The Dos and Don’ts to Make Your Strength Training Days Deliver

Por Lauren Bedosky |

When your strength routine is fun and effective, you’re more likely to stick with it.

Starting a strength training routine is only half the battle - sticking with it is the other half. If you can figure out ways to make your strength training days fun and effective, you can increase your odds of a routine that lasts.

Consider this your cheat-sheet for getting the most benefits from your strength training days.

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Don’t: Limit Yourself to Bodyweight-Only

Bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, and wall pushups offer a great entry point to strength training, says Damien A. Joyner, C.P.T., a personal trainer who specializes in healthy aging and owns Incremental Fitness in San Diego, California.

You can do bodyweight exercises practically anywhere, Joyner says, and they can help you learn proper exercise form before adding weight.

But at a certain point, you can only do so much with your body weight. Incorporating equipment enables you to perform more exercises and progress in weight as you gain strength, he explains. This can make your strength workouts more challenging and exciting.

You have tons of tools to choose from, including:

  • Free weights. These include barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and medicine balls.
  • Resistance bands and tubing. These portable, lightweight rubber band-like tools provide resistance when stretched. (Read The Beginner’s Guide to Exercise Bands here.)
  • Weight machines. Many gyms and health clubs offer weight machines. These machines follow a fixed path for a given exercise. (Here’s a Gym Machine Workout that’s good for all fitness levels.)

Play with the different options to see which tools and equipment you prefer. You might sprinkle some equipment-based exercises into your bodyweight routine or dedicate one strength workout per week to equipment-based exercises.

Do: Train With Others

Strength training doesn't have to be a solo activity. In fact, doing it with others can make the experience more enjoyable. It can also help you stay accountable to your strength program if someone expects you to show up, Joyner says.

Sign up for a SilverSneakers group strength training class or make a gym date with friends or family. You get to laugh and work your muscles at the same time, Joyner notes.

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Don’t: Neglect Your Form

Mastering proper form is essential for seeing benefits from strength exercises. It's also key for avoiding pain and injury.

If you have yet to learn proper exercise form or feel you could use a refresher, a certified personal trainer can help. "The best way to learn form is to have a professional assist you so you don't get hurt," Joyner says.

Group exercise classes are another effective option, he notes. In a group exercise class, you can watch other members and receive feedback from an instructor. SilverSneakers instructors are trained in the fitness needs of older adults and can help you nail down the form of new exercises — or show you ways to modify moves so you can exercise safely.

Another great way to perfect your form and learn key exercise modifications is to do some of the follow-along workouts on the SilverSneakers YouTube channel.

Recommended reading: 7 Genius Form Fixes That Physical Therapists Wish You Knew

Do: Remember Your “Why”

Your motivation to train will be higher on some days than others. When you're tempted to skip your workout, remind yourself why you started strength training in the first place. Or what benefits you've noticed so far.

“If someone’s back is constantly tight and strength training has helped it feel looser, that may motivate them to continue doing it,” Joyner says.

For you, strength training may help you keep up with your grandkids, enjoy more activities during retirement, and/or perform daily tasks more easily. Whatever your purpose, remind yourself of it when your motivation drops.

Learn how to Find Your Fitness “why” here.

Don’t: Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

Keeping your strength training routine doable will make it easier to stay consistent. If you try to do too much, you may be tempted to quit.

“Start with small habits and work up from there,” Joyner says.

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You might begin with one strength workout per week and simply focus on showing up. Once that feels easy, make your workout more challenging by increasing weight, changing the exercises, and/or tweaking the sets and reps. Or, add a second weekly workout.

Do: Change Your Rep Counts

If you’re beginning a strength routine, three sets of eight to 12 reps per exercise is a good place to start, Joyner says.

Once you get the hang of that set and rep scheme, consider experimenting with others. Working in different rep ranges can help you target different fitness goals, including endurance, muscle definition, and muscle strength.

For example, if you want to focus on building pure strength, you could switch to six reps or fewer. The weight you choose should make your muscles fatigued by the final rep.

To target endurance, shoot for 12 or more reps. For muscle definition, go for eight to 15 reps.

One important caveat: It’s best to work with a certified personal trainer if you’re lifting in the lower rep ranges, as heavier weights can increase your risk of pain and injury, Joyner cautions.

Find five simple strategies to keep your workouts progressing here. And press play for helpful tips to choose the right weight and challenge your muscles safely:

See our sources:
Health benefits of strength training: Mayo Clinic
How to determine reps: American Council on Exercise

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