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Four Essential Beginners Strength Training Exercises

Lifting weights can be an intimidating concept when you are first starting out, but there are some beginner's strength training exercises that can introduce you to this facet of workouts with confidence. Current recommendations state that strength training should be included at least twice per week in addition to cardiovascular workouts. Strength training can help achieve a more toned, lean look than cardio alone and can help build muscle tissue to support healthy metabolism.

13liftingweights.jpgSee below for some introductory strength training exercises that work major muscle groups and are generally considered safe even for beginners. For each exercise below, start with three sets of 10-12 repetitions to get started. Meet with a fitness professional for more ideas and help with form as you advance for safety.

1. Bicep Curls

Bicep curls can help build strength in the arms as well as the core as you balance during the exercise. Hold either a light barbell in each hand or one long unweighted bar with both hands, palms facing the ceiling and arms resting lightly on the upper thigh. Lift the weights up towards your collar bone, shoulder width apart, in front of you slowly until your elbows are completely bent and the weight is at shoulder level. Remember to lower the weights at the same pace as you raised them in a smooth movement. Start with 12 repetitions and complete three sets.

2. Standing Upright Row

Upright rows challenge the muscles in your upper back as well as your shoulders. With any new exercise, be sure to start without any weights at all and check your form in the mirror as you move through the recommended steps. When you are ready, lightly grasp light weights in both hands, palms facing your body and weights resting lightly on the thighs. If you are a true beginner, start with 3-5 pounds and focus on form. You can always increase your weight as needed. Lift your elbows to the side until they are parallel to your shoulders while you move the weights up the front of your body until they meet the midline of your upper chest. Be sure to keep your shoulders relaxed, not shrugging upwards. Return the weighs slowly back down the body until they are again at the upper thigh. Do this exercise 12 times and complete three sets.

3. V-Sit

This exercise will strengthen your entire core including abdominal, oblique and back muscles. Sit on a floor mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor in front of you. Lean slightly back balancing on your bottom while you lift your legs off the floor in front of you. Keep your knees bent and work on straightening them over time as your core gets stronger. Keep your back straight and your shoulders relaxed; be sure to breathe rather than hold your breath. If this is very difficult, feel free to lightly hold the back of your thighs with your finger tips and challenge yourself to do this less and less as you progress. Aim to hold a V-sit for 10 seconds at first, working up to one minute eventually.

4. Lunges

Lunges challenge your hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps as well as your core for balance. Start by extending your left leg in front of you in a wide stance with your right leg placed behind you, hip distance apart. It is safest to stand next to a wall or stable object for balance as you get started, eventually progressing to unassisted or even walking lunges. Bend your left knee to a 90 degree angle while lowering your right so the knee almost touches the floor, with your knee cap pointing down. The front knee should be directly over the ankle, not in front of it. Do 15 reps and then switch legs. This exercise strengthens your muscles while simultaneously promoting flexibility and balance.

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Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, LDN is a Chicago-based dietitian who specializes in integrative oncology. With a Master's degree from naturopathic Bastyr University, she practices plant-based nutrition and specializes in lab interpretation and appropriate supplementation. Ginger also had a passion for fitness and maintains both group fitness and personal training certifications.

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