Build Your Muscle Mass: Start a Strength-Training Program the Safe Way

Kettle Ball Weights

If you read our last blog, you know that building muscle mass isn’t about entering body-building contests or looking good in a swimsuit.

Building lean muscle mass plays a major role in your overall health by:

  • Improving your heart health
  • Improving your balance and reducing your risk of injuries
  • Increasing your strength and bone health
  • Helping you lose weight faster
  • Improving your mood and managing depression

Building muscle mass is important, but you should do it in the right way. You don’t want to injure yourself trying to get healthy. We’ll give you the basics in this article on how to do that. Just make sure you check with your doctor to find the fitness regimen that’s right, and safe, for you.

How Strength Training Works

Strength training works by challenging your muscles to work harder than they usually do. You can do this through weight training—using free weights at home or weight machines at the gym. You can also use resistance bands.

Many yoga poses, like “downward-facing dog” and “dolphin” build muscle mass; these poses use the weight of your own body to build muscle. Over time, use heavier weights, do more repetitions (reps), or hold yoga poses longer. This will tone your muscles and increase your muscle mass.

A well-designed strength-training regimen works all your major muscle groups: shoulders, arms, chest, back, abdomen, hips, and legs. These sessions should include one set (8 to 12 reps) of exercises for each muscle group. As you build your strength, you may want to do two or three sets for each muscle group. An article by Harvard Medical School recommends strength training two or three times a week.

Strength training builds muscles by creating tiny tears in the muscle tissue. Your body knits these tears up, making your muscles stronger. That’s why your muscles need at least 48 hours to recover between strength training sessions so that your body can mend the tears. Unless you’re a professional athlete working with a knowledgeable trainer, daily strength training will significantly increase your risk of stress injuries.

Before You Work Out

Always consult with your doctor before starting a new fitness routine. Your age and overall health status will inform what makes sense for you.

It’s especially important if you are pregnant, over 50 or have arthritis. It may be especially important to take this step first if you are recovering from an injury or illness, undergoing medical treatment for a serious condition, or taking certain medications.

Some loss of muscle mass can be the result of a hormonal imbalance, so consulting with your provider first can help you determine if that’s the case for you. Certain supplements may also help improve your muscle mass.

If you haven’t exercised in a long time, your doctor may recommend a physical therapy evaluation to assess your abilities and limitations, so you can create a sensible long-term fitness plan.

Once you have your doctor’s okay, you may want to consider hiring a personal trainer for a few sessions. Personal trainers can help design a program that aligns with your doctor’s recommendations.

A trainer can also show you how to exercise properly so that you don’t overwork your muscles or injure yourself. Check with your health insurance company and your employer; personal trainers may be covered! If you belong to a gym, many offer members free or discounted sessions with a personal trainer.

Getting Started with Strength Training

You’ve heard the old adage about the journey of a thousand miles starting with a single step? The same holds true for a new exercise program.

Start slow and set realistic expectations. A reasonable start might include doing strength training twice a week, doing one set of reps for each of the seven major muscle groups.

Don’t forget that you need to give your muscles recovery time. Using too much weight early on can result in muscle strain, stress injuries and even permanent damage to muscles and joints.

Stick with your routine, doing strength training two or three times a week. You can do a full-body workout every other day. Or, you can do the upper body one day, and the lower body the next. If you get sick, be sure to take a day or two off for recovery, longer if you had a major illness. You may need to start with lighter weights, less resistance, or fewer reps until you’ve gotten your strength back.

Over time, gradually increase your weights or resistance bands. You want your muscles to feel tired by the time you finish a set of reps, but you don’t want to be so exhausted you can’t finish. That’s a sign that you need lighter weights. When the weights start to feel too light, or your workout seems too easy, add a set of reps or increase your weights.

Get Started Improving Your Quality of Life

Your strength training regimen doesn’t have to be complicated, time-consuming, or expensive. Talk to your doctor at Duke City Health in Albuquerque before you start. We have weight management and wellness programs that can help improve both your body and mind and assist you with reaching your fitness goals.

And, be sure to read our upcoming blog on how to start your fitness routine; we’ll give you some specific tips on how to create a balanced fitness program.

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About Kristi Fury, CFNP

Kristi Fury is a certified family nurse practitioner and bio-identical hormone therapy provider. She chose Family Medicine as her specialty because it allows her to treat the whole person and to develop long-term, caring relationships with her patients.

“I have always had an interest in supporting people on their journey through health.”