Q: Rabbi, I love your article; I think what you’re doing for frum men is fantastic. We need the chizuk. Continued hatzlachah.
I have a treadmill that I use pretty regularly (two to three times per week), yet I feel like something is missing. I feel like I probably should be doing weight training but don’t know where to start.
Any guidance would be appreciated.
Ronny, Fresh Meadows
A: Hi Ronny,
Thanks for the kind words. For starters, congrats!! Getting comfortable with a steady, running cardio routine is definitely something to be proud of. When you’re on that cardio grind you might be ready to change things up and take on a new challenge. Time to throw some strength training into the mix. It can be a little intimidating at first if you don’t know where to start, but understanding the basics can help you feel confident in your upgraded fitness routine.
Of course, cardio is an important part of fitness too, but the benefits of strength training are major. Strength training helps build muscle, and lean muscle is better at burning calories when the body is at rest, which is important whether you’re trying to lose weight or maintain it. It also helps strengthens joints and bones, avoid injury, improve your muscular endurance, and will help you give it your all during your other workouts, whether that means setting a new PR if you’re a runner or pushing (and pulling) a little harder with your legs during your favorite indoor cycling class.
Still, the barrier to entry can feel higher than that pull-up bar when you’re not exactly sure what to do. So, here are the 10 things you should know about strength training before you jump in.
- You can start
with just your body weight.
Put simply, strength training means using resistance to create work for your muscles. So even if your mind jumps straight to those hardcore machines and massive weights, there are a lot of ways to create this resistance that require minimal equipment (or none at all). Bodyweight workouts can be an incredibly effective way to strength train. Squats and push-ups. You can also use tools like dumbbells, medicine balls, TRX bands, resistance bands, kettlebells, plyo boxes, and battle ropes to help get the job done. But if that sounds like gibberish, don’t worry about it. Keep it simple and focus on equipment-free routines first. No matter what you do, the most important thing is to find something that challenges you.
- Begin with two days a week
and build up.
Start with two days for two to three weeks, then add a third day. Ideally, you should strength train three to five days per week, but work your way up; starting off at five days a week might shock your body. Aim to complete two 20-minute sessions, then gradually add on time in 10-minute increments until you’re working for 45 to 60 minutes.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should skip cardio. I defer to the CDC recommendations for aerobic exercise: 150 minutes of light-to-moderate activity OR 75 minutes a week of high-intensity activity. Ultimately, finding the right mix of workouts will depend on your specific goals.
- Prep your muscles before you start.
A proper warm-up is an important part of an effective strength workout. A dynamic warm-up is another important part of your pre-workout routine; it preps your muscles for the work they’re about to do and helps increase your range of motion. Increasing your range of motion allows you to go deeper into those squats and fully extend those bicep curls, which means more muscle recruitment and better results. You want around eight to 10 minutes of light-to-moderate movement that will literally warm your muscles up and prep your body for more vigorous movement.
- Pair an upper-body move with a lower-body move.
You may have heard hardcore lifters talk about things like “leg day,” but when it comes to a beginner strength workout that’s only a few days a week, a full-body workout is often the way to go (rather than splitting your days up by body part). Full-body workouts maximize your caloric burn and the muscles worked each session. The best way to do this is to pair one upper-body exercise with one lower-body exercise. This way the lower body has time to recover while the upper body works and vice-versa. You should also aim for a balance between movements that feel like pulling and ones that feel like pushing. For example, pairing these exercises together:
Squats + push-ups
Walking lunges + lat pulldowns
Romanian deadlifts + overhead press
Mountain climber + bench row
- Aim for 12-15 reps and three sets per exercise.
When you’re just getting started, try to keep things simple. Performing 12-15 reps (repetitions of the movement) and three sets of each (doing those 15 reps three times) is a good place to start. You can mix it up as you get more comfortable with the moves and need more of a challenge.
So, for example, with the moves above you’d do 12-15 squats followed by 12-15 push-ups. Take a little breather, then repeat that two more times. Then you move on to your walking lunges and lat pull-downs (and repeat those three times total, too). You can really do anywhere from 10 to 15 reps (and even just two sets, if you don’t have time for three), but it’s not a bad idea for beginners to start with a 15-rep range to get comfortable with the exercises, and while there’s some debate over whether three sets of an exercise is really best, it’s a great beginner model. Don’t overcomplicate things when you’re just getting started.
- When you’re using weights, here’s how much weight you should start lifting.
Different exercises will require different weights, but there are some markers that can help guide you toward the right resistance, whether you’re using dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell. Go for a weight that feels heavy enough to challenge you, but not so heavy that you sacrifice your form. For example, if you’re doing 15 reps, you should feel pretty fatigued by the time you hit rep 12-15. If you can breeze through all your reps, though, that’s a sign you should up the weight.
- Stick to the same moves each day when you’re starting out.
While seasoned lifters may choose to do different exercises every day during a week-long period (and repeat the same moves the following week), there’s no need to follow this type of program when you’re just getting comfortable. Stick to the same basic moves two to three times a week to build a basic level of fitness and strength. Why complicate things if you don’t have to? Great results can be made by repeating the same workout but increasing weights as you become stronger. Switching things up can help you avoid a training plateau, but so can increasing weights while doing the same exercises.
- Fit in a post-workout stretch if you can.
Now that you’ve got the training part down, it’s time to stretch it out. (Can you say ahhh?) Stretching while your muscles are warm can help improve your flexibility, not to mention it just feels phenomenal after you’ve pushed yourself hard. A light cool-down is also great for calming the nervous system. While dynamic stretches should be your go-to during a warm-up, the cool-down is where static stretching comes in; this means holding a stretch for 20-30 seconds.
- Refuel with water, carbs, and protein
After a tough sweat, it’s important to rehydrate your body: Drink lots of water and be grateful for what you were just able to accomplish in furthering your health and overall wellness. A balanced post-workout snack is also a good idea. Go for one with carbs to refuel your glycogen stores (one of your body’s main energy sources) and about 10 to 20 grams of protein to help build and repair your muscles. Don’t overcomplicate it. If you’re lifting and weight loss is one of your goals, though, it’s still important to keep calories in mind; a post-workout snack shouldn’t be more than 150 to 200 calories.
- Take rest days when your body tells you to
It’s okay to be a little sore. Your muscles might feel achy or tired the day after a tough training session thanks to DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness. When you strength train you’re causing microscopic damage to the tissue that will be repaired; that’s how you build stronger lean muscle. Speaking of repair and recovery, though, rest days are important. If you constantly break down muscle without a recovery period, you won’t give the muscle fibers a chance to repair and build back stronger.
At the end of the day, you have to focus on how you feel. Listen to your body: It tells you when it needs a day off. As a rule of thumb, take a rest day if your perceived pain is above a seven on a scale of 10, or focus on a different body part (say, if your legs are sore, focus on upper-body moves). Can’t stop, won’t stop – at least, till your next rest day. ;)
Outcomes: Understand the importance of resistance training besides the cosmetic aspect.
Growth Questions: What part of this article can I implement in my life?
Action Steps: Get moving, check out my YouTube channel, “RabbiFitness,” and get some practical beginner workouts you can begin integrating into your weekly routine.
As always I’m here to help you, so let me know what’s on your mind
The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only. Rabbi Fitness LLC is not a doctor. The contents of this article should not be taken as medical advice. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any health problem – nor is it intended to replace the advice of a physician. Always consult your physician or qualified health professional on any matters regarding your health and/or engagement in physical activity, especially if you (or your family) have a history of high blood pressure, heart disease, or if you have ever experienced chest pain when exercising or have experienced chest pain in the past month when not engaged in physical activity, smoke, have high cholesterol, are obese, or have a bone or joint problem that could be made worse by a change in physical activity.
Rabbi Hershel Praeger