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Arthritis Today

Weight Training 101

Use these tips to learn how to work out with weights.

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Getting started lifting weights can be tough – especially when coping with arthritis and are unsure of which exercises are the best and safest for your joints. How much weight should you use? How many times should you lift it? We compiled a list of weight training basics to answer your questions.

How long and how often? Two or three weekly 20- to 30-minute, weight-training sessions are sufficient to start reaping noticeable benefits within four to 12 weeks, such as improved energy and muscle tone. Within six months, most people increase their strength 40 percent or more. Give your body at least one recovery day between sessions (although some people may need more, especially in the beginning).

How much weight? Start with a pair of light dumbbell hand weights (2 to 3 pounds for women and 5 to 8 pounds for men). If you can’t do 12 repetitions (or reps are the number of times you do the exercise) the weight is too heavy. If your muscles don’t feel tired after 12 reps, it’s too light. Adjustable weights that can be strapped to wrists or ankles may be convenient if you have arthritis in your hands. You can also use home or gym weight machines, or resistance bands.

How many reps and sets? For general toning and strength, the American College of Rheumatology and American Council on Exercise recommend completing one set of eight to 12 reps, working the muscle to the point of fatigue by the last few reps of each set.

What kind of exercises? Work all major muscle groups, starting with the larger muscles. Always include exercises for opposing muscles: for example, work the biceps and triceps of your arms, and the quadriceps and hamstrings of your thighs. Avoid above-the-shoulder exercises if you have arthritis in your upper body, and talk to your doctor before using leg press machines if you have arthritis in your knees or hips.

How to do it. Lift slowly and smoothly, counting four counts up and four counts down. Avoid locking (fully straightening) knees or elbows, which stresses joints. Deliberately exhale when lifting, and inhale when lowering.

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