Strength Training, How to Get Started

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Ok, you’re convinced you want to strength train, but need a nudge or ideas to update your gym routine? Begin by identifying WHY you want to get stronger. Do you want to enhance your performance in running, golf, tennis or turn back the clock, and get as fit as you were when you were an elite athlete? How about strength to perform everyday household activities, lifting kids, dancing all night, or taking a long hike with a friend? According to the IDEA Fitness Journal, we lose 5% of muscle mass every decade after 40 and it accelerates after age 65. Strength training can reverse the loss of muscle, help your body move more youthfully, help you stand up straighter, and increase the range of motion in joints. “Most of us can be functionally younger every year for the next five or even ten years”, says Chris Crowley in his and Dr. Lodge’s book, Younger Next Year, a book advocating exercise six days a week for the rest of your life. It is well documented that being strong and fit improves the quality of life as one ages and reduces the chance of chronic diseases and limiting disabilities.

Next, set a GOAL. “Without a goal, you’re going nowhere”, says Jordan D. Metzl, MD, a sports medicine physician at Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, in a video describing his strength training program for an 81-year-old marathoner. Watch this lady get strong!  Choose an exercise that you’re unable to perform or an upcoming athletic event and set a safe and reasonable timeline for reaching it. Personally, In December I set a goal for ONE chin up by April 15th.  I’ve wanted to improve my posture and upper body strength, but the goal of a chin-up is a much better visual to motivate my weekly workouts.

STRUCTURE your workout. Have a plan before you enter the gym. Although weight training can be effectively performed in 30 or 40 minutes, allow a least an hour; commit to two times a week for good results and three times a week for fabulous results.

A good strength-building program includes:

  • Foam rolling (5 minutes)
  • Dynamic stretching and cardio warm up (10-15 minutes)
  • 4-8 strength exercises performed in sets (30-40 minutes)
  • Stretching/flexibility exercises (5-10 minutes)FITNESS_SMR

Here’s information on each program segment.

Foam Rolling (5 minutes)

“If you only buy one piece of exercise equipment for the rest of your life, make it a foam roller”, says Dr. Metzl in his book, The Exercise Cure.  Using a foam roller is a form of self-massage that will get your muscles ready to work, help prevent injury, and improve mobility. Five commonly tight muscle  to foam roll before you exercise include quadriceps, adductors, upper back, glutes, and calves. Spend about 30 seconds on each muscle group.

Dynamic Stretching/Cardio Warm Up (10-15 minutes)


3rdtri-warmupwallDynamic stretching at low to moderate intensity gently activates muscles and ideally includes movements similar to what you’ll be performing with weights. The pictured dynamic wall slide warms up for squats and overhead weight lifting. Other examples are walking knee ups, lunges, or an active glute bridge. Add in some balance exercises.

Advancing to more active movements will bring your heart rate up. Try marching/jogging in place, jumping jacks, side shuffles, burpees, step ups (onto a step, the red Step 360 or a Bosu), walking lunges, jump rope, etc.

Strength (Resistance) Training (30 to 40 minutes)

Start simple, not to be confused with easy; your program should be challenging and progressively harder. Textbooks have been written on designing a strength training programs (variables such as repetitions, single sets, supersets, split routines, etc.). The purpose of this article is to get you started with a basic program promised to get results with four exercises. These four exercises are well researched as effective for working major muscle groups, developing core stability, and elements of balance.

Perform 2-3 sets of all four exercises, 12-15 reps each exercise (for the plank begin by holding for a count of 5 or 10 each rep, and repeat). Progress by gradually adding more weight/challenge to each exercise; along the way you can add others for targeted areas. Do these exercises for a month or two and you’ll easily be cranking out push-ups or bench presses that will surprise you.

Cable Row    BLOG_schuler_pull    


Cable Press Cable_Chest_Press



There are science-based progressions for strength building. A sequential training program begins with exercising on a stable surface with moderate weights. During this phase emphasis is on form and corrective exercises. Next, weights are gradually increased. Stability is decreased by executing movements with only one arm or one leg or on unstable surfaces like a foam pad, Step 360, or Bosu. The next level is heavier weights with stable surfaces (bench press with a barbell). Last, the power phase, involves weights and explosive movements. This high intensity training, traditionally used with elite athletes, has proven to be effective with all levels of exercisers according to an article in IDEA Fitness Journal, “Getting Intense with Older Clients”.

Boot camp type classes feature some power phase exercises and you may be fooled into thinking because you can “keep up” in a class you’re strong and have good form. First, we all think we have good form and we rarely look in the mirror enough. Second, we may think we’re performing an exercise properly but often we’re not. Our knees may be stressed in a squat or a lunge, shoulders may be too involved in a row or a push-up. You may not have the full range of motion (not squatting low enough) and you don’t know why. Also, classes aim more for variety rather than systematically strengthening specific body parts progressively so that maximum strength is developed. A progressive strength-building program designed for your particular body will whittle your waistline and build strength efficiently.

Stretching/Flexibility Exercises (5-10 minutes)

End by stretching muscles just worked. In addition, consider chest/shoulder openers to counteract daily “hunch” over computers, movements for back and neck flexibility, and stretches for hip flexors, quadriceps, and calves. hip_flexor_lunge

Initially, for people aiming to step up their workout program, it is advised to begin a daily stretching routine to improve flexibility and increase range of motion. Try it. You’ll be surprised at the tangible results in just a month or two. Watch this time-lapse video, How I Touched My Toes in 41 days, if you don’t believe in the power of daily practice.

Remember, you have the opportunity to get younger and healthier this year!


This article first appeared as a Body Kinetics blog post (


Metzl, Dr. Jordan, The Exercise Cure: A Doctor’s All-Natural No-Pill Prescription for Better Health & Longer Life,  New York, New York, Rodale, 2013

Metzl, Dr. Jordan, Primary Care Sports Medicine, “Going the Distance: Dr. Jordan Metzl keeps 81-Year-Old Marathoner Elaine Breiger in theRace” , Hospital for Special Surgery, YouTube (

Crowley, Chris and Henry S. Lodge, M.D., Younger Next Year, New York, Workman Publishing, 2007

Clark, Michael A., Scott C. Lucett, Brian G. Sutton, NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, Baltimore, MD, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012.

McCall, MS,  Pete, “Getting Intense with Older Clients-Research shows that high-intensity training can improve the lives of senior exercisers”, IDEA Fitness Journal, February, 2014: p. 26-28

Photo Credits

Man foam rolling, (

Woman-wall slide, (

Woman, Hip-Flexor stretch,         (

Man standing on one leg, (

Man, cable chest press (

Woman, cable row (

Man squatting (

Man doing plank (

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