MU Extension MU Extension       University of Missouri    ●    Columbia    ●    Kansas City       Missouri S&T     ●    St. Louis - Food and Fitness


Feature Articles: Exercise


Choose Strength Training for More Than
Strong Muscles

Linda Rellergert, Nutrition Specialist in St. Charles County, University of Missouri Extension


Regular, moderate strength-building activities can help you in many ways.

  • Stronger muscles and greater ability to do everyday tasks like climbing stairs and carrying groceries and fun things like dancing and bowling.
  • Stronger bones, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
  • Improved blood cholesterol and blood sugar.
  • Better balance and less chance of injury during other activities.
  • Improved posture, less back and arthritis pain.
  • More self-confidence or sense of well-being that comes from knowing you have the ability to do what you want to do.

(Note: Use the Exercise Pre-Participation Checklist to see if you need to visit your doctor before starting a fitness program.)

Home Equipment
Dumbbells and ankle weights are available at discount stores as well as sporting goods stores. Begin with weights that you can lift yet give some challenge. Most women can start with a pair of two or three pound dumbbells; men with five or ten pounders. Adjustable weights are another option to consider.

Homemade weights can be used on a short-term basis. Fill empty milk jugs with sand, bird seed or water, or fill socks with beans and tie the ends securely. Carefully weigh any homemade weights to make sure each one of the pair is the same.

Strength training guidelines
Always warm-up before exercising. For strength training, simply walk or march in place without weights or do gentle stretches for a few minutes.

Start with light weights, or even no weights the first week to learn the movements. Concentrate on doing the movements correctly in a slow, controlled fashion for maximum benefit.

Take three seconds to move the weight, pause for a second, then three more seconds to return the weight to the starting position. This is called a “repetition.” Counting out-loud, “one, two, three up; one, two, three down” will help you keep the correct tempo and prevent you from holding your breath.

In the following weeks gradually increase the weight you use for 8 to 12 repetitions of the same exercise. This is called a “set.” Rest a minute between sets. You want to do two or three sets of each exercise during each training session.


The goal is to challenge but not injure your muscles.


If you’re unable to do the exercise at least 8 times, the weight is too heavy and you need to use a lighter one.


But if you can easily do the exercise 12 or more times, the weight is too light and you need to increase it. You may need different weights for certain exercises.

Complete all exercises with ankle weights before moving on to arm exercises. Include exercises that work opposing muscle groups in the front and back of the legs as well as the arms. For example, exercising only the biceps and not the triceps can lead to muscle injury.

Cool down at the end of your workout by gently stretching the muscles you’ve used. This will help reduce muscle soreness.

Do strengthening exercises two or three times per week, with at least one day off in between sessions. On the off days do endurance or flexibility exercises.

Safety tips
Don’t hold your breath during strength exercises as this can cause changes in blood pressure. This is especially true for people with cardiovascular disease. Breathe out as you lift or push, breathe in as you relax or lower the weight. This may not feel natural at first, and you will likely have to think about it for a while as you are doing it.

Avoid locking your arm and leg joints in a tight, straightened position. People who have had hip or knee replacement or other joint surgery should check with their physician or physical therapist before starting a strength-training program. There may be certain exercises or movements to avoid.

Pain is a signal that you are using too heavy a weight or that you have an injury. If you experience pain, stop immediately and try a lighter weight. Although some soreness when you begin lifting weights or when you increase weight is common, it should not last longer than one or two days.

Do not walk around wearing ankle weights as they may cause you to lose your balance and fall.

For more information and specific exercises:

  • Strong Women Stay Healthy and Strong Women Stay Young two books by Miriam Nelson, PhD with Sarah Wernick, PhD and published by Bantam Books. An accompanying video Strong Women Stay Young is also available from Women First HealthCare.
  • Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging is a free booklet available from the National Institute on Aging. Call 800-222-2225, or visit the Internet site at: The booklet is also available with a video for $7 a set.
  • American College of Sports Medicine’s Fitness Book published by Human Kinetics, 1998.



  Exercise Pre-Participation Checklist

Has a doctor ever said you have heart trouble?


Do you suffer frequently from chest pains?


Do you often feel faint or have spells of severe dizziness?


Has a doctor ever said your blood pressure was too high?


Has a doctor ever told you that you have a bone or joint problem, such as arthritis, that has been or could be aggravated by exercise?


Are you over age 65 and not accustomed to any exercise?


Are you taking any prescription medications, such as those for heart problems or high blood pressure?


Is there a good physical reason not mentioned here that you should not follow an activity program?


If you answer “yes” to any question, you should consult with your physician before beginning an exercise program.


Note: From the PAR-Q Validation Report (modified version) by the British Columbia Department of Health, D.M. Chisholm, M.I. Collins, W. Davenport, N. Gruber, L.L. Kulak, 1975, “British Columbia Medical Journal,” 17.





Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009








University of Missouri logo links to

Site Administrator:
Copyright  ADA  Equal Opportunity

MissouriFamilies is produced by the College of Human Environmental Sciences,
Extension Division, University of Missouri