By Eddie Phillips, MD

Hi. I’m Dr. Eddie Phillips. I’m a physician specializing in lifestyle medicine and board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
I often talk with my patients about their exercise routines. Here are my six tips for getting the most from your strength training.

The first tip is to focus on your form, not the weight. In addition to causing injuries, poor form can slow your gain because you aren’t isolating muscles properly. Start out with very light weights to get your alignment and form correct.

Concentrate on performing slow, smooth lifts and equally controlled descents while isolating a muscle group. You isolate a muscle group by holding your body in a specific position while consciously contracting and releasing those muscles.

Second, think: tempo, tempo, tempo. Control is very important. Tempo helps you stay in control rather than undercut gains through momentum. Sometimes switching speed is a useful technique for enhancing power. For example, lower for three counts and lift for one count. Follow the tempo specified in each exercise for better gains.

Third, remember to breathe. Blood pressure rises if you hold your breath while performing strength exercises. Exhale as you work against gravity by lifting, pushing or pulling. Inhale as you release.

My fourth tip is to keep challenging your muscles. For best results, choose a weight that tires the targeted muscle by the last two reps while still allowing you to maintain good form. If you can’t do the last two reps, choose a lighter weight.

As you grow stronger, challenge your muscles again by adding weight—roughly one to two pounds for arms and two to five pounds for legs. Or add a set to your workout—up to three sets. Or work out additional days per week, as long as you’re sure to rest your muscle groups at least 48 hours between the strength workouts.

Tip number five. Practice regularly. Performing a complete upper and lower-body strength workout two or three times a week is ideal.

My final tip is to give your muscles time off. Strenuous exercise like strength training causes tiny tears in muscle tissue. Muscles grow stronger as the tears are repaired. Always allow at least 48 hours between sessions for your muscles to recover.

If you split up your strength sessions, you might do your upper body on Monday, lower body on Tuesday, upper body again on Wednesday, lower body on Thursday, and so on.

Strength training is a great way to burn calories, increase muscle health, look toned and feel good. Just be careful to train right to prevent injuries.

Workout Workbook: 9 Complete Workouts to Help You Get Fit and Healthy. Harvard Health Publications, Gardiner J., Prouty J., Bean, J. (2014). Harvard Medical School Special Health Reports.

Edward Phillips, MD

Dr. Phillips is board certified in physical medicine & rehabilitation. He founded and directs the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine at Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical School and is co-founder and co-director of the Lifestyle Medicine Education Collaborative "LMEd."

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