Tips on Building Strength

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Strength Exercises
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activity is physical activity that includes exercise that increases skeletal muscle strength, power, endurance and mass. This includes:

  • strength training
  • resistance training
  • muscular strength and endurance exercises

How to Improve Your Strength

Strength Exercises are an important part of your fitness routine. Check the Strength Exercises page to see how to begin. Even small changes in muscle strength can make a real difference in function, especially in people who have lost muscle due to sedentary jobs (desk work).

An increase in muscle that you can’t even see can make it easier to do everyday things like get up from a chair, climb stairs, carry groceries, open jars, and even play with the kids. Lower-body strength exercises will also improve your balance and improve your outlook.

About Strength Exercises

To do most of the strength exercises we mention, you need to lift or push weights. You can use weights, resistance bands or common objects from your home. Or, you can use the strength-training equipment at a fitness center or gym. Start by doing 6 repititions (reps). If you can do the exercises 6 times easily, increase the weight. If you cannot do 6 reps, decrease the weight.

To progress you’ll want to increase the amount of reps until you are doing until you can easily do 12-15 for 3 sets. (A set is the # of times you can complete the # of reps you can do. So, if I can do 6 arm curls – I do easy arm for 1 ‘set’ of 6. If I can repeat that 3 times, then I can do 6 curls with each arm for 3 sets).

Exercise the major muscle groups together. If you exercise biceps, also exercise your triceps.

How Much, How Often

Try to do strength exercises for all of your major muscle groups on 2 or more days per week for 30-minute sessions each, but don’t exercise the same muscle group on any 2 days in a row. Use a weekly exercise and physical activity planner to record your goals and progress.

  • If you are beginning, you might need to start out by using 2.5 or 5 pound weights, or no weight at all. Your body needs to get used to strength exercises.
  • Use a light weight the first week, then gradually add more weight. Starting out with weights that are too light won’t help you achieve the benefits you need and too heavy can cause injuries.
  • Gradually add more weight in order to benefit from strength exercises. You need to challenge your muscles to get the most benefit from strength exercises.
  • It should feel somewhere between hard and very hard for you to lift or push the weight. It shouldn’t feel very, very hard. If you can’t lift or push a weight 8 times in a row, it’s too heavy for you. And you should reduce the amount of weight.
  • Take 3 seconds to lift or push a weight into place, hold the position for 1 second, and take another 3 seconds to return to your starting position. Don’t let the weight drop; returning it slowly is very important.
  • Try to do 6 – 10 repetitions for each exercise. Think of this as a goal. As you exercise each week you will build muscle and be able to add more reps over time.


Muscle strength is progressive over time. You should gradually increase the amount of weight you use in order to build your strength. When you can do 2 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions easily, increase the amount of weight at your next session.

Here’s an example of how to progress gradually: Start out with a weight that you can lift 8 times. Keep using that weight until you become strong enough to lift it easily 10 to 15 times. When you can do 2 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions easily, add more weight so  you can lift it only 8 times. Keep repeating until you reach your goal, and then maintain that level as long as you can.

Modify as You Progress

As you progress don’t just add more weight but find new strength exercises to keep you fit and motivated.

Safety Tips

  • Talk with your doctor if you are unsure about doing a particular exercise. For example, if you’ve had hip or back surgery, talk about which exercises might be best for you.
  • Don’t  hold your breath during strength exercises. Holding your breath while straining can cause changes in blood pressure. This is especially true for people with heart issues.
  • Breathe regularly. Breathe in slowly through your nose and breathe out slowly through your mouth. If this is not comfortable or possible, breathe in and out through either your nose or mouth.
  • Breathe out as you lift or push, and breathe in as you relax. For example, if you’re doing leg lifts, breathe out as you lift your leg, and breathe in as you lower it. This may not feel natural at first, but with repetition and focus, you’ll master it. 
  • Proper form and safety go hand-in-hand. For some exercises, you may want to start alternating arms and work your way up to using both arms at the same time. If it is difficult for you to hold hand weights, try using wrist weights.
  • To prevent injury, don’t jerk or thrust weights into position. Use smooth, steady movements.
  • Avoid “locking” your arm and leg joints in a tightly straightened position. To straighten your knees, tighten your thigh muscles. This will lift your kneecaps and protect them.
  • Muscle soreness lasting a few days and slight fatigue are normal after muscle-building exercises, at least at first. After doing these exercises for a few weeks, you should not be sore after your workout. If you have unusual muscle soreness, please consult your doctor.

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