady Wins the Strength Training Race
“A certified coach or trainer is knowledgeable and understands progressions and regressions,” says Kittner. The fitness professional you’re working with will create a workout schedule tailored to your specific needs. Generally in the beginning this routine will include strength training two to three times a week. Kittner reminds eager beginners that less is more at this stage!
Another reason to ease your way into a routine is to prevent DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness. While you may experience some soreness in the beginning, Kittner says the goal is to be able to walk, work and play the days following a workout. “It’s important to start slow and progress slowly over time. Slow and steady wins the race!” says Kittner.
As I eye up my own workout schedule – full of swimming, cycling and running for my upcoming race season – I see lots of room for improvement. And while my heart will always be with cardio (pun intended), I know that adding in weight training will make me a better athlete and a healthier parent.