A Beginner’s Guide to Strength Training

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Weights photo via istock.com/Bliznetsov

As countless Instagram posts and workout tank tops have proclaimed, strong is sexy. Strength training is in, no matter who you are or what you look like.

But if you’ve never touched a dumbbell in your life, heading straight for the weight room can be downright terrifying. Here to help is Kristy DiScipio, East Coast regional group fitness manager for Equinox, which will soon roll out Pure Strength, a new weight-focused class.

Below, DiScipio breaks down some strength training basics. Get ready for your new muscles.

1. Start (really) small.

DiScipio says it’s crucial to master major movements before you go anywhere near a weight. This may feel pointless at first, but it’s the safest and smartest way to work up to strength training.

“If you can’t walk down the stairs normally, would you expect to be able to do it with a 50-pound suitcase in your arms?” DiScipio says. “You’d end up hurting yourself.”

The same mentality should apply at the gym. Leave the weight rack alone at first, opting instead for a PVC pipe, a mop handle, or even simple body weight until you get the hang of seven movement patterns: knee-dominant, hip-dominant, vertical pull, vertical press, horizontal pull, horizontal push, and core rotation and anti-rotation. (Visit the following pages for detailed instructions on how to do these movements.)

2. Adjust your diet.

If you’re following any kind of strength training regimen, DiScipio says getting your diet under control will help you see results. Her best diet tips include:

3. Shake off your fears.

You know that old notion that weight lifting makes you bulky? Forget it, DiScipio says.

“The more muscle mass on your body, the smaller you will appear, as muscle is more dense than fat and in turn more compact,” she explains. “Strength training, in all actuality, will lean out the female body and make it more sleek and defined.”

Ahead, how to master the seven main movement patterns necessary for strength training.

1. Knee Dominant (Squat, Lunge)

How to do a squat: Start with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width, hips over knees and knees over ankles. Keep your spine neutral, and extend your arms straight out. Send your hips back as you bend your knees and lower your butt, keeping your torso lifted. Keep your weight in your heels and make sure your knees don’t go past your toes. Rise back up.

How to do a lunge: Stand with your legs hips-width apart, with all 10 toes facing forward. Stack your hips over your knees and your knees over your ankles. Step one foot forward. Bend both legs to 90-degree angles. Keep your front knee over your ankle, tracking over your second and third toes. Push through the front heel to come back up, and alternate sides.

2. Hip Dominant/Hinge (Deadlift)

How to do it: Begin by doing this move with a PVC pipe or mop handle, not a weight.

Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width, toes pointing straight ahead. Line up the balls of your feet under the PVC pipe or mop handle. Keeping your knees slightly bent and your hands gripping the bar just outside your leg width, hinge forward from your hips. Keeping the bar close to your body, exhale as you drive through your heels and straighten your legs, while bringing the bar up past your knees. Keep your core engaged through the full movement and finish strong by contracting your glutes.

3. Vertical Pull (Pullup)

How to do it: Stand under the bar and grab onto it with both hands. Turn your palms away from you and keep your hands shoulder-width apart. Hold onto the bar with an overhand grip, wrapping your thumbs over the bar, coming as close as possible to touching your fingertips. Begin with a dead hang, hanging from the bar with your arms fully extended, your core engaged, and your shoulders down and back. Squeeze the bar with your hands and begin to pull your body upward, toward the bar. Fight the urge to swing, kick, or strain your neck, rising up until your chin clears the bar. Slowly lower yourself back to your dead hang position.  

4. Vertical Press (Overhead press)

How to do it: Stand with a PVC pipe or mop handle resting on the front of your shoulders. Use a narrow grip (about shoulder-width), keeping your wrists straight and your elbows bent, with forearms facing up. Lock your knees and hips. Keep your chest lifted. Inhale, and press the bar up straight, keeping it front of your head. Exhale as you press the PVC pipe or mop handle over your head. Let your torso shift forward once the bar clears your forehead. Hold the bar over your shoulders, lock out your elbows, and shrug your shoulders to the sky. Slowly bend your elbows and lower your arms back down to your starting position.

5. Horizontal Pull (Dumbbell row)

How to do it: Stand to the right side of a weight bench. Rotate your right arm so your palm faces inward. Pretend you’re holding a weight in your hand. Place your left knee and your left hand on the bench for support. Let your right arm hang down and a bit forward. Engage your core and bend forward at the hips, until your back is parallel to the floor. Keep your right knee slightly bent, chin lifted off the chest and neck in line with your spine. Pull your right arm up until your elbow is pointing toward the sky, your upper arm is parallel to the floor, and your wrist brushes the outside of your ribcage. Slowly lower your arm back down to starting position. Alternate sides.

6. Horizontal Push (Pushup)

How to do it: Lie face down on the ground. Plant your hands, with your fingers spread wide and your arms shoulder-width apart. Tuck your toes under, place the balls of your feet on the ground, and extend your legs. Engage your core and keep a long spine as you press your hands firmly into the ground and push yourself up to straight arms. Lower yourself back down by bending your elbows to return to starting position. Note: You can begin with bent knees and work your way up to straight ones as you get stronger.

7. Core Rotation and Anti-Rotation (Plank)

How to do it: Begin on the ground on all fours. Rotate your arms so the creases of your elbows are facing outward, and place your hands shoulder-width apart, with your fingers spread wide. Push your hands firmly into the ground and press up into plank position. Keep your chin off your chest and your head in line with your spine. Hold the position for 30 seconds, and work to gradually increase the length of time in the pose. 

Source URL: https://www.bostonmagazine.com/health/2016/12/20/beginners-strength-training/