Planning a Free Weights Workout Schedule
Develop a strength-training plan using free weights to exercise all of your muscle groups at the proper intensity as part of a well-rounded fitness plan.
Getting fit and staying in shape is a common goal people set, especially as the New Year rolls in. A fitness regimen that includes aerobic exercise and strength training will maximize the benefit of both types of workouts. The President’s Council on Fitness and Sports recommends at least three 20-minute aerobic exercise sessions and at least two 20-minute sessions of strength training per week.
Strength training with free weights can improve your strength and muscle tone, increase bone density, and help you lose fat. If you don’t have a plan for working out with free weights, you may not receive the maximum benefit from your exercise. Your strength-training plan should include the days you will work out, the matter you’ll use, the number of repetitions, and a periodic evaluation of your progress to determine when you should increase the intensity of your workout.
- Set your workout goals. Do you want to improve muscle mass, lose weight, or stay fit? Your objective will determine the number of repetitions you perform for each exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests performing one to three sets of repetitions, with the number of reps based on the exercise goal. Do three to five reps for muscle power, five to eight reps for muscle strength, and 15 to 20 reps for muscle endurance.
- Test your baseline strength to determine your starting weight. The Mayo Clinic advises you to start with a weight you can comfortably lift 12 to 15 times, with difficulty increasing in the last few lifts.
- Incorporate all of your muscles in your workout plan. The ACSM describes three major muscle groups: the upper body, the chest, upper back, arms, and shoulders; the torso, which includes the lower back, abdominals, and obliques; and the lower body, which is the buttocks, thighs, and calves.
- Decide how many days per week, you will work out. Muscles need to rest between workouts, so you might exercise your entire body every other day, or exercise your upper body on one day and your torso and lower body another.
- Write a schedule for your workouts, including a progression plan. Start slowly to avoid the risk of overuse injury. As your activities get more comfortable, increase either the weight, repetitions or several sets—but not all three simultaneously.
- Keep track of your workouts and the results. A journal will allow you to know when to increase your activities, and a record of your progress can help keep you motivated.
Don’t forget to breathe while you’re lifting weights. Inhale when the exercise is most comfortable, and exhale when it is hardest. Stop exercising if you feel pain. Use less weight, or give your muscles a day or two of rest before attempting another workout. Warm-up and cool down before and after your workouts to prevent injury and muscle fatigue. Include 10 to 12 minutes of stretching, advises the President’s Council, which can be incorporated into your cool-down.
Proper use of free weights is essential to maximize workout effectiveness and prevent injury. If you are unsure of your technique, have a professional fitness show you the correct form. According to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, if you are over 35, have been inactive for several years, or have any health problems, you should consult your health care Expert before beginning any exercise cycle.