Strength training is one of the best age-defying secrets around. You have over 640 different muscles to help you look toned, fit and young. The key is knowing how to use these age-stoppers.
While many aerobic activities help strengthen your muscles, the fastest and most effective way to build metabolism-boosting muscle is by lifting weights, so says Denise Austin, fitness expert and creator of Fit Over 50 Magazine in partnership with Woman’s World. This form of strength training involves doing exercises to isolate and target specific muscles or muscle groups using weights for resistance.
Tips Before You Get Started
In these strength training work-outs designed by Denise, you’ll be doing one to two sets of each exercise, depending on your fitness level. As you focus on the muscles that you’re targeting, try to relax the rest of your body, including your face, neck, and shoulders. If you’re holding tension in other areas, your target muscles won’t benefit as much as they should.
New to strength training? Start out with relatively light weights—three pound weights are good. (If you are a beginner, you should do the exercises once or twice without weights until you get the hang of them.) When your muscles are no longer challenged, it’s time to switch to a heavier weight.
Each workout is designed to take between 20 and 30 minutes. There are three routines divided into three parts: upper body, lower body and abs/lower back. Complete these exercises in the order shown. We save the lower back and ab moves for last, since these are the core muscles that stabilize your body for the upper and lower body exercises. If your core muscles are tired, you may be unable to work other parts of your body as effectively.
One last note: Proper breathing is especially important in strength training. Here’s a little rule of thumb: You should always exhale as you contract (or use) the muscle and inhale as you release (or relax) it. When you’re doing abdominal exercises, improper breathing can actually negate some of the good you’re doing, so follow the instructions carefully!
Round One: Upper Body
One-Arm Row: Holding a dumbbell in your right hand, stand with your feet apart. Bend your knees slightly and keep your abdominals tight. Rest your left palm on your left thigh or use a chair or bench for support. Begin with your arm extended all the way down so you get a good stretch. Keeping your back flat, pull the weight up toward your armpit, then lower it. Do eight to 12 reps. Then switch sides and repeat. Do two sets.
Tricep Kickback: Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and stand with your left leg in front of your right, left knee slightly bent. Rest your left hand on your left thigh or lean on a chair or bench. Keeping abs tight and back flat, raise your right elbow until the upper part of your arm is almost parallel with the floor; keep your elbow in close to your body. Straighten your right arm, making sure to squeeze your triceps as you do so. Return your right hand to the starting position. Do eight to 12 reps, then switch sides and repeat. Do two sets.
Side Arm Raise: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, abs tight, back straight and knees slightly bent. Start with your hands at your sides. Inhale as you lift your hands up to just above your shoulders, elbows bent only slightly. Exhale as you lower your hands back to your sides. Do two sets of eight to 12 reps, resting briefly in between.
Round Two: Lower Body
Wide Stance Squat: Stand with feet wider than your shoulders, arms out to your sides, toes turned out slightly. Bend knees and slowly “sit back” to lower your buttocks toward the floor, keeping your body weight over your heels. Your thighs should be as close to parallel to the floor as possible. Squeeze your buttocks as you straighten your legs to return to the starting position. Do two sets of eight to 12 reps.
Hamstring Curl: In a standing position, slowly bend your left knee and extend your right leg behind you. Then, slowly curl your right heel toward your buttocks. Be sure to keep your back straight, keep your abs tight and squeeze your buttocks together throughout the entire movement. Lower your right leg to the starting (straight leg) position. Do two sets of eight to 12 reps on each side. Relax and repeat.
Outer-Thigh Trimmer: Lie on your right side. Your head, shoulders, and hips should form one straight line. Bend your right leg behind you, placing your left hand on the floor in front of you for balance. Keeping your left leg straight and your foot relaxed, slowly raise your leg. Lower it back to the floor. Do two sets of eight to 12 reps, resting briefly in between sets. Switch sides and repeat.
Round Three: Abs and Back
Ab Crunch: Lie on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor. Rest your head in your hands, keeping the neck and shoulders relaxed. Press your lower back firmly into the floor. Exhale as you contract your abs to slowly lift your shoulders and feet off the floor; press your belly button toward your spine. Slowly lower your shoulders and feet to the floor. Do two sets of eight to 12 reps.
Lower-Tummy Tightener: Lie on your back, palms down, just beneath your buttocks. Lift legs off the floor, bend them slightly and cross your ankles. Exhale as you contract your abs to lift your bent knees toward your chest. Your knees should stay bent at the same angle throughout the entire exercise. Lower your legs slightly back down and repeat. Do two sets of eight to 12 reps.
Oblique Curl: Lie on the floor on your right side with knees bent. Keep your back straight. There should be no arch in your back at all. Place your left hand out to the side and your right hand behind your head for support. Exhale as you lift your right shoulder blade off the floor, and tighten the sides of your waistline. Relax as you lower back to the floor. Do two sets of eight to 12 reps.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Fit Over 50.