Health Q&A

The following questions were submitted by our readers; our answer(s) follows each question. The section will continue to grow as we receive more health-related questions.

Question: I’m 55 and want to begin working out with weights. Can you tell me some basics about strength training and what I should know before I get started?

Answer: Strength training involves working muscles against resistance, whether it is rubber tubing, free weights, weights, weight machines or your body weight as when performing sit-ups or in-place squats. Weight training boosts the strength of bones (increases bone density over time), muscles, tendons and ligaments, making everyday chores easier and cutting the risk of osteoporosis, especially among women. By increasing muscle mass, you raise the body’s metabolic rate, which aids in burning calories effectively. Thus, strength training makes a fine partner to aerobic exercise in maintaining a weight-loss program.

You should always seek your doctor’s approval before starting any exercise program. Also consider getting the help of a personal trainer. A trainer can get you started with the proper weight loads and good technique and lifting form. Without proper form, you run a greater risk of injury and won’t progress as quickly as you may desire. Please read our “Online Trainer” section in the Training Nook area for additional information.

For getting started the primary rule is to be patient. With any exercise program, take it slow and easy; also, look at the long term. You will notice improvement in the first several weeks as you become more coordinated and adept at your new exercise regimen. As time passes you will begin to build muscle mass. As you become more fit you will see that improvements come at a slower pace. Be persistent and don’t get discouraged.

Question: Should I use free weights or machines?

Answer: Novices should begin with machines to build a good strength foundation and reduce risks of injury. Machines help you keep focus on one muscle area and require less knowledge of form. While the movements associated with free weights better translate to everyday activities, free weights should be learned slowly and with proper form as your strength foundation improves.

Question: How much weight should I start with?

Answer: Start with a weight you can handle and complete 12 to 15 repetitions while finding it difficult to complete the last one or two repetitions. A repetition is one complete sequence of an exercise, like one complete dumbbell curl. A set is a fixed number of repetitions. For example, this is typically written s 3 sets of 6 so, you would perform 6 repetitions of curls 3 times wish a short rest of maybe one minute between sets.

Question: How fast should I lift and how many sets?

Answer: A general rule of thumb for lifting a weight is to use a count of 2 and then lowering it for a count of 3-4. A smooth rhythmic motion is what you should seek; do not jerk the weights. If you wish to build more muscle mass, lift heavier weights. Speed is not as important as proper technique. As a beginner, 3 sets of an exercise is fine initially. As your fitness level increases, you can increase both the number of sets, the repetitions, and also the weight load used.

Question: What are some of the exercises I can do?

Answer: This would depend on your fitness level, ability to exercise based on you and your doctors decision, and a host of other factors. There are a tremendous number of exercises you can do. Below are some definitions for a variety of exercises.

Aerobics: Walking, running, swimming and cycling are just a few examples of steady aerobic exercise.

High-impact aerobics is a form of aerobics with high-jumping moves.

Low-impact aerobics preserve joints and gives you a low-impact exercise, a stationary bike is an example.

Boxing-based workouts. Traditional boxing-based workouts have been popular for years. They go by names such as Mo-Do Ti, Tai-Bo, kickboxing, and others.

Cross-Fit: is a compilation of varied functional movements performed at high intensity, which is too much for most beginners. This is because a great deal of cross-fit exercises come from component parts of speed-strength training exercises taught to collegiate and professional athletes. Those exercises are geared to produce extreme starting and power from static positions that are functional in nature. Also, many of the weight regimes in cross fit are also derived from speed strength weighted exercises, plyometrics, and ballistics. They are upper-level intermediate to advanced and thus require a great deal of skill – more so than most we have witnessed at a great many cross-fit gyms. Thus, cross-fit movements stem from speed-strength for athletes, general weight lifting, running, some gymnastics, etc.

Cross-train (sometimes now referred to as cross-fit by some – the two are not the same) – This refers to doing two or three complementary workouts. Examples would be walk or jog, pedal a stationary bike, lift weights, or swim on different day, i.e., mix it up.

Cross Country Skiing: This can be done on stationary ski machine such as the Nordic Trac or in the backwoods for those who live in suitable climates.

Cycling: Cycling can be done in or outdoors. Go outside with a lightweight road bike, or tackle the trails on a fat-tire mountain bike. Indoor workouts range from popular spinning-type classes to new classes with bikes that emulate mountain biking.

Dance: There are many styles of dance taught almost everywhere. No matter what you like, youll likely find a class. Options range from basic ballroom steps, to country western line dancing, hip hop cardio, and the ever popular swing-dance to name a few.

Firefighter workout (old school): Similar to popular military-style/fitness workouts like the Navy Seal workout, these simulate moves used by firefighters. Best of all, they use just the body.

In-line Skating: A skating workout set to music.

Jump Rope: An excellent cardio-vascular workout that everyone knows how to do, well almost.

Martial Arts: These can range from basic boxing, adding kicks, and even weapons to increase dexterity and get up the heart rate. It all depends on the instructor and style taught. Many health clubs offer some sort of martial-arts curriculum or class. An excellent full-body workout.

NIA: Neuromuscular Integrative Action: a combination of nonimpact aerobics, dance, and martial arts to improve cardiovascular condition balance and flexibility.

Pilates: This form of exercise uses special equipment (called the Cadillac, chair and reformer) to develop strong core muscles of the abdomen, back and butt in a goal to improve posture, stability and flexibility. These machines use a system of sliding benches, ropes, pulleys and springs to perform a variety of exercises. There are also mat classes using minimal equipment, provide similar benefits in a group setting.

Qi Gong: Is similar to Tai Chi; this Asian martial art focuses on the breath to move the qui (energy) through the body.

Rowing: Use a rowing machine or kayak. Its a great upper body that also includes the legs. Many gyms having rowing machines. Its also a good warm-up exercise.

Running: For some its the end all be all. A good form of exercise that burns calories well, but it doesnt burn the most calories as many runners like to claim. An easy kind of exercise that requires no equipment. However, it is high impact, especially for those who are overweight.

Strength Training: Using free weights, machines, tubing, your own weight and other types of equipment to build lean muscle, the king for reducing body fat. Did you know that there are approximately 250 strength-training exercises with almost 1,000 variations?

Tai Chi: An ancient Chinese martial art that follows a series of gentle moves. It is not a fighting art, but is a great art to practice breathing, stretching, and relaxation. Appropriate for exercisers of all levels. With regular practice it improves functional strength, flexibility, and balance.

Walking: The easiest exercise to begin with. Its a great way to get started and then increase speed of walk as your fitness level increases. Speed or race walking will really burn the calories. Its also low impact.

Water workouts: Aquatic exercise is ideal for strengthening muscles, a great calorie burner, cross-training, injury recovery, and it is non impact. The added resistance of water can help build muscle and cardiovascular strength without joint injury.

Weight bearing exercise: This is really any exercise that includes your body weight while doing it/them. Examples are running, walking, and certain weight lifting exercises such as squats. Others include definitions where any load is placed on the body or body parts. So, there may be some disagreement on definition, but not on the benefits of performing them.

Yoga: An exercise based on mind/body movements that include breathing, stretching, relaxation, flexibility and mental focus. There are many types of yoga ranging from gentle viniyoga to the vigorous ashtanga (power) and more.