If you aren't reaching your strength training goals, it’s time to put down the light dumbbells and pick up a heavier set. When you begin exercising, light weights may produce results, but within a year you will transition from a novice to a more advanced exerciser. Lifting heavier weights pays off by changing your body composition and improving your health and fitness.
Defining heavy weights
According to the American Council on Exercise, heavy weight lifting requires using a weight that can be lifted three to 10 times with correct form. More specifically, lifting heavy weights is based on your one repetition max (1RM). This is the maximum amount of weight you can safely lift for one repetition of an exercise.
Beginners and heavy weights
Research shows that if you are new to exercise, you can improve strength with weights as low as 45-50% of your one repetition max. Studies suggest that beginners should start with weights that range from 50-60% of your one repetition max to ensure that you learn proper form before moving on to exercises with heavier weights.
Progress and plateaus
The American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) position on resistance training is that more weight may be necessary to progress and continue to see results. Greater strength gains have been found when using a load that allows for 3-5 repetitions when compared to lighter weights that allow for higher repetitions. The ACSM recommends that once you can lift 1-2 repetitions beyond your goal during 2 consecutive workouts, it is time to increase the weight by 2-10%. Doing so will help to prevent strength training plateaus.
Tips for incorporating heavier weights
The method for determining a one repetition max differs depending on the exercise and the muscle group. While it is a simple test, seek the assistance of a qualified fitness trainer to help you establish this baseline. Then seek his or her assistance in developing an effective program. Studies show that when self-selecting the intensity for resistance training it is often too low, often only 38-58% of the one repetition max.
To improve muscular strength, the ACSM recommends that beginner to intermediate exercisers select weights that are 60-70% of your one repetition max. Start with 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions. Advanced exercisers should aim for loads 80-100% of the one repetition max with 2-6 sets of 1-8 repetitions. The heavier you lift, the longer your rest period should be. Beginner and intermediate programs with lighter loads should include a 1-2 minute rest between exercises using the same muscle groups, while programs with heavier loads should increase the rest period to 2-3 minutes.
Athletes use some of the best sports-specific training to improve fitness, speed, and strength. You don’t have to be an athlete to take advantage of the same effective exercises. By incorporating more challenging moves and using them in a way that matches your fitness level, you can gain similar benefits for health and exercise performance.
Cycling Sprint Intervals
Whether you cycle on the open road or hop on a stationary bike at the gym, sprint intervals will improve your cardiovascular fitness and increase calorie burn. Sprint intervals are a form of high intensity interval training (HIIT), a type of exercise that research shows improves aerobic and anaerobic fitness and insulin resistance.
How to do it: Set your stationary bike to a comfortable resistance that matches how you would feel cycling on a flat route. Start with 15 to 30 second sprints, cycling as fast as you can. Recover at a moderate pace for 2 minutes. Repeat the intervals throughout your workout. You can gradually increase your sprint time, decrease your recovery time, or increase your resistance to make the session more challenging.
Sports like rowing, swimming, and volleyball require excellent upper body strength and chin ups are a popular training exercise that target the back and biceps. This exercise isn’t easy. If you are new to it, check to see if your gym has an assisted chin up machine. These machines have a platform to kneel on that supports your lower body, making the exercise easier. Stick with it and you will be able to turn out a full set without assistance in no time.
How to do it: Stand facing the chin up bar. Use a step or jump up to grasp the bar with both hands. They should be about shoulder distance apart with palms facing you. As you hang in the starting position, slightly bend your knees, cross your feet at the ankles, and contract your abdominals to help stabilize your lower body. Pull yourself up until your chin is level with the bar. Your elbows should stay in close to your body and point towards the floor as you pull yourself up.
The speed skater exercise simulates skating and it can be incorporated as a cardio interval into any circuit routine. It works the lower body and the faster you move, the more you will increase your heart rate to improve fitness and burn calories.
How to do it: Hop to the right and land on your right foot. Your left knee should be bent with your left foot lifted off the ground. Hop to the left, landing on your left foot with your right foot elevated. As you begin to hop more quickly from side to side, swing your arms in the direction you hop in order to gain momentum and keep your balance. To make the move more challenging, reach down and touch the floor with your left hand as you land on your right foot and repeat from side to side. To make the move less difficult, remove the hop and step from side to side.
High Knees and Butt Kicks
Often used in track and field as a warm up, high knees and butt kicks can be incorporated at any phase of your workout. The leg movement helps to elongate and stretch the quadriceps and hamstring muscles and the faster you move, the better cardiovascular workout you will get. High knees also target the abdominal muscles. The movements can be done at a walking pace, running, or if you are limited for space, you can do them in place.
How to do it: As you walk forward, raise your knee high with each step. Contract the abdominals and lift it as high as you can. For butt kicks, with each step bend at the knee and bring your heel into contact with your bottom, or as close as you can get. The move should be exaggerated, contracting the hamstrings with each butt kick. Once you feel comfortable with the movement, pick up the pace and accelerate into a running motion as you perform high knees and then switch to butt kicks.
Jab and Cross
Boxing provides an effective workout that can be adapted to all fitness levels. Even if you don’t have access to a bag, simply performing the punch and kick moves will help tone the upper and lower body. You can start simple with a jab and cross combo and add more moves from there, like hooks, uppercuts, and front kicks. Incorporating jump rope or bob and weave intervals will help you get your heart rate up for a challenging session that works the whole body.
How to do it: Stand with your right foot in front of your left. Make a fist with each hand and bring your fists up to your chin in a guard position (as if you were protecting your face). Punch straight out in front of you with your right arm and return to guard position (the jab). Now punch with your left arm (the cross). As you punch with the left, pivot your back foot so that your hips move in the same direction as your punch. Return to the guard position and continue to jab, then cross. Try to incorporate a bouncing or jogging movement as you punch to increase your heart rate. Switch your leg position and jab with your left arm and cross with your right.
The watersports don't have to end once summer is over. Kayaking provides a great way to enjoy cooler temperatures and fall foliage. Many cardiovascular exercises work the lower body, but few challenge the upper body the way paddling does. Kayaking at a moderate pace for 60 minutes will burn 478 calories.
Family Scavenger Hunt
Take the family to the park and organize a fast-paced scavenger hunt to get moving. Create a list of autumn items such a gold leaf, acorn, heart-shaped rock, animals, and flowers. Leave nature undisturbed and gather your items by snapping a quick photo. Set the timer and set out to find the items as quickly as possible. Brisk walking or jogging on your search will keep your heart rate up and burn calories while you have fun as a family. Walking at a brisk pace, about 3.5 miles per hour, for 30 minutes burns 112 calories.
After the big game, gather your group together and play a little football of your own. Flag football is a game just about anyone can play. It’s low impact and will increase your heart rate, boosting calorie burn and improving your fitness with frequent breaks so that you can take things at your own pace. Playing touch or flag football for 60 minutes burns 558 calories.
Hiking provides a low intensity, long duration activity that burns calories. Research also shows that this type of activity may improve blood cholesterol and insulin function. The cooler temperatures, low humidity, and beautiful colors of the season make fall one of the best times to head out for a hike. Hiking for 60 minutes burns 478 calories.
You don’t need to be on a team to take advantage of the cardiovascular and leg strengthening benefits of soccer. Passing the ball, taking some shots on goal, and running the field for 30 minutes is plenty of time to get a challenging workout and you will burn 239 calories.
Nature trails provide one of the best places to workout in the fall. The changing fall colors create a peaceful exercise atmosphere and the dirt trail is easier on the joints than harder surfaces like concrete. Signing up for a trail race is a good way to stay motivated. You can experience a new exercise environment with the security of being on the trail with others and with access to support stations. Start with shorter distances as elevation and terrain can make trail running more challenging than running on the road or treadmill. If a 5K race takes you 30 minutes, you will burn about 379 calories.
*All calorie estimates are based on a 150-pound female.
Your core is made up of the muscles of the abdominals and the lower back. These muscles work together to support almost every movement you make. A strong core improves your balance and flexibility, but it may also reduce back pain and improve your ability to recover from injury. Get creative with your routine and add some of these moves to strengthen core muscles.
Step your right foot out two to three feet in front of you. Hold a 5 to 10 pound dumbbell with both hands at chest level. Slowly lower into a lunge and twist your torso to the right. Stand back up into the starting position and rotate your torso back to the center. To make the move more challenging, hold the dumbbell out away from your body with your arms extended. Do 10 to 12 repetitions to the right, switch your legs and repeat on the other side.
Standing Back Raises
Stand with your feet a little wider than hips-width apart. Place your fingertips behind your ears. Keeping the upper body in a straight line from your head to your lower back, bend forward at the hips until your upper body is parallel to the floor. Keep your upper body in a straight line and raise back up to the starting position. Repeat for 10 to 12 repetitions.
Side Plank Raises
Lie on your right side with your body in a straight line from your shoulders to your heel. Prop yourself up on your right elbow and forearm with your hips elevated off the floor. Slowly lower your body towards the floor until your right hip almost touches the ground. Raise your hips back to the the starting position. Do 10 to 12 repetitions on the right and switch sides.
Single Side Bicycle Crunch
Lie on your back on the floor. Place your fingertips behind your ears and extend your right leg so it is elevated about six inches off the floor. Keep your left foot flat on the floor with the knee bent. Crunch and curl to the right as you bring your right knee in towards your left shoulder. Return to the starting position. Complete 10 to 12 repetitions and switch sides.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Rest your arms on the floor along your sides, palms facing down. Press through your heels and raise your bottom off the ground creating a straight line from your knees down to your shoulders. Hold for one count and release. Complete 10 to 12 repetitions.
Walking is an effective exercise, but it’s easy to get into a rut with your routine. When you continue to walk for the same time and distance at the same intensity, your fitness is no longer challenged and you may no longer see results. This doesn’t mean you have to stop walking. Add some of these creative variations to your workout to get the heart pumping and to continue improving your fitness.
By varying your speed throughout your walk, you can boost calorie burn without overexerting yourself. Start at a leisurely pace, walk a little faster for 60 seconds, and then walk as fast as you can for 30 seconds to 60 seconds. Return to your leisurely place for 60 seconds and continue to repeat the intervals throughout your entire walk. If you’d rather not keep time, use landmarks for your intervals. For example, walk quickly to the stop sign and then recover until you get to the fire hydrant.
Alter your environment
A boring walk feels like it lasts forever and your lack of interest could slow you down to a shuffle. Choose walking environments that energize you or those that relieve your stress, and alternate where you walk to avoid boredom. Take time to investigate what types of walking environments you have access to. You might be surprised to find nature trails, beaches, paved trails around lakes, high school cross-country courses, and quaint downtown streets, which all provide enjoyable places to walk.
Find an incline
Whether you are on a treadmill or outside, increasing the grade on your course is a quick and easy way to increase the intensity. On the treadmill, instead of changing the speed during intervals, try increasing the incline. If you are outdoors, find a hilly route or stairs to instantly challenge your fitness.
Your workout doesn’t have to be limited to walking. A 30-to-45-minute walk provides a great opportunity to work in some strength training. Walk for 5 minutes, stop and do a set of lunges. Walk for 5 more minutes and do a set of bicep curls with an exercise band. Adding some different activities will make your workout go faster and you’ll have both your cardio and strength training completed in one session.
Beat your time
Turn your walks into a competition with yourself. Stick with the same course and distance for two weeks. Record your total time on your first workout. On each walk that follows, try to beat the time before it. Not only will you increase your pace and challenge your fitness, you will gain a sense of accomplishment from achieving your goal.