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The Right Moves

Resistance Training for Stronger Bodies

February 05, 2001|KAREN VOIGHT

Let's face it--our muscles look and feel much better when we exercise them, and one of the fastest and most effective ways to condition them is to use resistance training.

This means that when you gradually use your muscles to lift a little more weight than they are accustomed to (but not more than they can handle), your body gets stronger. After only a few weeks of doing weightlifting exercises regularly, you'll be able to easily lift and carry things that used to feel heavy. You'll also notice that you won't get so worn out by physical exertion and your muscles will feel firm and more responsive.

You don't have to join a gym or invest in a lot of heavy equipment to get these benefits. First, you need to get your hands on some dumbbells and ankle weights. Second, you should learn some basic lingo. Each time you do a move, it is called a repetition or "rep." Generally you do 8 to 15 reps in a row without stopping. That's called a set. You can do two to three sets for each exercise, resting about 30 seconds between each set.

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Resistance or strength training can involve more than just working out with weights. All the exercises that use your body's weight as resistance--sit-ups and push-ups, for example--are good strength-builders as well. It's just that by using weights you can target specific areas of your body and increase the amount of weight you lift. You can also use a variety of angles to maximize your results with minimal stress to the rest of your body.

Since weight training has been getting more popular, I've assembled a series of simple exercises to work various parts of your body. Each month we'll focus on a specific area using free weights. By doing these moves correctly and safely, you'll be able to slim down and shape up while avoiding nagging injuries.

(Always remember to warm up thoroughly so blood flows into your muscles, preventing soreness and possible injury. You can walk briskly, climb up and down stairs or simply march in place while swinging your arms.)

Let's start with the deltoids--the muscles on top of the shoulders. When you develop these muscles, you create a nice rounded shape similar to the contour of shoulder pads. Try this: Rest your right hand on your left shoulder with your left arm hanging down. When you lift your left arm to the front, you can feel the anterior deltoid. Now raise your left arm to the side and you can feel the medial deltoid; when you lift your arm to the back, reach around and you'll feel the rear deltoid. Because of their ability to move the arm in many directions, strong deltoids can improve your performance in tennis, golf, swimming, volleyball and even yoga.

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This month we'll concentrate on strengthening the medial and anterior deltoids with lateral and front raises.

A. Hold a 5- to 10-pound dumbbell in each hand. Stand erect with your arms placed in front of your thighs. Keep your knees slightly bent and don't lean backward.

B. Bend both your arms just a little and raise them out to the side until your elbows and wrists are at shoulder level. As you lift, squeeze the muscles in your upper back together gently. Throughout the movement, keep the dumbbells slightly in front of your body. Pause for a moment at the top of the lift, then slowly lower the weights to the starting position. Control them on the way down so they don't drop too fast. Do two sets of 12 repetitions each. Rest for 30 seconds between sets.

C. Now raise both arms to the front, keeping your hands shoulder-width apart. Make sure to turn the palms of your hands down to face the floor. Pause at the top of the lift and then slowly lower the weights to the starting position. Do two sets of 12 reps with a rest between each set.

As you get stronger, progress by increasing the amount of weight you lift in 2- or 3-pound increments while doing the same number of reps. After a few weeks, get creative. You can alternate between the sets of side raises and front raises. Some days you can start with side raises and other days start with front raises. And you can even change a set by combining eight side raises and eight front raises as one set. Then you'll do three sets. As in any form of exercise, frequently varying your routine keeps your body from going on "automatic" and your results will be better.

Done about three times a week, these raises will give your shoulders a sculpted look and make your world seem a little lighter.

Next month: pectorals. Look for some more resistance training for your upper body.

* Joan Voight, a San Francisco-based journalist, contributed to this column.

* Karen Voight is a Los Angeles-based fitness expert whose latest video is "Abdominals & Back." She can be reached by e-mail at kvoightla@aol.com.

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