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    Healthy Muscles

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    How often should you do exercises to strengthen muscles?

    Experts say it's best to do exercises to strengthen muscles at least 2 times each week.1 Examples include weight training or stair climbing on 2 or more days that are not in a row.

    "Repetitions" and "sets" are terms used to describe how many times you do a specific exercise.

    • Repetitions are the number of times you continuously perform each exercise. For example, if you lift a dumbbell up and down once, that's 1 repetition (or rep). If you lift it 5 times, that's 5 reps.
    • Sets are the number of times you do a certain number of repetitions. For example, if you lift the dumbbell 15 times, take a rest, and then lift it another 15 times, you have done 2 sets of 15 reps each.

    The number of repetitions and sets you do depends on your goals. If you want to gain strength, do a few sets of a few reps with heavy weights. But you may want muscular tone and endurance, which means a few sets of many repetitions with light or medium weights.

    For best results, use a resistance (weight) that makes your muscles tired after 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise. As you build muscle strength, you'll notice that you can do more and more of each exercise. Some people will see a change in the way their muscles look, but others will not see a change for a long while. A more important sign of progress is how many repetitions and sets of an exercise you can do, or how much easier it feels to do them. This means that your muscle fitness has improved.

    How can you get started?

    It's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting a resistance-lifting program, especially if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or joint problems.

    • Begin with professional instruction from a local YMCA, a fitness club, or an experienced professional trainer. Set a goal such as body building, toning and shaping certain body areas, or improving performance in a certain sport.
    • Don't forget to warm up. Take 5 to 10 minutes to walk or jog in place.
    • Learn the proper form for each exercise, then always use it. The proper form ensures that you get the most out of each exercise and helps prevent injuries. A good trainer will teach you about proper form.
    • Allow at least 2 weeks for your muscles and connective tissues to adjust to the new stresses and strains of weight training. Start by lifting weights that are lighter than you can manage. This helps you tell the difference between the normal aches and pains of weight training and the pains of overuse or real damage.
    • Work slowly, and move your muscles through their full range of motion. Fewer repetitions that are done slowly, using the entire length of the muscle, are more effective than many repetitions that are done quickly with only a short part of the muscle.
    • Learn how to breathe properly when working with weights. Exhale when pushing against the weight. Don't hold your breath at any point. Inhale when there is little or no resistance.
    • When you are ready, ask your trainer for guidance on:
      • How often to increase sets and repetitions. In general, do 1 or 2 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions. Older adults and people who are frail can do 10 to 15 repetitions with less weight.
      • When to increase weight. Start with a weight you can lift 8 to 12 times but that gets hard to lift by the last repetition. When it gets easier, add a little weight and go down to 8 repetitions, then gradually build up to 12 repetitions again.
    • Vary your program. Variety keeps your interest up and injuries down. Mix muscle strengthening with flexibility and aerobic work. Also, vary your work by alternating between:
      • Your upper body and lower body.
      • Free weights (barbells) and machines.
      • Heavier weights with fewer repetitions and lighter weights with more repetitions.

    By starting slowly and using the right technique, you may find that weight training is an enjoyable and effective way to build strength.

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    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: June 04, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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