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8. Get Off on the Right Foot

When you begin strength training, or any other excise, take some commonsense precautions to protect your health and maximize the benefits:

• Start slowly and work your way up. It’s natural to want to reach your maximum capacity as quickly as possible, but you have to be realistic; a gradual increase in weight or repetitions is the safest way to go. This is particularly true if you live a relatively sedentary lifestyle and are just beginning a serious exercise regimen.

• Always warm up for 5 to 10 minutes before engaging in strenuous exercise, and always cool down afterward.

• Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after you exercise. • This keeps your body functioning at full capacity and prevents dehydration.

• Maintain a safe pace. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you can’t speak while exercising, you need to slow down.

9. Start with Dumbbells

If you’re starting as a complete beginner, the best weights to use are dumbbells, which you can buy at a sporting goods store. Dumbbells are convenient, portable, and not overwhelming. You can use them while watching television or talking on the phone. They come in various weights, and you’ll need a few so you can use different ones to work different muscles. If the only upper-body work you’ve done is lifting utensils to eat and drink, you probably want to start out with 3-pound weights. You’ll graduate to 5 pounds in a few weeks and may be ready to work with 10-pound weights in a few months.

You may also want to purchase weights for lower-body work. A handy type of weight to use for leg strengthening is the kind that goes around your ankle and is adjusted with a Velcro strap.

10. Learn Strength-Training Basics

There are two ways to hold your dumbbells: overhand and underhand. For the overhand grip, grab the dumbbell with your palm facing down and knuckles facing up. For the underhand grip, your palm should be facing up and your knuckles down.

There are two ways to stand as well. One is with your feet shoulder-width apart, head and shoulders level, back erect, and knees slightly bent. This is the standard position. The other stance is bent over, feet shoulder-width apart, with one leg slightly extended. The idea is to work with a flat back and with your nonworking arm resting on the same-side thigh.

11. Ease into Strength Training

When first beginning a strength-training program, you should only perform one set of each exercise for the first couple of weeks, doing 12 to 15 repetitions (reps) per exercise. After this, you may increase to two or three sets after one warm-up set. If you could go well beyond 15–20 reps, increase the weight on your next set or at your next session; don’t feel overwhelmed and think you must increase the number of sets to reap strength-training benefits.

12. Do Lunges

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, a dumbbell in each hand in the overhand grip. Step out with your right leg about one stride, landing on your heel and rolling your foot down flat against the floor. Bend both knees so that your right thigh is parallel to the floor (do not let your right knee go beyond your right foot). Your left thigh will be perpendicular to it, and your left heel will lift off the floor. Your arms remain by your sides during the exercise. Return to the starting position by rolling off the ball of your right foot. Alternate legs as you do your reps.

13. Do Leg Extensions

Choose a chair with firm back support and in which, when you’re sitting, your feet rest flat on the floor. Sitting in the chair, put the ankle weights on both ankles. One leg at a time, squeezing with your thigh, lift your leg until your knee is straight. Control the descent. This is one rep.

14. Do Leg Curls

Lie on the floor on your stomach, with your arms at your side and the weights around your ankles. Turn your head to one side and lift both feet toward your buttocks, bringing your heels as close to your buttocks as you can. Use your abs to keep your hips pressing into the floor and lower your legs to the starting position for one rep.

15. Do Biceps Curls and Triceps Kickbacks

From the standing position with your arms at your sides, hold the dumbbell with an underhand grip. With your elbow securely against your side, raise (curl) the dumbbell up and toward your chest as far as it will go, and then control the weight as you bring your hand back down. This is one repetition. Alternate arms after each set.

For the triceps kickback, use an overhand grip; in the bent-over position, extend the working arm straight behind you (kick it back) without hyperextending your arm. Control the weight as you bend your arm back toward your chest. This is one repetition.

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