Why weights?

Three reasons to make time for strength training

1. Stave off osteoporosis. Resistance training increases bone density, which can prevent age-related loss.

2. Keep your metabolism revved. Muscle trumps fat for calorie burning-add more, burn more.

3. Look slimmer. Pound for pound, muscle takes up less space than fat. Boost muscle and you'll appear thinner.

Gym Speak

New to lifting? Learn the lingo and you'll feel right at home in the weight room.

Work in: To alternate sets with someone on a piece of equipment. If someone is using a machine, you may ask to "work in." It's most efficient on machines with weight stacks because you can change poundage simply by moving the pin to another hole. If you have to load plates on and off, it's better to wait until the user is finished.

Super setting: Doing two or three different exercises without resting between sets.

Circuit training: Doing an entire "circuit" of exercises with little or no rest between sets, then repeating the circuit. Circuits are great because they save time and let muscles recover as you work different muscles. However, you probably won't progress to lifting more weight unless you do multiple sets of an exercise.

Split routine: A strength program in which you work some muscle groups on one day and others another day.

Isolate: To single out a particular muscle group.

Hypertrophy: Simply, an increase in muscle size.

Recruitment: The portion of a muscle that's stimulated during a particular exercise.

The Ways of the Weight Room

Although health clubs have a code of conduct, every gym has unwritten rules as well.

1. Share equipment. While you're resting between sets, don't camp out on a machine. Let someone else do a set in between. If you're on your last set and ready to complete it, go ahead. If someone's standing near a machine, ask if she is using it before you hop on.

2. Don't crowd. Leave space for the person next to you to lift his or her arms in all directions.

3. Don't block the mirror. Try not to obstruct the view of others.

4. Always carry a towel. Wipe your sweat off benches you've used.

5. Don't hog the drinking fountain. Before you fill your bottle, let everyone in line get a drink.

6. Secure dumbbells. Cross them or stand them upright between sets so they don't roll onto someone's toes.

7. Don't drop your weights. Instead, place them on the floor when you're finished with a set.

8. Put weights back where they belong. Clear all weight plates off barbells and machines, and return dumbbells to their designated spot on the rack. Don't stick the 10-pounders where the 40-pounders go.

9. Don't tote a gym bag around.

4 Toning Tips

Simple strategies for getting the most out of strength training

Lift like you mean it. If you can do the maximum number of suggested reps (usually 10-12) without feeling fatigued, add pounds (10-15 percent at a time). If you can't complete the minimum number of suggested reps (usually 8), reduce the weight in 10 percent increments until you can. Your last 1 or 2 reps should always feel tough, but doable.

Balance your body. To head off injuries, create a more symmetrical look and ensure you have strength for your favorite activities, do exercises for opposing muscle groups. During your weekly routines, if you work the quads, for example, do exercises for your hamstrings as well. The same applies for the biceps and triceps, chest and back and lower back and abs.

Try mixing things up more often. According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, subjects who varied the number of sets and reps from workout to workout saw greater strength gains over 12 weeks than those who made monthly tweaks.

Blast calories with circuits. Do one set of each move in your workout, without resting between exercises. Repeat the circuit once or twice and you'll burn up to 300 calories in half an hour as opposed to 150 from a typical weight routine.

Safety Strategies

Precautions you should be aware of before strength training.

Pay careful attention to form Good form is essential for maximum results and for injury prevention. Lower the resistance or do fewer reps if you can't maintain proper alignment or you're using momentum to move the weight.

Get enough rest The more intensely you train, the more recovery time you need; rest 48 hours between workouts. Overstressing your muscles could slow your progress or, even worse, cause an injury. If you're still sore after a day off, rest another day or two before hitting the weights.

Stop if you feel pain Your muscles should feel challenged by the final rep, but you shouldn't feel any pain in your joints.