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How much Weight should you lift?

Strength training may not be rocket science, but for the average person, figuring out the best, safest, and most effective ways to lift weights is not always the easiest thing to do. There are bunches of Utube videos, toning classes and fitness plans that you can learn from in order to reach your goals of toning up, building strength, and reshaping your body. But even if you’re following a great plan designed by a great trainer, one big question still remains: How much weight should you be lifting?

You have to take results and safety into consideration. Here is my simple way of explaining it:

1. We are all at different strength levels and the muscles throughout your body also vary in strength, right? So you might lift 15 lbs for biceps, but your shoulders can’t take that kind of weight, and as far as your legs, 15 pounds won’t feel like much. So the amount of weight you lift during one exercise could be too light or too heavy for another.

2. You need to experiment with a variety of weights to find the appropriate level for each exercise you do. Working out at a gym makes that easy, but doing so at home will take a little more space and investment. Start out with at least two, and ideally three sets of dumbbells: a light, medium and heavier set–defined by your own fitness level.

3. Guidelines to select proper weight for strength training:

Aim low. The safest and most effective thing to do if you are a beginner is to master your exercises with little to no added weight so that you can focus intensely on proper form, which is essential before you’re going to increase the weight. There is no shame in doing body weight squats, crunches, modified pushups or even “mock” bench presses or triceps extensions without added weight. Slowly begin to incorporate weights, starting with your lightest weights, only after you have mastered the moves without weight.

Go slow. If you have to move at jackrabbit speed or harness momentum to lift the weight, it is simply too heavy. It’s that simple. The proper weight will allow you to move in a slow, controlled manner.

Never sacrifice form for function. You might want to fast track your results by picking a heavy weight, but lifting more weight should never trump doing it correctly. If you can’t do the exercise properly, then the added weight is not doing you any favors and may actually increase your risk for serious injury.

Count your reps. In general, you are lifting the right amount of weight when you can perform 8-15 repetitions in good form. Once you get strong enough to do more than 15 repetitions more easily, it’s probably time to increase the weight again.

Work to fatigue. This is the #1 key for selecting the proper weight. The weight you lift should not only meet the guidelines for form above, but should also challenge your muscles! The only way strength training is really going to benefit you is for you to overload your muscles—that means working them to fatigue. The weight you select should be challenging enough to fatigue your muscles within 8-15 repetitions.

So the weight you pick should

(1) be moderately challenging: not so heavy that you can’t lift it with proper form and control, and not so light that you could lift it forever,

(2) fatigue your muscles within 8-15 reps, which means you couldn’t possibly lift another repetition in good form beyond that,

(3) vary depending on the exercise and muscle group you are working since some muscles are stronger than others, just as certain exercise are inherently more complex or challenging than others,

(4) continue to change as you get stronger, and this continual progression is what improves your strength over time and boosts your fitness level.


There you have it! Any question?



Fat-Burning Muscle-Building Zone

So, are you supposed to work aerobically or anaerobically? And how do you fit metabolic training in there? Which one is best? And what the heck does it mean? Why does it matter?

Simply put, aerobic means “with oxygen” and refers to how the body uses oxygen during activity; anaerobic means “without oxygen.” Metabolic training involves conditioning exercises designed to increase the efficiency and capacity of the body’s energy pathways to store and deliver energy for activity, and can involve both aerobic and anaerobic activity.

So far so good? OK. The more we increase our exercise intensity over a shorter period of time, the greater the need for anaerobic energy production. Lower intensity exercise, performed over a longer period of time, maintains aerobic metabolic conditions. So, it really is best to think of aerobic and anaerobic as transitions in metabolism, whereby the stage of exercise intensity we are in determines our metabolic reaction.

So, what does any of this have to do with you?  You and I are just average people who exercise to gain the health benefits, feel good and to lose weight, right? Well with that in mind, aerobic exercise allows you to exercise at a fairly low intensity for long period of times; it’s usually less stressful to the muscles, joints and your heart, which may be appropriate for individuals with high blood pressure, arthritis, or heart disease. Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, jogging, outdoor cycling, walking or jogging on a treadmill, rowing, swimming, and using the elliptical machine or stair climber. However, to improve more rapidly your exercise capability, results, tolerance, and performance, some anaerobic exercise also is necessary.

When starting a training program, it’s always good and sage to start with lower intensity exercises, although anaerobic exercise is unavoidable for some kinds of exercises or activities. Lifting weights is anaerobic, for example, which is why muscles fatigue occurs so rapidly during weight training. Other activities such as walking up stairs can be anaerobic if you’re unfit. A combination of anaerobic and aerobic exercise is needed to achieve lasting, full-body results.

For aerobic exercise, the recommended heart rate is 60-85 percent of your maximum heart rate. This is your target heart rate. You should maintain this heart rate for about 30-40 minutes at least three times a week, working your way up to 5-6 days a week if possible.  Anything above 85 percent maximum heart rate constitutes anaerobic exercise. Anaerobic exercises usually involve short bursts of activity; weight training or sprints are good examples. You should also incorporate anaerobic training into your workouts.

But there are a bunch of exercises that blur the line between aerobic and anaerobic. They involve short bursts of activity (anaerobic) but also sustained activity over a longer period of time (aerobic) compared to single-set, single-movement exercises, meaning you’ll get a well-rounded workout to burn fat, build strength, tone your entire body and increase cardiovascular health, all at the same time. We do a lot of those in Barb’s Fit U classes:

Target Heart Rate for Aerobic Exercise























Above age 69


Timed Sets: Instead of performing a certain number of sets and reps, you complete as many repetitions of a particular activity as possible during a set time. For example: Jumping jacks for 1 minute; pushups for 45 seconds and squats for 1:30 minutes. Record your totals. Challenge yourself to increase the amount of reps and shorten or lengthen the time as you improve.

Density Training: Perform as many sets of 2-3 exercises as possible with in a time frame. For example: 10 pushups, 10 squats, 10 biceps curls, performed continuously for three minutes. You can adjust the length of time according to your fitness level, and choose any number/variety of continuous exercises for any number of reps.

Complexes: This is essentially a form of circuit training or super-setting using only one piece of equipment, one space and one load. For example: 15 stability ball squats, 15 stability ball crunches, 15 stability ball hamstring curls, 20 rubber-band biceps curls, 20 rubber-band shoulder presses, 20 rubber-band rows, done consecutively.

No matter which exercises you choose, the key is to add high-intensity, short-duration metabolic training to your workout, vary the intensities by changing methods of training, and every so often switch from high intensity, short duration to medium intensity, medium duration and low intensity, long duration. It’s a great way to burn fat and build muscle, and it makes the journey we call fitness that much more challenging and rewarding.

I hope I did not completely confuse you…

Smart Exercising, Part 2


The After-Burn

Another secret way the body burns calories is with Exercise Post-Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), or what most of us refer to as after-burn. When we exercise, we throw the body into a form of chaos. Once the workout is over, our bodies expend calories to get the body back into its pre-exercise state.

Just how many calories we burn after exercise is tough to answer but a general range is about 30-120 calories for 30-60 minutes of cardio (including cycling and treadmill) at 70% of VO2 max ( about 70 % of your maximum heart rate). And, it isn’t just cardio that produces an after-burn. High intensity resistance training and circuit resistance training (discussed below) also produce an after-burn as well. Results can differ based on gender and the type of exercise but, in general, the tougher (and longer) the workout, the greater the after-burn.  Does that mean you should get out there and kill yourself with every workout? Of course not. Doing too many high intensity workouts can lead to burnout, overtraining or injury. But gradually incorporating more high intensity workouts can make a difference in how many calories you burn both during and after your workout.

 Interval Training 

Interval training is a great way to boost endurance, burn more calories and work harder without having to spend an entire workout at a high intensity. The idea is to work harder than you normally do for a short period of time to overload your body (overload is how you make progress). Then you fully recover with a rest interval so that you’re ready to do it all again.

Higher Intensity 

Another way to boost your workout is to try higher intensity workouts, or continuous training at about 80% of your maximum heart rate, which is right in your aerobic zone. In other words, you want to be out of your comfort zone, but not so far out that you can’t catch your breath.  You might try adding one higher intensity workout a week and start with 10-20 minutes at this level if you’re a beginner, gradually working your way up to 30-60 minutes.

Resistance Training 

Lifting weights and building muscle will make you look good and help you burn calories, but focusing on high intensity training can also increase your after-burn, though you should be an experienced exerciser before adding too much intensity.

The general guidelines for heavy resistance training include 8-10 exercises and 2-4 sets of 3-8 reps; use enough weight that you can ONLY complete the desired number of reps – you should lift to momentary failure.  Take 2-3 minutes of rest between sets

Circuit Resistance Training 

The guidelines for circuit resistance training are 6-10 exercises, 2-3 circuits, performing each exercise one after the other.  10-12 reps using a medium-heavy weight for each exercise.

Doing cardio and strength during the same workout won’t necessarily double your after-burn but splitting your workouts can. If your schedule allows for it (and you want to workout more than once a day), you can split your routine so that you’re doing cardio in the morning and strength later that day (or vice versa). You can even split your cardio into two or more high intensity workouts and the same goes for your strength training. Remember, you don’t have to split your workouts and you shouldn’t feel that you won’t get a good workout otherwise. Most of us would find it hard to workout more than once a day and you’ll still get results if you work hard. But, if you find some extra time now and then, splitting your routine is just one way to get a little more bang for your buck.

Stay Safe! 

It’s important to be safe when increasing intensity to avoid overtraining and injury.

~Add intensity gradually. If you’re a beginner or aren’t used to high intensity cardio workouts, gradually increase your pace or resistance/incline over time so you don’t overdo it.

~Limit high intensity workouts. Experts recommend you do no more than 1-2 interval or high intensity cardio workouts a week to avoid overtraining.

~Add more warm up time. Because high intensity workouts are hard on the body, it helps to give yourself plenty of time to warm up and get your body ready for hard work. Plan on spending a good 10 minutes gradually getting your heart rate up and your muscles warm.

~Be sure to cool down. Giving your body time to slow down and recover from high intensity workouts is important for staying safe and ending your workout on a good note. It’s also a great time to stretch.


Weight-Bearing Cardio Workouts

Another way to burn more calories is to participate in activities that are weight-bearing and involve more muscle fibers. Typical Weight-bearing activities include: Walking, running, stairclimbing, tennis, soccer, step-aerobics, kickboxing, dancing and hiking.  When you engage in weight-bearing exercises, gravity works against you which requires your body to work harder and, thus, expend more energy. Similarly, activities that involve the entire body (like cross-country skiing) will usually burn more calories than activities that use fewer muscle groups (like cycling or doing a bicep curl). You can also add hills or incline to your cardio workouts…walking or running up an incline will require your body to expend more energy than flat terrain.

Does this mean that non-weight-bearing exercises like swimming or cycling are useless? Not at all. While you’ll typically expend fewer calories during those types of activities, there are some benefits – not as much repetitive stress on the joints and longer workouts because your body can better tolerate that kind of training.

When choosing activities, don’t feel like you have to pick the hardest one. Instead, start with an activity you like and go from there. You can always add other cross-training activities over time, which is a great way to work the body in different ways and protect you from injuries. The best exercise is the one you enjoy the most…that’s the one you’ll do more often and work harder at.

 Don’t Overcompensate

This last secret weapon isn’t necessarily a function of the body so much as a function of what you do after your workout. It’s fairly common to overcompensate for exercise without even being aware of it, which can compromise your attempts to lose weight if you’re not paying attention. The most common ways we overcompensate include: Eating more calories. When you start exercising, you may eat more calories to offset that extra energy expenditure. Some people do it because they’re hungry and others because they feel they can reward themselves by eating what they want.

Resting more. Another way we overcompensate is by moving around less after the workout. Again, this is something you may do without even being aware of it. If you work hard for a 45-minute run and then reduce your usual activity after that, you reduce the effect of that workout on your weight loss goals.

To get the most out of your workouts, pay attention to what you do the rest of the day by (1) keeping a food journal—I love ueing Lose it!  It is a great, free app for your Smart Phone if you want, or you can just use it on your computer.  Tracking your meals and calories is a simple way to make sure you’re not eating more to offset your workouts. On the other hand, if you’re starving, you may need to add more calories to avoid being miserable (no one likes to go hungry all the time) and to make sure you’re getting enough fuel for your workouts.  (2) Keeping an exercise log. You can track your workouts and progress while maintaining an awareness of how active you are on the days you exercise. Do you tend to nap after a tough workout rather than doing normal activity? You may need that nap but, if so, be aware that you’re not burning quite as many calories as you would if you got up and moved around.  You can do that with Lose it! as well.

It’s easy to get in a rut with exercise and forget the many small things we can do each day that will add challenge and, sometimes, help burn more calories so we can accomplish weight loss goals. The key is to incorporate small changes on a regular basis and get the most we can out of our time and our workouts.



Smart Exercising, Part 1

Get more out of your life and your workouts!


Whether you exercise because you love or because you hate your body, because you want to lose weight, look good or simply feel good and get the most out of your life,  here are some smart ways to maximize your workouts and your health!

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

While non-exercise activity thermogenesis sounds like some bizarre metabolic process in the body, its meaning is actually very simple: spontaneous activity. Every time you stand up and move, you’re involved in spontaneous activity and you know what else? You’re also burning calories. We haven’t paid much attention to NEAT until recently because none of us realized how much non-activity contributed to our weight problems. Now, researchers know that simple movement is one of the keys to losing weight. People are so focused on structured exercise and target heart rate zones they forget that general activity can be a huge contributor to weight loss. Want to know how much of a difference you could make if you moved around more? In one study,  20 self-proclaimed couch potatoes were studied to determine how different activity levels contributed to different levels of weight. One group of volunteers (5 men and 5 women) had an average BMI of 23 (lean), while the other 10 men and women had an average BMI of 33 (mildly obese). The obese group sat for 164 minutes longer each day than the lean group. The lean people were upright for 153 minutes longer than the obese people. The lean group burned an average of 350 extra calories each day (36 lbs a year) by walking and standing more throughout the day. Though neither group did any structured exercise, the lean group burned extra calories just by moving around more – no sweating required. This proves that the advice you’ve heard a million times (e.g., take the stairs, walk around more) really does make a difference and can contribute to your weight loss just as much as structured exercise, albeit more slowly.




 To maximize the calories you burn with NEAT, you simply need to move around more:  Stand up every chance you get, walk everywhere. Pace when you’re on the phone, visit your co-workers instead of emailing them or use a pedometer and see how many steps you can get in each day.  When at the mall, make three laps around the mall before you can buy anything.  When you park the car, make a complete circuit around the parking lot before entering the building.  When carrying groceries, bring the bags in one bag at a time.  If you’re stuck sitting for long periods of time, change position, shift in your seat or even do some isometric exercises – squeeze your hands together, contract your abs or squeeze your glutes.  Hide the remote control and get up to change the channel.  Sit on an exercise ball and roll around while you watch TV or work at the computer.




Add More Muscle

We all know muscle is more metabolically active than fat but there’s some confusion over just how many calories a pound of muscle actually burns. Having more muscle can have a lasting impact on both weight loss and health. If you look at the fact that most people will gain about 2-5 lbs of muscle from strength training, and that each pound will burn about 15 calories per day, that’s 30-75 extra calories burned each day. That may not seem like a big deal, but 75 calories adds up to almost 8 lbs a year. Not too shabby, right? And don’t forget, lifting weights also strengthens the bones and connective tissue, helps protect you from injury and, of course, helps prevent weight gain and loss of functionality that can occur from loss of muscle mass as we age.  Just like NEAT, adding more muscle makes a big impact when you look at the big picture. You just need to make sure you’re lifting regularly and challenging yourself.

How often you train your muscles depends on your goals and the type of workouts you’re doing. If you’re focusing on fitness and weight loss, try to get 2-3 sessions a week for each muscle group and make sure you take a day or two of rest between workouts to allow your muscles to recover.

Challenge your muscles!  This may seem obvious, often we don’t lift enough weight  to overload their muscles, which is necessary for building lean muscle tissue. Choose a weight that you can ONLY lift for the desired number of reps – the last rep should be difficult, but not impossible.

The most effective strength moves involve multiple muscles and multiple joints. These compound movements (e.g., squats, lunges, pushups, etc.) allow you to lift more weight and burn more calories because you’re using the large muscles of the body.

The body will always adapt to what you’re doing but you can avoid that and continue progressing by changing different elements of your workouts. You can do this by changing your method of training, or by changing your exercises, reps, sets and/or type of resistance.

Whatever program or schedule you choose, work hard and really challenge your muscles to get the most out of your workouts.



You and Your Metabolism

I know, some of us think that our metabolism is slower than molasses, and we tell ourselves that that is why we carry a bit (or a lot) of  extra weight.  While it may be true that some people’s metabolism is genetically very slow, the bottom line is still that most of our extra weight on the hips is due to bad eating and not enough movement!  So we want to keep (or better) our figure, we better learn to eat better and move more; every little bit helps.

Here are the four main components that will help your body be a better fat-burning machine:

High Intensity Exercise: When you exercise above 75 % of your maximum heart rate (that’s when you can hardly talk while you work out), you probably will cause your metabolism to be enhanced after exercise and you wind up burning extra calories for another 2 to 4 hours.  This works both for aerobic exercise and weight training.  The longer you train at a high intensity, the more calories you burn during and after the work out

Normalizing your pH: When your pH gets into the normal ranges, your body will automatically begin to release the extra fat it holds on to in order to neutralize the extra acid.  So keep on eating up these spinach salads and putting lime/lemon juice on everything

Fidgeting: Incidental movement in day-to-day activities seems to be key to burning more energy and giving you a more efficient metabolism. It’s no surprise that people who worry,  twitch and pace tend to be thin. This is called NEAT, or “non-exercise activity thermogenesis.”   Thermogenesis is the term for energy burning.  When your metabolism is running “normally” it seems that NEAT increases when you overeat and decreases when you undereat. This process has evolved over the history of human evolution to maintain body balance. Think of it in similar terms to how very-low-calorie diets are known to slow your metabolism down. NEAT works in the same way: the more you move, the more the body assumes you have excess energy to work off. The less you move, the more the body assumes you don’t, and so it slows down.  You can promote this NEAT process by never missing an opportunity to move when you have an option. Walk to the store, get off the couch often (get up to change the channel), do some gardening, walk the dog. . .you get the picture. Do small things often, that’s the key.

Muscle building: Muscle has a higher energy requirement than fat, so the more muscle and less fat your body is composed of, the higher your metabolism will be.  The exercise required to build that extra muscle at the expense of fat is another important process in weight management. So, grab those weights, people!

Linking up with Domestically Divine Tuesday


Movement Progression

There are a variety of ways for you to progress.  You can change weights, rep pattern, intensity, speed or duration.  You can change the exercise you are doing.  Your key is to always push forward once an exercise is not challenging you any longer.  Here are some ideas for you:Change your position.Look for ways you can change your position to make moves a bit different. If you usually do regular squats, try taking the feet wide and the toes out to fire different muscle fibers. Change your chest press by going to an incline bench or elevate your feet during push-ups.

Change the type of resistance.If you gravitate to machines, try free weights or the cable machines. If you always do free weights, try some of your exercises with resistance bands. Movements will always feel different when you change the resistance.

Go from bilateral to unilateral. One of the most interesting ways to change exercises is to use only one arm or one leg at a time. This makes almost any lower body move (like squats or deadlifts) more intense and even upper body moves get more challenging when you switch to one arm at a time (as in a one-armed chest fly).

Add a balance challenge. Going unilateral, as mentioned above, can make balancing more of a challenge but, even more challenging, is using something like a ball, foam roller, BOSU Balance Trainer or inflatable disc.

Do more compound movements. Doing two exercises at once can save time and add a new dimension to your workouts. Try doing squats with an overhead press or deadlifts with a row.



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