It’s no secret that strength training is so good for you. Countless experts have told us that it helps burn fat, increase bone density, and—oh yeah—seriously tone every inch of your body. To find out how you can get even more out of your strength training, we asked a few of the top trainers for their number one tip for sculpting your body in the weight room and beyond. Check out their best advice.
Strength Training Tip #1: Perfect Your Form First
The most important part of strength training is learning the guidelines for each move, says James Stuart, C.S.C.S. Here’s why: When you’re loading your body with weight, you put yourself at risk for injury, especially if you aren’t using the correct form. Plus, even if you avoid hurting yourself, the strength-training move won’t be as beneficial if you’re not doing it right, he says. So, to be safe, make sure you can nail the form before you start adding more weight or even any weight at all.
Strength Training Tip #2: Add More Weight When You Can
That said, if you’ve got the form down and you can comfortably lift a weight for the full amount of prescribed reps, it might be time to increase the weight you’re using, says Tony D’Souz, certified personal trainer and strength and conditioning specialist, in Boston, Massachusetts. Though it might seem obvious, D’Souza says it’s one principle of strength training that a lot of people forget. “In order to get stronger, you must push your body by increasing your weight,” he says. In other words, using the same weight week after week is not going to cut it. Instead, choose a weight with which you can get within two reps of the amount called for. If you can’t, the weight is too heavy. Once you can do all of the reps without breaking your form, he says to increase the weight between five and 10 pounds for upper body (if you’re using dumbbells, make that 2.5 to five pounds) and 10 to 20 pounds for lower body (again, cut these numbers in half if you’re using dumbbells). Then start the process all over again.
Strength Training Tip #3: Strategically Change Up Your Moves
When it comes to planning out your exercises, it’s vital that you change them frequently but not too frequently, says Rachel Smith, New York City based personal trainer. Smith finds that many people either do the same program for too long or they do a different program every time. In the first situation, your body adapts to the workout and stops reaping the benefits of those moves. In the second scenario, you’re not giving your body enough time to master the exercises and progress it further by adding more weight or doing more reps. Her best advice is to switch up your moves every month.
Strength Training Tip #4: You Don’t Need Separate Days For Different Body Parts
If you reserve Mondays for strength training your upper body and Wednesdays for working your lower body, you’re wasting time and making things more complicated than they need to be. “Simplifying your workout by focusing on moves that work your whole body gives you more bang for your buck,” says Bob Gotlieb., certified strength training and conditioning specialist. Gotlieb especially likes single-leg squats, chin-ups, and pushups, which utilize more of your body’s resources, a.k.a. more muscles.
Strength Training Tip #5: Always Have A Plan
If you walk into the weight room without a strategy or a specific set of moves in mind, it’s going to be hard to progress, says Daniel Rooney, a trainer in New York City. Instead, you need to remember exactly what you did the last time you were in the weight room so you can improve on the number of reps or increase the weight you’re using, he says. By tracking your workouts either on your phone or with a pencil and paper, Rooney says you’ll see a lot more progress and be able to look back and see how far you’ve come since you started—which is always a great feeling.
Strength Training Tip #6: No Weights Is Not An Excuse
Think you can’t get a great muscle-strengthening workout outside the weight room? Think again, friend. “Strength training can be done anywhere with body weight,” says Michelle Polk, a celebrity trainer and Asics America conditioning coach. That means there’s no excuse not to do it, she says. Polk especially loves using multi-joint movements like a squat, bicep curl, and shoulder press combination sans weights. No excuses, people.
Strength Training Tip #7: Rest As Needed
While M.I.A. dumbbells aren’t a reason to skip your strength training, you are allowed to take a break when you’re not feeling so hot. In fact, if you feel like you’re coming down with a cold, the smarter option might be sitting out rather than pushing yourself and getting sicker, says John Gula, San Francisco based personal fitness trainer and nutritionist. Other signs you need to take a rest include feeling really tired and feeling sore to the point where your muscles are tender to the touch, he says. Instead of strength training, he recommends doing active recovery exercises or just using that day to rest.