Q: I've lost a lot of weight and now I look flabby, so I started a strength training routine, lifting weights two or three times a week. How long will it take to firm up?
A: "It takes four to eight weeks of resistance training before you can measure increases in muscle," says exercise physiologist Reed Humphrey, Ph.D., P.T., an associate professor of physical therapy at Idaho State University in Pocatello. However, Humphrey notes, how much you notice these changes will depend in large part on the amount of fat still covering your muscles. Another factor is whether you've lifted weights before. "Someone who is deconditioned [i.e., has never strength trained] may see significant changes in as little as four weeks, whereas for someone who's already more fit, it may take six to eight weeks," Humphrey says. Remember that genetics plays a big role in how your body responds to your strength training routine, and keep your expectations realistic. "You're not going to look like the model on the Bowflex commercial in eight weeks," Humphrey cautions.
For best results, follow established guidelines for resistance training: Lift two or three days a week, performing three sets of eight to 12 repetitions with heavy-enough weights that your muscles fatigue by the end of each set. If you're using weights that are too light, you won't be overloading your muscles sufficiently to see the changes you're working toward.
Read fitness tips from Shape.com experts: Is jumping rope too hard on my joints?
[header = Fitness tips: Is jumping rope a good idea or hard on your joints? Find out.]
Q: Is jumping rope a good exercise for weight loss, or is it too hard on your joints?
A: "Jumping rope is an excellent activity for weight loss if you follow some basic precautions," says Leigh Crews, a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise and a certified trainer in Rome, Ga. To minimize the impact, Crews advises, bend your knees slightly as you land, and jump only high enough to clear the rope. Also, try to jump on a shock-absorbent surface such as rubberized flooring or hardwood (although padded carpet or dirt will do); grass is fine too but does tend to catch the rope. Avoid jumping on asphalt and concrete, which aren't shock-absorbent.
Even if you're already fit, jumping rope can quickly leave you breathless, and your calf muscles will likely feel sore after the workout. So start by doing intervals:
Alternate 30 consecutive jumps with about 30 seconds of walking in place. As you walk, hold both ends of the rope in one hand and swing it in a figure-eight motion. Gradually increase the length of your jumping intervals to the point where you can jump for several minutes at a time. Cut yourself some slack if you're tripping over your feet. "Jumping rope is a skill that has to be developed," Crews says.
Once you've relearned your grade-school technique, you'll find that this activity burns a tremendous number of calories. A 145-pound woman jumping rope for 15 minutes can burn about 174 calories (by comparison, walking at a 15-minute-per-mile pace burns about 78 calories). Still, to lose weight, you generally need to burn more calories than that per day, so Crews recommends combining this activity with other cardio activities, rather than jumping for longer periods.
Jumping rope not only is a great activity to boost weight loss, Crews says, "but it can develop nearly every area of fitness, including aerobic fitness, anaerobic fitness, speed, agility, coordination, timing, rhythm and muscular endurance." However, the impact may be too much for some peoples' joints. If you experience knee strain, even after building up gradually, try a different activity. (For more information on jumping technique, visit www.drjump.com.)
Read fitness tips from Shape.com experts: Should I complete a cardio workout before strength training?
[header = Cardio workout versus strength training routine: Does it matter which is 1st?]
Q: I read that for best toning results, you should do your strength training routine before your cardio workout. However, I usually do cardio first because I prefer getting it out of the way. Will I get better toning results if I switch the order of my workouts?
A: Some research suggests that doing a cardio workout before your strength training routine may compromise your lifting session somewhat. However, there's not enough research to provide a definitive answer either way, and nobody knows whether the order of your workout routines really matters in the long run, says certified trainer Leigh Crews. "If you have a preference, do it that way because you're more likely to complete your workout," she says.
One recent study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, did shed some light on how cardio affects subsequent weight-training ability. Researchers at the University of Victoria in British Columbia asked a group of men to pedal on a stationary bike for 36 minutes; some did high-intensity intervals, while others did steady-state exercise. Four hours later, both groups were able to perform only 36 repetitions of the incline leg press, compared with the 48 reps they were able to complete on a day when they didn't do cardio exercise. Even after eight hours of rest, the participants' leg-press results were compromised: They could perform only 44 reps. However, their results on the bench press were not affected by their prior cardio workout routines. The upshot: Your strength performance may be impaired only if your cardio workout targets the same muscles.