New to strength training?

Tread cautiously if you are lifting weights or doing body weight exercises for the first time

It’s been over a month since Tanya Goenka embarked on a fitness routine. “I had an active childhood — swimming, dancing, karate and Taekwondo,” says the 18-year-old from Hyderabad. The rigours of high school forced a slowdown, and the onset of the pandemic in 2020 paused many of her activities. Being homebound and glued to online classes for hours led to a change in eating habits; lethargy set in.

With school behind her, and looking forward to heading to the US for college in Fall 2021, she hopes to prioritise health and fitness. She enrolled for personal training with fitness trainer Saikrupa Kanth, who works with Telugu film actors and directors: “The first few classes focussed on the basics, including correcting my posture. I could barely hold a plank for 10 seconds, now I can go up to a minute,” says Tanya. She has begun lifting light weights and is determined to pursue her regimen in the US, through online classes.

Summer 2020 was all about getting acquainted with doing everything online. Gyms were out of bounds during lockdown and fitness enthusiasts turned to online classes. Those who were already pursuing a regimen set up small home gyms with exercise mats, dumbbells, Kettlebells and resistance bands.

Strength/weight training at home

  • Nisha Varma, an American College of Sports Medicine exercise physiologist and a Reebok Master Trainer, recommends: “Gym/medicine balls (2 to 5 kilogram), TheraBand and loop are great additions to ensure that you get a complete workout. A TheraBand can be anchored to balcony railings to do back exercises. Resistance running using loops are also great for home use.”
  • Weight lifting does not make women bulky. Women have the ability to lift heavy weights but do not increase lean muscle mass at the same rate as men, because women don’t produce much testosterone.
  • Cardio is not the only answer for weight loss. Strength training will help you lose more fat. During strength training, muscles go through a process of breaking down and rebuilding over the next 24 to 48 hours. This requires more calories and energy and is referred to as the ‘afterburn effect’. This also means your metabolism operates at a faster pace even when you are at rest after a workout

How to begin

An in-person class with a trainer is still the best way to learn the basics, says Saikrupa.

With the second wave of COVID-19 showing signs of slowing down and a few States easing lockdown restrictions, it is possible to get in-person individual training sessions in the outdoors.

In cities that are still under complete lockdown, personalised online classes are the next best bet. Leena Mogre, Mumbai-based trainer, suggests: “A one-on-one class can help beginners fix their form, before signing up for group classes that can make it challenging for trainers to notice and correct minute glitches.”

While learning the basics, she suggests watching recorded videos repeatedly and practising without weights, to begin with. If you can work out in front of a mirror, even better.

A well thought out warm-up precedes a workout session, and a trainer can help tailor the warm-up according to the training routine on a particular day.

Start slow and work your way up. Factor in adequate rest and recovery. “A muscle needs anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to repair and rebuild, and working it again too soon can lead to tissue breakdown,” says Saikrupa.

Trainers caution beginners against bodyweight training — push-ups or squats — without guidance.

Dr Madhu Thottapillil, orthopaedic surgeon and founder of Chennai-based National Sports Medicine Center, agrees. In the last one year, he has been treating patients who have injured themselves trying to work out at home: “Many are in their 30s and 40s, who would earlier go for brisk walks in the neighbourhood, and started strength training during the lockdown.”

Choosing online workouts

There’s no dearth of fitness channels on the internet and zeroing in on what suits your body best can be confusing. Dr Thottapillil says, “Look for trainers who have been doing this for years. Browse through a few videos, read the comments to see whether it has benefited those who have tried the regimens. Start with routines that are specifically made for beginners. For those who have never done strength or weight training before, beginn with resistance band exercises to minimise the possibility of injuries. Step up very slowly, be it in terms of repetitions or taking up small weights.”

Why lift weights?

Weight lifting might seem intimidating at first. Navigate the basics — stability, mobility, flexibility and strengthening the core — and it turns into an enjoyable practice. Those who are consistent in their training gain strength, reduce body fat, and minimise instances of back pain, plus better moods and increased confidence levels.

“Muscle mass can begin to decline as early as in your 30s. Starting a weight training programme can help you maintain and even build that strength as you get older,” Saikrupa explains.

Leena suggests a synergy between aerobic workouts and strength training to get the best results. “Perform an exercise without weights for a few reps to see if you are doing it right, then incorporate small weights — 2 to 5 kilograms. Trying to lift heavier weights before fixing your form can lead to injuries,” she cautions, adding, “Gyms have equipment that facilitate better alignment. This isn’t possible while training at home with free weights. So be watchful.”

Madhulatha Agarwal, a homemaker who is pushing 60, speaks from experience on why women should lift weights: “My son and daughter in law encouraged me to start working out. Earlier, I was practising yoga and would go on brisk walks. I began incorporating weight training more than three years ago, building it up slowly. Now I can do deadlifts up to 50 kilograms, and 25 to 30 kilograms on barbells. I feel stronger and healthier. Don’t do it to impress anyone. We need to do this for ourselves, our health.”

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