(originally at dailyKos)
A little bit about me, I am not a fitness expert, a personal trainer, a dietitian, or anything like that. I’ve got no training in this stuff, and anything I say is just my opinion. I have, in the past, worked out fairly seriously for a number of years, read a lot, and sometimes worked out with a trainer. Right now, I’m doing very little.
I’m going to say some stuff about men and women. This is risky. No matter how many hedges I throw in, some people will read this and yell about sexism. But I’ll try. What I say is based on my own observation and on discussion with trainers and on reading. I KNOW there are exceptions to every rule, I KNOW not all women act the way I describe, nor do all men. Finally, I also know that ‘man’ and ‘woman’ does not cover the gamut of sex. But I have no experience of any gender variant people and exercise. If you do, feel free to chime in.
A little anatomy
There are hundreds of muscles in the body. Fortunately, we are not going to be concerned with a lot of them. I’ll say nothing about the muscles in the inner ear, or the hand, or the foot. I’m only talking about relatively large, voluntary muscles. It’s easy to find a chart of these using Google, so I am not going to risk copyright problems by pasting one here. In terms of exercise, we can divide them into a few groups:
Arm (mostly upper arm, few people worry about their forearms)
In naming these, I use a mix of Latin and English names, following the general usage in gyms and common discourse.
In the arm, the biceps (front of the arm) moves forearm toward the upper arm, and the triceps (back of arm) moves it away from the upper arm.
In the leg, the quadriceps (front of leg) extends the lower leg (moves it away from the upper leg) and the hamstring muscles move it toward the upper leg
The main muscle in the chest is the pectorals, and these move the arms away from the chest.
The back has many muscles. The erector spinae run along the spine, they extend the back; the latissimus dorsi are the large muscles on the outer part of the back, and they move the shoulder joint in various ways. The trapezius is on the upper back and moves the shoulder blades in various directions. The rhomboids also move the shoulder blade.
The main shoulder muscles are the deltoids which extend the arms in different directions, either overhead or out to the side.
The stomach has two main groups of muscles, the abdominals and the obliques. The abs flex the back, curling it in. The obliques also flex the back, and they help in rotating the spine, as well.
The main muscle in the rear end is the gluteus maximus and it’s main function is to extend the upper leg.
What about fitness?
Why did I tell you all that? Well, it helps to know what the muscles do when you try to figure out how to exercise them.
Reasons NOT to lift weights
People raise various objections to weight lifting; some legitimate and some not. Some legitimate reasons:
An injury or other condition. If you’ve been injured, or if you have some medical condition, you should be treated by professionals.
It’s time consuming. Well, yes. It is.
Some not so legitimate reasons:
I don’t want to get ‘too big’ – I don’t want to look like Jay Cutler or Iris Kyle . The short answer: Don’t worry, you won’t. Slightly longer answer: A few hours a week in a gym will not make you into Mr. or Ms Olympia, anymore than playing basketball in the evening will get you into the NBA. Not only do the hardcore bodybuilders workout for hours a day, but there are rumors that some of them may be taking drugs!
When I stop, the muscle will turn to fat. Nope. Muscle can’t turn into fat, and fat can’t turn into muscle. If you stop exercising, you will lose muscle. If you eat a lot, you will gain fat.
Reasons TO lift weights
Short version: You’ll look better, feel better, be healthier and be able to eat more while weighing more.
You’ll look better. OK, opinions of how people should look vary. If your ideal body is a stick thin fashion model (male or female) then weightlifting is not the way. Other than that, though…. Well, men and women differ. Both men and women tend to want flatter stomachs – that’s achievable. Men tend to want bigger muscles all over. That’s achievable. Now, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that most women, when visualizing their ideal body, fail to notice how muscles fit in. This is probably due to all sorts of messages from the media and general sexist attitudes.
You’ll feel better. OK, there will be some muscle soreness, but when I am in shape, I sleep better, I get fewer aches and pains, I get less ‘logy’.
You’ll be healthier. I don’t know the details here, but I am sure it’s true.
You can weigh more (and eat more) and look just as good, or better. If you’d like to raise your ‘ideal weight’ by 10 or 20 pounds, this is the way to do it. What’s that? Weigh more, eat more, look better? Yup. The first thing is to throw those ‘ideal weight for height’ charts out in the garbage, and same with their slightly more sophisticated analogue, the body mass index. The key thing is not how much you weigh, it’s how much fat you are carrying. And you can weigh a lot while carrying very little fat. Partly this is body type. Some people have long legs for their height, some people have short legs for their height. Similarly, people vary a lot in how long their necks are. If you have long legs and a long neck, your ideal weight will be lower than someone of the same height who has short legs and a short neck. Then there’s muscle. Muscular people have high BMI, because BMI is flawed. For instance, according to wikianswers the average fullback is 6’2″ and 240 pounds. That gives a BMI of 30.8, which is obese. Shall you tell them or shall I?
A better way to tell your fitness is to take your height in inches and subtract your waist size in inches. Ideally, this will be in the mid to upper 30s. If it’s much higher, then you are pretty thin. If it’s much lower, you may be kind of fat. This works pretty well for men and women of average height – if you are very short your ideal number is lower, if you are very tall, it’s higher. So, for instance, I am 5’8″ and my waist is 36. That’s 68-36 = 32 which shows I’m a bit fat (unfortunately accurate).
When, where, how, what, with whom to exercise
When? Ideally, you will do strength training 3 times a week, for about an hour each time. Of course, you should also be doing some aerobics. And, if you really do want to be a body builder, it’s more like 6 times a week for 3 hours each time. Can’t manage 3 times a week? Do once a week! It’s still better than nothing
Where? If you can afford it, a gym. If you can’t afford a gym and have some space in your home, you can set something up – but I am no expert on that.
With whom? If you can possibly afford it, it’s worth getting a professional trainer, at least for the first few sessions, and then once in a while. There’s a lot to learn, and a good trainer can be a great help. If you can’t afford a regular trainer, it’s good to have a workout partner. Not only is this a safety thing on some exercises, but a partner can get you to work harder, and can check your form. Also, if you have a workout partner, it’s harder to ‘forget’ to workout.
How? Well, get a good book on exercises, and follow the form precisely.
Once you are used to the workouts, you should work a lot harder than you want to. Ideally, you get to muscle failure on each exercise, but that’s very hard. Muscle failure is when you literally cannot do one more rep. OK, if you don’t workout that hard, there’s still benefit. But there’s a lot more benefit if you can get to that point.
There are two key aspects of ‘how’, and it’s one area where men and women tend to differ. Many women do exercises with perfect form, but they don’t ever increase the weight they use. Many men increase the weight, but cheat. When you first learn an exercise, start light, and master form. Then, use a weight where you can do between 8 and 15 reps with good form. When you can do 15 reps, increase the weight.
What exercises? Well, as I said, get a good book. But here are a few:
Stomach. Three exercises, that can all be done at home.
1. Crunches. Lie on back, knees bent, feet on floor, hands behind head. Using your abs, lift your head and shoulders straight up toward the ceiling (do not curl), lower to the floor and repeat.
immediately on finishing
2. Leg raises. Lie on back, legs straight in air, hands under hips. Using your abs, lift your butt so that your legs go straight up (not back over your shoulders). Lower to the ground and repeat.
immediately go into
3. Plank. Roll over, put toes on floor and elbows on floor. Make your body a straight line (like a plank). Hold
Bicep. There are a bazillion variations of a curl. In all, you hold a weight in your hand(s) and pull your hand toward your shoulder. You can do this in various positions, with dumbbells or barbells. I recommend sitting on a seat with back support and a bar for your feet, thus keeping your body still. One key is to not move your elbows, or anything else, except your forearm.
Tricep. Any exercise where you start with the arm bent and straighten it. One good one is the triceps cable pressdown , but with any triceps movement, the key is to keep the elbows close to the body and stationary.
Chest. Any of a variety of bench press , where you lie on your back and press a weight from your chest until your arms are straight.
Thighs. Be careful of knees. The classic is the squat , but this is hard on knees; there are many variations. Also good are leg extensions , which you need a machine for. If you are working at home, lunges are good.
Hamstrings. leg curls, which you need a machine for; I don’t know of a good home exercise for the back of the leg.
Calves. Calf press , again, there are many variations. Stand on something with your toes on it and your heels off, and press your body up until your toes are pointed
Butt – lunges and squats (see above) also work the butt.
Back – for the lats, the most common is the wide grip pulldown . For the erectors and all the small muscles of the back, it’s the seated row
So, now what?
Long as this is, it’s only a tiny number of exercises. The key now is to get moving!