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Now that you’ve had a chance to get comfortable with keeping your Workout Book (See Feb. 14 “Fresh Start”), it’s time to start thinking about what workouts to put in it. Today’s article is an introduction to weight training: its benefits and how to incorporate it into your weekly routine. But first, let’s clear up some myths about working out and weight training in particular:

Some common misconceptions

1. To lose weight, you have to run for 30 minutes every day. The “cardio myth” that many novices have can be incredibly discouraging. When I was in elementary school, the yearly mile-run was a dreaded torture that inevitably ended in humiliation when I had to walk half the way. For my nine-year-old self, the idea of running three to five times as far, multiple days per week, would have been so intimidating that I would have never tried to get in shape in the first place, The good news is that this myth was and is completely false.

In reality, everyone has to start small. In addition to slow-paced cardio, there are many different avenues for getting in shape. Weight training is a key example. Not only is it an interesting diversion from humdrum ellipticals, it also can be critical for making the most of your workout. According to Jason Shea, founder of the Athletic Performance Enhancement Center (APECS), in the Metrowest Daily News, “When weight training, cardio, and healthy eating are properly combined, one’s metabolic rate may increase as much as 30 percent to 40 percent. All three components are necessary to achieve weight loss and fitness goals.”

2. Girls that lift weights get bulky and ugly. According to Chad Martinovich, MIT’s head football coach and strength coach for the MIT Women’s Lacrosse and Basketball teams, this myth is entirely false: “[Weight training] is not all about getting big.” With a good strength routine and proper nutrition, women will “lean out, not bulk up,” and even under intense weight training, most still will not develop the “body-builder” physique some women fear. Need proof? Just ask some of Coach Martinovich’s trainees on the Women’s Lacrosse or Basketball teams, all of whom generally lift at least twice per week while in season.

If you’re especially concerned with putting on extra muscle, Martinovich recommends adopting a “toning routine,” a weight training protocol that focuses on doing exercises for many reps (10–15). These endurance-improving routines will improve “muscle tone and definition while reducing body fat without adding bulk.” This is true for men, too — think marathon runners or cyclist body types.

3. Weight training makes you inflexible. False, false, false! Martinovich and other strength experts agree that “full range of motion” exercises with free weights actually improve flexibility, balance, and joint health. Why? “Full range of motion lifts strengthen muscles around the joints, especially stabilizers, while improving balance. The number one reason athletes do these lifts is injury prevention,” says Martinovich.

4. The weight room is scary; people will judge me. This isn’t exactly a myth, but it is a fear that should and can be alleviated with the proper introduction. “Level of comfort in the weight room can be a big hurdle for novices,” Martinovich acknowledges, “but weight training classes like those offered by MIT’s PE can teach you proper forms and techniques. Once you become confident, you can take the workout plans you’ve learned to any gym, anywhere.”

In fact, Martinovich is teaching one of the PE weight lifting classes this quarter. He says that the class was revamped last IAP to be more like a varsity weight training session, with fewer breaks and more efficient protocols. “The student response has been really positive. They like how they can get an intense workout in a short time, as little as 35 minutes.”

If you’d rather work one-on-one, hiring a personal trainer can be one of the best decisions of your life. Although training can be expensive, having a trainer push you to be your best in a safe way will not only improve your confidence, it will make going to the gym a lot of fun! In my own experience, a good trainer will encourage you and help you improve much faster than training on your own or even in a class. The difference is personal attention. When a trainer is on the same page as you about your fitness goals, he or she can personalize your workout routine to maximize your gains. Perhaps more important, your trainer will make sure you’re exercising with safe form and prevent you from overtraining or injuring yourself.

Be careful, though, when choosing a trainer. It’s important to find someone you like working with who makes you feel good about your workouts. Many gyms — and it can be worth including both MIT and outside gyms in your search — will give you a free “trial” session with a trainer, so you can see how your personalities mesh. If the trainer makes you feel bad about working out, definitely find a new one. Your ideal trainer should only make you feel strong, safe, and confident.

Two other important points: check their credentials and talk to some of the people you see in the gym about how they like their trainers. By credentials, I mean look at their business card or gym website. “NSCA CSCS” means Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, “PICP” means Poloquin International Certification Program, “NASM CPT” means Certified Personal Trainer, etc.

If your trainer doesn’t have any kind of certification, you may want to consider finding someone who has gone through more specific education and training in their field. And finally, talking to people in the gym can give you a sense of the community. If people seem happy, healthy, and friendly, it’s probably a nice place to workout.

One more tip: As my financial analyst brother says, “If you’re going to invest your money, don’t ask the guy wearing a cheap suit.” By the same token, don’t go to someone who looks unathletic for personal training. There could be some good strength coaches who aren’t in shape, but personally, I’d rather trust my health to someone who practices what they preach.

Incorporating strength training

Now that you’re convinced you should give weights a try, here’s how you should plan your workouts.

1. Getting Started: As Martinovich says, “form and technique are critical,” so before you start adding in weights, be sure to find a teacher you can trust. Although your friend might love lifting weights, this doesn’t mean you should trust them to teach you. Instead, find a strength coach or take a PE class. If you’re still interested in trying the class, show up at the next session or shoot the coach an email and ask if you can still join. Chances are they will be happy to have you.

Martinovich also recommends checking out YouTube: “There are some great instructional videos that will take you through every step of a lift.” I concur — that’s how I finally learned the snatch, an advanced lift.

Another great idea is to find a book about weight lifting. Amazon has plenty of titles, and you can also find them at the library. Try to find one with pictures and explanations of different lifts as well as suggestions for which exercises to do in the same session. I happen to own a book from the ’80s called Getting Stronger, by Bill Pearl, which, best of all, features an epic picture on the cover of a man and a woman in full-blown Richard Simmons-style workout garb. Functional and hilarious.

2. Planning Your Workout: Now’s the time to use your Workout Book. You should aim to lift at least twice a week, one day focusing on lower body lifts, the other on upper body. According to Martinovich and my own strength coach, Mike Jones, splitting up muscle groups is effective because it gives one set of muscles a chance to recover while you continue to train the other.

If you’d like to do more, you can opt for a three-day schedule, which is what I do. Mondays, I focus on lower body; Wednesdays, I do cardio and upper body; and Fridays, I do a synthesis workout, with a little of both. Rest days are important, though, so it can be a good idea to limit weights to no more than four days per week. In the meantime, you can relax or do another fitness activity you enjoy, like running, playing a sport, dancing, swimming, etc.

3. Improving Your Workout: Be sure to track your weights and reps in your workout book. Each time you go to the gym, you should try to push yourself a little harder — provided you are properly spotted and not overtraining. If you can do an entire set of an exercise without breaking a sweat, it’s time to add a little more weight. Many trainers recommend that you select a weight where you can just barely finish a set of repetitions with proper form.

Another good idea is to try videotaping yourself. Martinovich says this can be an excellent way to see if you’re lifting with a full range of motion and with proper form. If you’re not, it can also help you fix your mistakes.

3. Recovery: Weight training is not meant to be done every day, and its demands require proper attention to hydration and nutrition. Martinovich especially emphasizes hydration, “Most people don’t drink nearly enough. The average male should be drinking three liters of water per day, and the average female should be drinking two liters per day.” Water is necessary just to recover from training, it’s also essential to mental clarity, something we all need at TFP!

4. Nutrition is equally important. Weight training breaks down muscle, so protein-rich meals are essential for rebuilding. There are different schools on the particular workout diet you should use, so we will leave that discussion for next week.

Overall

As Martinovich says, “healthy body, healthy mind” — even if you think exercising, particularly strength training, will exhaust you, the truth is this kind of training will keep you from becoming run down as easily. Time in the gym can help reduce stress, improve mental clarity, and decrease your recovery time for both mental and physical exercise. The endorphin boost associated with working out and staying strong can boost your energy and strengthen your immune system so you can be at your best every day.

Disclaimer: I may be a premed, but I’m not a doctor yet! As always, be sure to check with your doctor before starting a new fitness regimen and be sure to stop and ask an athletic trainer for help if you feel pain during exercise. Be healthy, train healthy!