MANHATTAN, Kan. – Does the expression “strength training” conjure visions of hulky guys lifting weights or women with no body fat whatsoever working out on complex equipment? The idea of strength training can be intimidating, but it shouldn’t be, according to a Kansas State University family and consumer science specialist.
“Anyone can become stronger, no matter what condition they start out in,” said Sharolyn Jackson, Northeast Kansas family and consumer science specialist. “Using free weights or dumbbells are fine, but cans of food, milk jugs, and plastic beverage bottles filled with sand, water, dry beans or rice can also work.”
People start losing muscle around age 30, and the rate of muscle loss accelerates around age 50, Jackson said. Some of that loss is part of the aging process, but inactivity accounts for the rest. Progressive strength training can prevent muscle loss, increase strength and increase bone density.
She recommends doing muscle-strengthening activities two to three days a week, with a rest day between, and working all major muscle groups, including the legs, hips, back, stomach, chest, shoulders, and arms.
Those who are just starting out can buy 2-, 3-, and 5-pound weights, said Jackson, who is the coordinator of Walk Kansas, a K-State Research and Extension fitness program that starts March 15 and runs for eight weeks. The Walk Kansas theme this year is “Walk Tall, Walk Strong, Walk Kansas” with a focus on strength training and nutrition, as well as walking or other exercise.
If you want to forego the cost of buying weights and use beverage bottles instead, fill them with sand or water, weigh them (adjusting the amount of sand or water to the desired weight) on a household scale, and secure the tops with duct tape. The weight can be adjusted as your fitness level changes.
Strength training also can be done using your own body weight, such as push-ups, pull-ups, abdominal crunches, and leg squats, Jackson said, noting that these require little or no equipment.
Resistance tubing or bands also are inexpensive and good for building strength in arms and other muscles, and are available in varying degrees of resistance.
If you are new to strength training, no matter which you use – weights, bottles, body weight or resistance bands, start slowly. Warm up with five to 10 minutes of stretching or walking and choose a weight or resistance level that will challenge you. Each exercise set should include 12 repetitions, meaning you lift the weight the same way 12 times in a row, then rest. Aim to perform two to four sets of 12 repetitions with each exercise.
“Work opposing muscle groups, meaning you work muscles on both your right and left side, and the front and back of your body, to promote muscle balance,” Jackson said. “Muscles on the front of our bodies are typically stronger because we use them more often, so concentrate on strengthening weaker muscles and improving flexibility on stronger ones.”
How-to strength training videos produced by K-State are on the Walk Kansas website at: More strength training videos will be added throughout the Walk Kansas program, March 15 through May 8.
Walk Kansas is an eight-week fitness program by K-State Research and Extension designed to promote activity and better health for Kansans, this year starting on March 15. About 16,500 people participate every year. Walking is at the core of the program, but other activity, such as running, bicycling and swimming also count. Walk Kansas registration is available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices. More information is available online at