Two women work out together and smile.
The dos and don’ts of strength training. Don’t throw in the towel just yet… check out these tips for success. (Katy Batdorff | Spectrum Health Beat)

Developing lean muscle mass is important for everyone—it can keep you active and independent throughout your life.

But to maximize the benefits of strength training, make sure you’re not making these common mistakes.


The Dos

If you’re ready to get started with strength training, Kim DeLaFuente, community exercise educator with Spectrum Health Healthier Communities, recommends:

  1. Personalize it: Find someone who understands strength and resistance training—someone who can personalize it for you. This could be a personal trainer or a class instructor. There are also online videos and apps that can help you lay out a strength-training program. DeLaFuente recommends this video with resistance bands.
  2. Seek variety: If you don’t like going to the gym and lifting weights, think creatively. Resistance bands, body-resisted exercises (crunches, squats and pushups), medicine balls (they now come with handles, too) and water aerobics are great ways to build strength. As you age, your endurance levels may drop and interests may change. Reassess and look for different activities that interest you. Cross-training with different forms of exercise and activity also allows you to use your muscles in different ways.
  3. Don’t be afraid to start small: Squeeze in strength training whenever you can. Keep weights or resistance bands next to your favorite chair and do a few exercises while you’re watching television. “It’s like anything—we just have to keep it in front of us,” DeLaFuente said. “If it’s there and not tucked away, it reminds us.”
  4. Form first: Injury usually comes from bad form. “I would much rather see somebody work on form first,” she said. “The resistance part can come later. You don’t even have to incorporate weights or bands right away.” For instance: Learn good squat form without weights by standing in front of a chair and standing up and down.
  5. Target all the muscle groups: The idea is to do some exercises hitting all the major muscles: legs, core (back, abs and hip), shoulders, chest, triceps, biceps and upper back.

The Don’ts

  1. Letting momentum drive your workout. If you power through repetitions at a rapid clip, chances are that you’re using momentum rather than controlled muscle movement to do those reps. To get the most out of each rep, take two to three seconds to lift the weight and three to four seconds to return to the starting position.
  2. Not moving through a complete range of motion. You’re shortchanging yourself if you’re also rushing through reps without carefully moving from your starting position to a full extension, no matter what the exercise. If you’re unable to do this, chances are you’re lifting too heavy a weight for your current ability.
  3. Not lifting enough weight. Some women still incorrectly believe that they’ll develop manly muscle mass if they lift more than a few pounds. But female hormones typically won’t allow that to happen. To get the benefits of strength training, you have to challenge yourself, and that means lifting the most weight you can while still maintaining proper form.
  4. Changing your routine too often. This can actually set you back because you’re not giving muscles time to react. Resist jumping to different exercises because you think you’re not seeing results fast enough. Progress is slow and steady. Expect it to take from one to three months to see results, according to the American Council on Exercise.
  5. Not changing your routine often enough. On the flip side, not updating your routine enough can keep you from progressing. You might simply need to increase the weight you’re lifting, but it also could be time to move to more complex exercises or switch from free weights to machines.

If you’re unsure about the effectiveness of your current training regimen, schedule a brush-up session with a fitness expert.