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Ask the Experts: Hal Higdon on strength training

image Many qualified experts on training and nutrition use TrainingPeaks to help manage their business. Now, a select few are offering professional training and nutrition advice on our blog. Read on to learn what Hal Higdon has to say about strength training, and submit a question of your own below!

Strength Training for Fitness

Achievable health benefits are easier than you think

By Hal Higdon
Author, Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide

Even only twelve weeks of resistance, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), can result in significant health benefits. You can improve muscle strength, endurance, muscle mass and bone density, all translating into improved functional capacity. If you can spare three months of your busy life, you still can get yourself in shape. Here's what the ACSM recommends when it comes to strength training:

Frequency: Strength train two days a week, but no more often than four. Rest at least 48 hours between training sessions.

Duration: Avoid lengthy training sessions, since it may increase the risk of injury, because of fatigue. Training a half hour is enough.

Exercises: Select multi-joint exercises. If you're starting, machines are generally safer than free weights, such as barbells and dumbbells. Once you develop skills and strength, you can progress to free weights.

Muscle Groups: Incorporate all of the muscles groups: 1) chest, 2) shoulders, 3) arms, 4) back, 5) abdomen, and 6) legs into a comprehensive resistance-training program.

Number of exercises per muscle group: One to two per muscle group is more than adequate. Continuing to exercise the same muscles with different machines serves little purpose.

Intensity: The amount of weight lifted is the key to fitness. In general, the more weight lifted, the more strength gained, but lift too much and you raise your risk of injury. Intensities ranging from 65 to 75 percent of maximum significantly increase muscle strength.

Repetitions: Ten to fifteen repetitions are usually considered ideal. You can break these up into two or three sets. Don't exercise to exhaustion.

Progression and Variation: Making progressive increases in intensity, claims the ACSM, is the most important factor in increasing muscle strength.

Can you spare me three months? If so, I can get you in shape for a longer and healthier life.

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor with Runner’s World and a consultant for TrainingPeaks. Visit his Web site at: You can also learn more on Hal's message boards!

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