Anne Stein, M.S.
Sports & Fitness Journalist/Author
Whether you’re a new exerciser or an experienced athlete, you want to get the most out of your strength-training routine. In his latest book, Women’s Home Workout Bible (Human Kinetics, 2010), certified strength and conditioning specialist Brad Schoenfeld details his 10 Commandments of Fitness.
While they’re targeted toward strength training, most apply to exercise in general. (Note: A personal trainer or easy-to-understand book such as this one is especially helpful for following these commandments!)
- Train according to your goals. Decide what your goals are and come up with a routine to reach them. If you’re looking to avoid back pain, work on core (ab and back) exercises. If you want to increase bone density, focus on moves that load the skeletal system.
- Fuel your body before exercise. When you run out of fuel, your workout slows down or comes to a stop, like a car running out of gas. Eat two to three hours before exercise. If you can’t eat that far in advance, have something light, like a piece of fruit or an energy bar, before hitting the gym.
- Warm up before intense training. Warming up increases your range of motion and allows muscles to work harder. It also decreases your chance of injury. Start your strength sessions with at least 5-10 minutes of cardio activity. Go easy on the bike before a lower-body workout, or do jumping jacks or use the elliptical before a full-body workout.
- Continually challenge your muscles. Choose a weight that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to finish the last few reps in your routine. If it doesn’t challenge your muscles, it’s too light. Same with cardio: if you’re chatting while exercising and barely breaking a sweat, you’re probably not asking your body to do enough and you won’t see the desired results.
- Train with proper form. Bad form can lead to injuries, muscle imbalance and failure to reach goals. Have an expert make sure you’re doing things right. Watch yourself in the mirror as you lift to double-check your form.
- Rest after intense training. Strength training breaks down your muscles. Rest is when you recover and get stronger. Give your body 48 hours between strength training sessions to fully repair damaged muscle tissue.
- Create a regimented training schedule. Make exercise a habit and stick strictly to your schedule. Make sure your workouts fit in with your other responsibilities, or exercise will become a hassle. Pick the best time of day for your body to exercise (some people love early-morning workouts while others thrive at night).
- Vary your routine. The longer you stick with one routine, the less effective it becomes. Throw in some variety so your muscles are challenged and forced to adjust to new stress. New routines also keep you motivated and excited.
- Develop a mind-to-muscle connection. Visualize the muscle you are training and feel that muscle contract throughout each repetition. Sound weird? A mind-to-muscle connection is beneficial because it ensures that your target muscles perform the majority of work during an exercise. (Without this connection, your supporting muscles and connective tissue tend to dominate the lift, which diminishes results.) Additionally, when you’ve mentally locked into a movement, your form tends to automatically fall into place. This improves performance and reduces the possibility of injury.
- Know the major muscle groups. You need to know your muscles to get the most from your training efforts. (Unless you’re an anatomy expert, a good exercise training book can be really helpful.) This knowledge helps you visualize each muscle during training, fostering a better mind-to-muscle connection. It also makes you aware of the path that weight must travel to target specific muscles, improving your ability to train with proper form. Finally, it allows you to hone in on muscular imbalances, assessing which muscles need improvement and which don’t.