Get More from Your Strength Workouts

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Strength training doesn’t just make you stronger, it can help you boost your metabolism and lose weight, too. Research shows resistance workouts can trigger your body to release Human Growth Hormone (hGH) much like high-intensity interval training. “HGH is the hormone that keeps you virile: It improves lean muscle mass, decreases body fat, and helps you heal,” says celebrity trainer Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S., author of Lift to Get Lean. “It’s the elixir of life.”

A little 101 on hGH: Your pituitary gland pumps it out when you sleep and exercise—and how you sleep and exercise directly influences when and how much is released. When it comes to your ZZZ’s, a fitful four hours isn’t going to cut it; you need to get a full night’s rest to achieve full hGH benefits. As for exercise, you can directly influence your body’s hGH production by varying your exercise intensity—and making sure it’s high. According to researchers at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, you can boost hGH release through tough resistance training, targeting large muscle groups. “That means pushing hard with exercises like squats and deadlifts—moves that engage several muscles at once, rather than something more focused like a leg extension,” Perkins explains.

“HGH production naturally declines with age,” Perkins continues, “and we all need as much of it as we can get.”

Want to turn your workouts into fountains of youth? Here’s how to power up your strength training.

Build a Foundation

“You’re going to be working at 90 to 95% of your maximum level of effort,” Perkins says. “Incorporate high-intensity training (HIT) into your fitness routine only if you have been performing resistance exercises regularly for at least six months. A good strength base will help prevent injuries.”

Select Challenging Weights

“Intensity is key when selecting a heavy-enough weight,” Perkins says. “As a gauge, you want your last rep to take 4 to 5 seconds to complete—without losing your form. You want it to feel like there’s no possible way to do one more.”

Adjust for Your Goals

“If you’re seeking general fitness or you’re an endurance athlete (you run 10Ks and marathons), perform 3 to 5 sets of 15 reps,” Perkins says. “If you want to put on muscle or build power, complete sets of 4 to 5 reps, choosing a heavier weight. Either way, your last rep should feel the same—almost impossible.”

Take Time to Recover

“Recovery is especially important because it allows your muscles time to heal, so you can continue to train hard and get more from your workouts,” Perkins says. “I lift intensely twice each week, and allow myself four days to recover in between. That means doing something different (like cardio or yoga) on alternate days, so I’m still moving but not over-training. If your body recovers faster, it’s OK to train hard three days per week.”

 

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