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Fight flab, build strength, increase flexibility, and sculpt your body!
No matter what your age or fitness level, weight training has many health benefits. Featuring illustrated step-by-step exercises plus tips on equipment and specialized workouts, this friendly guide shows you how to get started and get results — at home or at the gym, using ...
Fight flab, build strength, increase flexibility, and sculpt your body!
No matter what your age or fitness level, weight training has many health benefits. Featuring illustrated step-by-step exercises plus tips on equipment and specialized workouts, this friendly guide shows you how to get started and get results — at home or at the gym, using free weights or weight machines.
Praise for Weight Training For Dummies
"A fun, easy-to-follow guide. . . . You'll never be intimidated by a weight room again."
—Peg Moline, Editorial Director, Shape
"Takes you step-by-step through setting up your own gym to developing a training program."
"One of the easiest-to-understand, best-illustrated guides to important strength exercises we've ever seen."
"Solid, comprehensive, and fun. . . . Photos illustrate more than 150 pages of exercises."
Discover how to
Stuff to Know
Before You Pick Up
In this part ...
Part I takes the intimidation out of weight lifting. You get a description of the major weight training tools: dumbbells, barbells, weight machines, rubber tubing, and a few other mysterious contraptions you're likely to come across at a health club or a home equipment store. We offer a jargon-to-English translation of key weight training lingo such as set and rep, and we cover safety basics so that you don't crush your fingers in a weight machine or whack a fellow lifter in the ribs with a barbell. In this part, you also find out how to track your progress in a weight-training diary and how to test your muscle power on a variety of equipment. And for the few, the proud, the ambitious, we list the physical requirements for entrance into several police, fire, and military academies.
Tools of the Trade
In This Chapter
* A ... For Dummies guide to dumbbells and other free weights
* The importance of using a weight bench
* Operating heavy machinery
* Rubber tubing: Can it really build muscle?
* Using your body as weight equipment
No question: The most intimidating thing about weight training is the equipment. You could examine a weight machine for half an hour — looking it up and down, walking circles around it, touching it, prodding it, even reading the instructional plaque posted on the frame — and still have absolutely no clue where to sit, which lever to push, or what possible benefit you could derive from using it. Heck, even a simple metal bar sitting on a rack can leave you scratching your head.
We have two points to make about the bewildering nature of weight equipment. First, relax. With a bit of practice, weight training contraptions are actually easy to operate. Second, be happy that you decided to take up weight lifting in the 20th century. Back in the 1800s, fitness enthusiasts took to lifting furniture, boulders — even cows! Although we personally have never tried hoisting farm animals overhead, we feel confident that today's weight training devices are a major improvement.
In this chapter, we introduce the basic strength-building tools that you find in health clubs and home equipment stores: free weights (dumbbells and barbells), machines, and rubber exercise bands and tubes. We detail the pros and cons of each, and help you decide which type of equipment is right for you. We also answer the big questions: Should beginners stick to machines? Do barbells build bigger muscles? Can you get strong without using any equipment at all?
Jargon We Couldn't Resist
In fitness magazines, health clubs, and videos, you often hear weight equipment referred to as resistance equipment. We hate to clutter your brain with-jargon right off the bat, but resistance is a word you should know. Resistance is an opposing force, like a weight or gravity; in order for your muscles to get stronger, you must work against resistance. Resistance equipment is actually a more accurate term than weight equipment because, as we explain later in this chapter, you can build muscle without using weights at all. Rubber exercise tubes, for example, don't weigh more than a couple of ounces, but they provide enough resistance to strengthen your muscles. Throughout this book, we use the terms resistance training, weight training, strength training, and weight lifting interchangeably.
A ... For Dummies Guide to Dumbbells
and Other Free Weights
Free weights are the metal bars that have weighted plates welded or clipped onto the ends. Dumbbells are the short ones — you can lift them with one hand. Barbells are the long bars that you see Olympic weight lifters hoisting overhead with both hands. Dumbbells and barbells are called free weights not because they're given away by benevolent body builders but because they're not attached to any pulleys, chains, or other machinery.
Some novices think that free weights are the domain of advanced weight lifters, equipment that's not to be fooled with until you've graduated from weight machines. Not true. Beginners have just as much to gain from using free weights as those guys and gals with necks the diameter of a tree stump.
Different kinds of dumbbells
Dumbbells come in pairs, and at most health clubs, they're lined up on a rack from lightest (as light as 1 pound) to heaviest (upwards of 180 pounds). By the way, the super heavy dumbbells are mostly for show, considering that about .0000001 percent of the population is capable of lifting them. At some gyms, these weights sit untouched year after year, like the orange jelly candies in that bowl at Aunt Selma's house.
Dumbbells come in many shapes and materials. Some have hexagonal ends so that they don't roll around the floor. Some have contoured handles. Some are made of shiny chrome; others are gray steel. Others are coated with rubber so that if some yahoo drops them, the weights won't dig a hole in the floor the size of Australia. Figure 1-1 shows an array of dumbbells.
Different kinds of barbells
Like dumbbells, barbells, also called bars, come in a variety of designs. The most popular is a straight bar — at most gyms, these bars weigh 45 pounds and are 6 or 7 feet long. (However, many gyms have bars in a variety of weights, sometimes as light as 15 or 20 pounds. If you're not sure how much a bar weighs, be sure to check with a staff member.) If you want to lift more than 45 pounds, as most people eventually do, you choose from an array of round plates weighing 1 1/4 to 45 pounds and slide them onto either end of the bar. (The plates have a hole in the center.) For example, if you want to lift 75 pounds, you slide a 10-pound plate and a 5-pound plate onto each end.
Clip-like or screw-like devices called collars temporarily secure the plates onto the bars so that they won't rattle around or slide off as you push or pull the bar. Be sure to use these collars, as shown in Figure 1-2, at the gym and at home; many a mirror has been shattered by runaway weight plates. Some health clubs require that you use collars. At one of our favorite gyms, Dave's Power Palace in Carson City, Nevada, Dave himself will march over and stare you down if you forget to clip on the collar. Dave, a former power lifter and deputy sheriff, weighs 280 pounds. He's not someone you want to argue with.
In addition to straight bars, most health clubs and equipment dealers have a number of exotic-looking bars with various twists and bends in them. The most common is a W-shaped bar about 3 feet long called the EZ-Curl, which is designed to make certain triceps exercises more comfortable. Some gyms and equipment stores also have an array of straight and EZ-Curl bars with weight plates welded to the ends. These barbells are convenient to use because you don't have to slide weight plates on and off. If you want to switch from 75 pounds to 85 pounds, you simply put the 75-pounder back on the rack and pick up the 85-pounder. No muss, no fuss.
Also, these welded bars are helpful for beginners because they come in weights as light as 20 pounds (sometimes less). They're often shorter and less bulky than the traditional bars, so they're more comfortable for many arm and shoulder exercises. However, you typically won't find these fixed-weight barbells weighing more than 150 pounds. For many barbell exercises — particularly certain chest and leg exercises — you may need a lot more weight than 150 pounds. With traditional bars, you can pile on up to about 600 pounds (not that we expect you to do this).
The value of free weights
A friend of ours was lying on a weight bench holding two dumbbells overhead when his cat hopped up onto the bench. While trying to shoo the cat away by squirming around, our friend kept the weights overhead for so long that he tore a rotator cuff muscle. The point of this story isn't to scare you away from using free weights. In fact, we believe the best approach to strength training is to combine free weights and machines. Just know that barbells and dumbbells require plenty of concentration. If you follow the safety tips described in Chapter 3 (and if you avoid choosing your pet as a training partner), free weight training is perfectly safe. Here are several good reasons to use dumbbells and barbells.
* Free weights are versatile. With barbells and dumbbells you can do literally hundreds of exercises that work virtually every muscle group in your body. Flip through Part III of this book, and you'll get an idea of just how handy they are. Most weight machines, on the other hand, are designed to perform only one or two exercises.
* Free weights give your muscles more freedom to move. Suppose that you're lying on a bench pushing a barbell above your chest (this is the Bench Press, shown in Chapter 10). You can press the weight straight up over your chest, or you can move your arms a few inches back so that you are pressing directly above your neck. Or you can position your arms anywhere between. All these movements are perfectly legitimate ways of doing the exercise, and some may feel more comfortable to your body than others.
* Free weights involve several muscle groups at once. For example, chest press movements are designed to work your chest, shoulders, and triceps. However, when you perform these movements with a barbell, you also call on your abdominal and lower back muscles to keep your body still and to keep the bar balanced as you press the weight up. With the equivalent machine, you don't have to worry about holding the bar still, so your abdominal and back muscles don't get much action. (However, as we explain in the "Don't Be Afraid of Weight Machines" section later in this chapter, the more limited action of a machine is sometimes a benefit.)
Making the choice: Dumbbells
As we demonstrate in Part III, you can perform many movements with both dumbbells and barbells. For example, while sitting on a bench, you can either press a bar overhead (the Military Press) or press up two dumbbells (the Dumbbell Shoulder Press). Which is the better option? Actually, both have their benefits.
Dumbbells are helpful because they allow each arm to work independently. If one side of your body is stronger than the other — a very common phenomenon — this imbalance is apparent when you're working with dumbbells. Your weaker hand may start wobbling, or you may not be able to perform as many repetitions with that hand. (See Chapter 4 for a definition of repetition.) Using dumbbells can help correct strength imbalances because each side of your body is forced to carry its own weight, so to speak. By contrast, if you use a bar, your stronger side may simply pick up the slack for your weak side.
On the other hand, some exercises just don't feel as good when you use dumbbells. Any seasoned lifter can tell you that nothing is quite like doing the Bench Press — it's considered the quintessential meat-and-potatoes chest exercise. Even though the Dumbbell Chest Press is a perfectly good exercise, it may not deliver quite the same amount of satisfaction, probably because you can't lift as much total weight. For example, if you can do the Dumbbell Chest Press with a 20-pound dumbbell in each hand, there's a good chance that you can lift at least a 60-pound barbell.
The Importance of Using a Weight Bench
A weight bench is what you'd expect: a sturdy, padded bench that you lie, sit, or kneel on to lift weights. To get the most out of free weights, benches are a must. Sure, you could lie on the ground, but many exercises will come to an abrupt halt when your elbows smack against the floor. As a result, your muscles won't get a chance to work to their fullest. (Your elbows might not feel so great, either.)
Benches come in a variety of designs. These are the four most common benches. (Some benches can be adjusted to serve all four functions.)
* Flat: A flat bench looks like a long, narrow piano bench, only with padding and metal legs. See the Dumbbell Chest Press exercise in Chapter 10 for an example.
* Vertical: A vertical bench looks like a really formal chair — with the seat back straight up. You wouldn't want to sit in one of these at the dinner table, but they're quite comfortable for weight lifting. The back support prevents you from straining your lower back muscles during exercises that you perform while sitting up. The Dumbbell Shoulder Press, shown in Chapter 11, uses this type of bench.
* Incline: The seat back of an incline bench is usually adjustable so that you can lie flat, sit up straight, or position yourself at any angle in between. (The angle you choose determines which muscles are emphasized.) The Incline Chest Fly, shown in Chapter 10, uses this type of bench.
* Decline: A decline bench is sloped downward so that you're lying with your legs higher than your head. A decline bench is primarily used to strengthen the lower portion of the chest muscles. We don't use a decline bench for any exercises in this book.
The smith machine
We're not going to tell you about every contraption you might come across at a health club, but we do want to make special note of the Smith machine, named for Randy Smith, an influential figure in fitness in the 1970s. With this machine, you use a regular free-weight bar, but the bar is trapped inside a track so that it must travel straight up and down.
The Smith machine increases the safety of exercises such as bench presses, overhead lifts, and squats because you don't have to worry about the bar wobbling or slipping from your grip. At the same time, the machine retains the feel of free weights. (And, as with free weights, you can add any number of weight plates onto the bar.) Many Smith machines possess another safety feature: pins jutting out from the frame. These pins prevent the bar from being lowered below a certain point, so there's no chance you'll get crushed under the bar if the weight is too heavy.
Don't Be Afraid of Weight Machines
Attach a few bars onto a large metal frame, add a cable and a pulley or two, weld a seat and a few pads onto your creation, and presto! A weight machine is born. Of course, weight lifting machines are a bit more sophisticated than this definition suggests, but you get the idea. There are countless ways to put these various elements together — flip through Part III and you'll see that weight machines look wildly different.
However, most weight machines have one feature in common: a stack of rectangular weight plates, each weighing 5 to 20 pounds. (Some newfangled electronic and hydraulic machines have done away with the weight stack.) Each plate has a hole in it; to lift 50 pounds, you stick a metal pin in the hole of the weight plate marked 50. When you perform the exercise — by pushing or pulling on a set of handles or levers — the machine picks up the plate marked 50, plus all of the plates above it.
One unique feature of modern day weight machines is that many of them challenge your muscles throughout the entire motion of the exercise. They are specially designed to compensate for the fact that your muscles aren't equally strong throughout a particular motion. Consider the Triceps Kickback exercise, shown in Chapter 12. This exercise is relatively easy at the start, but by the time you're in the middle of the exercise, when your arm is halfway straightened out, your muscle is being challenged a lot more. By the end of the exercise, your muscle again has better leverage, so you finish feeling strong.
Weight machines are able to manipulate the resistance at various points in the exercise by using a kidney-shaped gizmo called a cam. When you're at a particularly weak point for your muscle during the exercise, the cam lightens the load. When your muscle has good mechanical advantage, the cam gives it more work to do. This way, your muscles are working to their fullest throughout the motion. Otherwise, you're limited to a weight you can move only at your weakest point, as you are with free weights.
Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus machines, was the first person to use the cam in exercise machines, and he became a multimillionaire for it. The term Nautilus machine has become a generic term like Band-Aid or Jell-O. When people refer to Nautilus machines, they may be talking about any one of the major brands, including Cybex, Body Masters, Hammer, Galileo, or Icarian.
What weight machines can do for you
Like every machine ever invented, from the Cuisinart to the calculator, weight machines are designed to provide advantages over the low-tech contraptions that came before. Here are some of the ways that weight machines can top dumbbells and barbells.
Weight lifting accessories
Here's a rundown of the accouterments that people carry in their gym bags. Even if you never set foot in a health club, these accessories can make your workouts more comfortable and, in some cases, safer.
* Gloves: Weight lifting gloves have padded palms, and the tops of the fingers are cut off. They prevent your hands from slipping off a bar. They also look cool. See Chapter 24 for details about gloves.
* Belts: The controversy in the fitness community rages on: To wear a belt or not to wear a belt? Proponents of weight lifting belts maintain that these belts protect your lower back. Opponents counter that a belt is like a crutch. If the belt does all the work to keep your body stable, then your abdominal and back muscles won t develop to their fullest potential, and you may end up with back problems down the line.
Who's right? We're not fond of belts. Although many casual lifters swear by them, we think that you don't need one unless you're a serious power lifter. Your abdominal and lower-back muscles will benefit from the work they do to support you during a lift.
* Shoes: Wear athletic shoes that have plenty of cushioning and ankle support. On occasion we see people wearing thongs or loafers when they lift weights. If you drop a weight when you're wearing sandals, your toes have NO protection. (Shockingly, some exercise books show people lifting weights in bare feet.) And if you wear shoes without rubber soles, your footing won't be secure enough. We've even seen weight-lifting videos in which the models wear high heels. We cringe at the thought of what these people are doing to their ankles and knees.
* Clothing: Suzanne made the mistake of wearing running shorts to her first weight lifting session. The error became apparent when the trainer told her to hop on the outer-thigh machine, which required spreading her legs. The lesson: Wear tight shorts. Or at least long ones. On top, wear a T-shirt or tank top — and maybe a light sweatshirt during your warm-up, Forget the multilayered, northern Alaska look, and certainly don't wear one of those vinyl exercise suits. Heavy clothing only traps your sweat and leads to dehydration; it can also impede your movement and hide mistakes in your posture that you'd be able to see if you weren't dressed for an expedition to the North Pole.
* A towel: Do you want to lie down in a pool of someone else's sweat? We didn't think so. Be courteous. Use a towel to frequently wipe off your body and the equipment you use.
* A water bottle: Every gym has a drinking fountain, but you'll drink more water while weight lifting if you have a bottle by side. If you exercise at home, a water bottle is a must.
* A weight training log: Recording your workouts in a journal keeps you motivated and helps you assess your fitness goals. For suggestions on what to write down, see Chapter 4.
* Weight machines are safe. There's no chance they'll come crashing down on you, so you need less instruction and supervision than you do with free weights.
* Weight machines are easy to use. Machines don't require much balance or coordination, so you can get the hang of an exercise more quickly. Also, you're more likely to use proper form because the machine provides so much guidance. However, machines don't guarantee good form. You can still butcher an exercise on a machine, which can lead to injury or at the very least cheat your muscles out of a good workout.
* Weight machines enable you to isolate a muscle group. In other words, machines enable you to hone in on one muscle group to the exclusion of all others. For example, very few free weight exercises isolate your hamstrings, your rear thigh muscles. Usually, you can't exclude other muscles — such as your front thighs, butt, or lower back — from getting involved.
On the other hand, as we explain in Chapter 13, numerous machines can isolate your hamstrings. This feature of weight machines is helpful if you have a particular weakness or are trying to build up one body part.
* Weight machines help you whip through your workout in minutes. You put in the pin, do the exercise, then move to the next machine. This process also makes it easy to work out with a friend who is either stronger or weaker — you don't have to load or unload weight plates off a bar. But keep in mind that you do need to adjust each machine to fit your body. In Chapter 3, we explain how to adjust machines.
Cable machines: A different breed
Not all machines use a cam. A class of contraptions called cable machines use a typical round pulley. A cable machine is basically a vertical metal beam, called a tower, with a pulley attached. You can adjust the height of the pulley so that it's close to the floor, up over your head, or anywhere in between. Some cable machines have two towers (for an example, see the Cable Crossover exercise shown in Chapter 10). Cable machines are more versatile than Nautilus-type machines. Clip a new handle onto the pulley and you instantly create a new exercise.
Consider the Triceps Pushdown, described in Chapter 12. Pressing down with a rope feels considerably different than pressing down with a V-shaped bar. You may prefer one attachment over the other, or you may want to use both for variety. See the sidebar, "Cable attachments," for a rundown of the most popular attachments. In Part III of the book, we recommend certain attachments for certain exercises.
At most gyms, you see a large heap of metal bars and handles sitting in a plastic container or milk crate. This may look like a pile of junk, but actually it's more like a treasure chest. By attaching these handles to a cable pulley, you create an unlimited variety of exercises.
Some people are afraid to go near this pile, so they simply settle for using whatever bar happens to already be attached to the cable. But if you frequently switch the handles, your workout will be a lot more fun. Here's a run-down of the most popular cable attachments.
* Long bar: These bars come in various lengths and are commonly used for back exercises that involve pulling the bar to your chest, such as the Lat Pulldown, described in Chapter 9. You can pull these bars with an underhand or overhand grip, and you can place your hands as far apart or as close together as you like.
* Curved short bar: Some of these are U-shaped and some are V-shaped. Both varieties are used almost exclusively for triceps (rear upper arm) exercises, such as the Triceps Pushdown, shown in Chapter 12.
* Straight short bar: This bar is used in triceps exercises, biceps curls, and rows. We are specially like to use this bar for the Triceps Pushdown and the seated Cable Row.
* Horseshoe: Unlike with the other bars, you grasp the horseshoe with one hand. It's used for numerous chest, arm, and back exercises in which you work each side individually. Try the horseshoe with the Triceps Pushdown, the seated Cable Row, and the Cable Lateral Raise.
* Rope: This attachment is most commonly used for triceps exercises such as the Triceps Pushdown.
* Ankle collar. You clip this wide leather ankle bracelet to the pulley to perform exercises such as leg lifts, back kicks, and leg curls. It's great for strengthening your inner and outer thighs while you're standing. We don't use the ankle collar in this book, but a trainer can fill you in.
Stretching Your Workout
Giant rubber bands and rubber tubes provide resistance for just pennies. You can't get as strong or measure your progress as precisely as you can with machines and free weights, but bands do challenge your muscles in new and effective ways. For example, bands provide resistance during both the up and down motions of an exercise. With most free weight and weight machine exercises, on the other hand, you typically feel resistance only during the lifting portion of the exercise.
Rubber bands and tubes are also convenient and portable. (You can't exactly pack a bunch of dumbbells into your overnight bag.) If you don't have access to machines, bands are a great supplement to free weights because they allow you to do exercises that just aren't possible with dumbbells and bars. Chapter 23 shows you ten exercises that you can perform with bands and tubes.
Lifting Your Body Weight
Why is it that certain exercises can be quite challenging even though you're not holding any weights or using a machine? (The Lunge, shown in Chapter 14, is a good example.) In these cases, you're not lifting no weight, you're lifting your body weight. With a number of exercises, moving your own body weight offers plenty of resistance, especially for beginners.
The effectiveness of a no-equipment exercise depends on how much of your weight you actually have to move, and how hard you have to work to overcome the force of gravity. Consider the Push-up, shown in Chapter 10. In the Military version, you have to push your entire body upward, directly against the force of gravity. The Modified version, where you're balanced on your knees rather than your toes, factors out the weight of your legs so that the exercise is easier. Neither exercise requires you to hold a weight, but both versions can be tough.
Part I: Before You Pick Up a Weight.
Chapter 1: Weight Training for Life.
Chapter 2: Workout Lingo and Proven Training Concepts.
Chapter 3: Testing Your Strength, Setting Goals, and Tracking Progress.
Chapter 4: Examining Tools of the Weight-Training Trade.
Chapter 5: How to Avoid Dropping a Weight on Your Toe (and Other Safety Tips).
Part II: Weighing In with Weight Training Wisdom.
Chapter 6: Exercising at Home: Setting Up Your Own Gym.
Chapter 7: Exercising Away from Home: Clubs, Trainers, and Classes.
Chapter 8: Stretching: The Truth.
Chapter 9: Avoiding Common Weight Lifting Mistakes.
Part III: Tackling the Exercises.
Chapter 10: Interpreting the Exercise Instructions.
Chapter 11: Working Your Back.
Chapter 12: Working Your Chest.
Chapter 13: Working Your Shoulders.
Chapter 14: Working Your Arms.
Chapter 15: Working Your Abdominals.
Chapter 16: Working Your Butt and Legs.
Chapter 17: Working Your Core.
Part IV: Setting Up Your Workout Programs.
Chapter 18: Basic Workouts to Get Started.
Chapter 19: Quickie Workouts for Busy Days.
Chapter 20: Core Programs for Good Balance and a Healthy Back.
Chapter 21: Tackling More Advanced Programs.
Chapter 22: Workouts for Special Needs.
Chapter 23: Adding Yoga and Pilates for Flexible Strength and Coordination.
Part V: The Part of Tens.
Chapter 24: Ten (Okay, Eleven) G-Rated Things You Can Do with Latex Rubber.
Chapter 25: Ten Ways to Have a Ball (Almost Literally).
Chapter 26: Ten Thoughts on Supplements, Diets, and Healthy Eating.
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