Filed under: Strength training
The saying goes that “less is more,” but when it comes to exercise intensity, that might not be the case. We know that some exercise is better than no exercise, but is more-intense exercise better than moderate exercise? How hard should you push? And what are the benefits? With the growing popularity of high-intensity workouts, it’s important to consider both the risks and the benefits.
The role of intensity during exercise has been studied before. For example, the risk of death in older adults is lower for those who walk at a faster pace than for those who walk at a more leisurely pace. However, new research demonstrates that pushing yourself during a workout not only helps make you mentally tough but may also release chemicals into your body that help you develop bigger, stronger muscles.
During “stressful” or high-intensity exercise, your body kicks into “fight or flight” mode and releases hormones such as adrenaline and dopamine to push your system into high gear: increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, and increased oxygen to muscles. A recent study found that these hormones, when released during stressful exercise, sent messages to muscle cells to develop larger and more efficient muscles—at least in mice. The body only releases these chemicals when it feels stressed (for example, during intense exercise). If the body doesn’t feel stressed (as during light exercise), it doesn’t release these chemicals, so it can’t send signals to the muscles.
The good news is that exercise intensity is relative, so anyone should be able to exercise at a level that releases these hormones. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned athlete, you can exercise to a level that is intense for you. Shooting for your target heart rate is a good start to gauging intensity. Not every workout needs to top out the intensity scale. In fact, doing too much too often can lead to overtraining and potential injury. Remember to listen to your body and incorporate rest or light days into your workout regimen.
Have you ever wondered why people who do the same resistance training workouts day after day aren’t getting the results they want? The goal of resistance training is to create an “adaptation response”—that is, to get your body to change in response to the demands. Once your body has adapted to a specific training program, you need to change the demands you place on it. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself eventually reaching a plateau where you don’t make any more gains—or sometimes even lose progress. One way to avoid this common training mistake is to implement “periodization”—the systematic shaking up of your routine (intensity and numbers of sets and reps). This method can optimize your training gains and minimize the risks of overtraining and injury. Implementing these training routines requires a strength training expert, so make sure you seek assistance. For example, the Army has implemented a new program for Master Fitness Trainers. And for more information on strength training, check out the HPRC’s Performance Strategies for Muscular Strength.
Getting enough exercise is important to everyone’s mental and physical health in order to achieve optimal performance. Active-duty Warfighters usually get enough exercise in the course of their mission, but for the rest of us in the sphere of the military—family members, desk warriors, and the like—it can take more effort, so sometimes it’s helpful to review.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that:
Aerobic exercise: For health benefits, adults should do at least 2.5 hours (or 150 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise.
- For the greatest health benefits, adults should do aerobic exercise of moderate intensity for five hours, or 300 minutes, weekly, or 2.5 hours or 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, or an equivalent combination of both.
- Do aerobic activity for at least 10 minutes at a time, preferably spread throughout the week.
- Don’t know how to gauge your exercise intensity? Check out ACSM’s video on aerobic intensity or the description from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Examples of moderate-intensity activities include walking at three miles an hour, water aerobics, biking less than 10 mph, and gardening; vigorous-intensity activities include jogging or running, swimming laps, singles tennis, biking more than 10 mph, jumping rope, and hiking. Another method for determining exercise intensity is to keep track of your heart rate; use this explanation from CDC for how to determine your target heart rate for various activity levels.
- A general guideline for time spent exercising is that two minutes of moderate-intensity activity is equal to one minute of vigorous-intensity activity.
- For exercise ideas, check out ACSM’s video on types of aerobic exercise and/or HPRC’s Performance Strategies on Rebuilding Cardiovascular Fitness.
Strength training: Do muscle-strengthening exercises (resistance of moderate or high intensity) that involve all major muscle groups at least twice a week.
- For muscle strengthening, try doing 8–12 repetitions for each type of exercise. Do at least one set, but try for two or three sets for more benefits, at least twice a week!
- Be sure to work out your major muscle groups, including legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.
- For some muscle strengthening ideas, check out ACSM’s handout on basic strength-training exercises to do with just your bodyweight or their video of some basic moves you can do at home. Or try ACE’s step-by-step workouts for a total body workout, a30-minute lunch workout, total body conditioning for parents, and many more. Also, check out HPRC’s Performance Strategies on improving your Muscle Strength as well as your Core Strength!
Finally, remember to stretch after your workouts. For some basic ideas on stretching, check out ACSM’s pictorial sheet, their video on stretching basics, or HPRC’s Performance Strategies to “Improve your flexibility.”
Strength training is an important aspect of military fitness and resilience. Building muscle through strength and endurance training can increase bone density, improve balance and stability, and reduce your risk for injury. There are several training options for getting strong: free weights, machine weights, body-weight exercises, and/or circuit training are all effective strategies for building muscle. For more details, read HPRC’s Performance Strategies for Muscular Strength. If you have never done a resistance-training program, learn the proper form first by working out with a professional instructor, which will keep you injury-free and help you choose a program you can stick with. Training for the PFT/PRT? Read more about building muscular strength and endurance for optimal test results.
Don’t belong to a gym? Don’t own exercise equipment? Deployed with no workout facility close? On TDY? Only have a few minutes during commercial breaks of your favorite TV show to work out? No problem! We have the solution, whatever your excuse. These 25 at-home-exercises from the American Council on Exercise can be done anytime, anywhere. There are step-by-step instructions for each exercise, and all can be performed in a hotel, at home, at work, or in the middle of the desert. The only equipment you need for these exercises is you—so get started today!
Part of a comprehensive fitness program involves improving your muscular strength and endurance. One way to figure out how much weight you should be lifting is to determine your one-repetition maximum (1RM). The American College of Sports Medicine recommends lifting 8–12 repetitions of 60-80% of a person’s 1RM to improve muscular strength and endurance. However, doing a 1RM test isn’t always feasible or safe if you don’t have someone to spot you. Instead, try using this this quick-and-easy calculator to estimate what your 1RM should be for a given exercise.
The Army has several resources to help you train for the Physical Fitness Test (APFT) and to build and maintain your fitness levels throughout the year. HPRC has issued a series of documents to help you increase aerobic fitness as well as muscular strength and endurance. Under the Army PRT tab in our Physical Fitness Program Guides section you will find links to videos that demonstrate specific preparation, conditioning, and recovery drills found in TC 3-22.20, Army Physical Readiness Training, as well as other sources of information to guide you in developing and carrying through on your training commitment.
Having a strong ”core”—a common term for the muscles of your abdomen, hips, glutes, back, and quads—can improve your balance, posture, and performance. There are a number of different core exercises other than the traditional sit-up that can give you these benefits and decrease your risk for injury. Back injuries are the most common reason for lost duty days in the military and are sometimes the result of a weak core. Strengthening the whole core muscle group is important and can be achieved through alternative core exercises. Test out new exercises to see what you enjoy!
Check out our Performance Strategies for more ideas on alternative methods to strengthen your core.
At some point or another, your child or teen might pick up those dumbbells you have lying around the house. They’ve seen you lift weights as part of your regular exercise routine and decided they want to get stronger too. But you might wonder if strength training is safe for your kids.
Lifting the size weights you use might be too much for kids and teens, but in general strength training (also referred to as resistance training) can be a safe and healthy way to improve muscular fitness for children and teens, starting as early as seven or eight years old, when their coordination skills have developed enough. The goal should be improving muscular fitness while having fun and learning effective training methods.
As a parent you need to make sure your kids are supervised and receiving age-appropriate and skilled instructions in order to reduce the risk of injury. With proper technique and safe practices, strength training is not dangerous for growing bodies. However, light weights, exercise bands, or your child’s own body weight should be used to build his or her strength. Currently, there are no specific guidelines for exactly how much lifting they should do. However, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) one to three sets of six to 15 repetitions, two to three times per week is considered reasonable.
Resistance training is not the same as bodybuilding, weightlifting, or powerlifting, which are associated with competition, high intensity, and maximum weights. The American Academy of Pediatrics and ACSM are opposed to children using these methods or the use of "one-rep-max" (a method sometimes used to assess strength) due to the increased risk for injury.
While a medical examination is not mandatory, it is recommended for children who want to begin a strength-training program. And remember that strength training is something you can do with your children. Family fitness is a great way to keep you and your child healthy and active while you spend quality time together.
There are several risk factors for stress fracture development, but a 2011 article in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that maintaining adequate muscle strength and flexibility in the hips, legs, knees, ankles, and feet is of great importance, especially for women. Here are some exercises from the American Council on Exercise that can help you build strength and flexibility:
Before beginning any exercise program, however, make sure to consult with a medical professional, especially if you are more than 45 years old.