Strong muscles improve quality of life. They’re particularly important for athletic performance. And if you aren’t an athlete, it’s still wonderful to be able to tote heavy bags of groceries with ease, stow a suitcase in the overhead bin on a train or plane, or carry a child. Little-used muscles weaken, potentially leading to injuries, falls, and disability, especially in older people.
The way to keep muscles strong is to use them, of course—and, in particular, to work them to their limit periodically. That means doing some sort of strength training with weights (dumbbells and barbells), exercise machines, or other resistance devices. A balanced strength-training program is good not only for your muscles, but also for your bones, back, balance, and aging brain.
One of the nice things about strength training is that you can do a lot by yourself at home. Still, access to good equipment at a gym and a trainer, at least initially, is an advantage. Some basic knowledge helps too.
Here are some questions and answers about strength training to help you get started or improve your current workouts.
How much weight should you lift?
It depends on your ability and goals. Start with light weights, then increase gradually. Work up to a weight you can lift only eight to twelve times in a row—this is known as a set—with the last two lifts (or reps) being difficult enough that the muscles are tired at the end of the set.
Lighter weights may not adequately stress muscles. If the weight is too heavy, you won’t be able to do enough reps and you can injure yourself. You may not know until the next day that you have done too much. A little soreness can be a good sign, but not so much that you are in pain.
How many sets should you do?