1. Focus on form
It’s more important to get your technique right than to bang out all the reps of an exercise. Form—the correct movement for each exercise—is very important during strength training. Poor form isn’t just ineffective, it can lead to injury. It’s a good idea to train in a room that has a mirror so you can see exactly what you are performing.
2. Don’t hold your breath
Try not to hold your breath at any point during an exercise. In general, exhale on the exertion (lifting the weight) and inhale as you recover. When you hold your breath, you not only will be uncomfortable, but also may get dizzy. By breathing evenly through any movement, you’ll feel more relaxed and responsive, which makes the exercise feel easier.
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3. Find the right tempo
Control your speed of movement when performing repetitions. Go too fast and your momentum—not your muscles—does most of your work. Go too slow and the movement can become more difficult (and you can actually feel sorer the next day). A full repetition (lifting and lowering the weight one time) should take about four counts—two to lift and two to lower. (Bonus: Lose even more weight with fat-burning snacks.)
4. Pick the right weight for you
Use a weight heavy enough that you feel it in the belly of the muscle you’re trying to work (not the joints), but not so heavy that you can barely get through the exercise without shaking or feeling completely worn out. The right weight is highly individual: For many beginners, the starting weight may range from 5 to 10 pounds, depending on the exercise. You should be able to perform “quality” repetitions—no swaying, jerking, or swinging—for the entire length of each exercise. Don’t force the movement by leaning back or using momentum.
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5. Build stretching into your workout
Stretching is an important but often ignored part of a workout. Although recent research has sparked some controversy regarding the benefits of stretching before a workout, many fitness experts swear by it. Ideally, do a brief warm-up and then spend a few minutes doing some dynamic stretching (moving a muscle through its full range of motion several times) before your strength routine. When you’re finished, take a couple of minutes more to do some static stretching (holding a muscle for 20 to 30 seconds) to help improve your flexibility. When doing static stretches, don’t go past the point of slight discomfort. You want to feel the stretch but not pain. For dynamic stretches, don’t bounce into the movement—keep it controlled and steady.
6. Crank up cardio
Cardiovascular (aka aerobic or cardio) exercise is crucial for weight loss, fitness, and better health. The good news is that you don’t have to run marathons, gasp for air, or train for hours a week to get results. Just 30 minutes a day of consistent cardio training (enough to keep you at least slightly breathless) can have significant results. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says adults need a minimum of 2 1/2 hours of moderate exercise (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity) a week to achieve good health. (Search: Are you really healthy?)