Muscle fitness is one of three important types of overall physical
fitness. The others are aerobic fitness and flexibility.
When you increase your muscle fitness,
you'll notice that you can carry heavy grocery bags more
easily, pick up children without feeling as much strain, or carry heavy items
longer before you get too tired to continue.
of muscle fitness include:
- Stronger muscles, which also help protect your
- Muscles that can work longer before getting
- Less body fat.
- Stronger bones.
- Better posture and balance.
- Lower blood
- Less stress.
- Fewer body aches.
- More energy.
How do you get healthier muscles?
Muscles become stronger when they are used regularly, but
especially when they have to work against something. This is called
For example, you use your arm
muscles when you bend your arm at the elbow. But when you do the same movement
with something heavy in your hand, your arm muscles are working against more
"Resistance training" means using
things like weights, rubber tubing, or certain exercises to make your muscles
stronger. It's a 3-step process:
Stress. When you exercise against
resistance, you stress your muscles slightly but not to the point of serious
damage or injury.
- Recovery (rest). When you rest, your body
rebuilds the muscles and the connective tissues between them (joints, tendons,
and ligaments) in a way that prepares them for the next time they will be
- Repeated stress. When you stress the same
muscles again, the process is repeated, and the muscles gradually become
A resistance-training program to increase muscle fitness
Basic muscle-conditioning exercises such as push-ups,
leg lifts , and other common exercises.
- Resistance training with rubber tubing or stretchable bands .
- Weight training with free weights ("dumbbells") or
weight-training equipment. See a picture of
muscle-strengthening exercises using weights .
- Doing heavy housework and yard work, such as scrubbing the bathtub,
washing walls, tilling the garden, or pulling weeds, on a regular basis.
How can you strengthen your core?
of muscle fitness is strengthening the muscles of your
trunk. This is called
stability benefits everyone, from older people to top professional athletes.
It can help you have better posture and balance, and it can help protect
you from injury.
Fitness: Increasing Core Stability
How often should you do exercises to strengthen
Experts say it's best to
do exercises to strengthen muscles at least 2 times each
week.1 Examples include weight
training or stair climbing on 2 or more days that are not in a row.
"Repetitions" and "sets" are terms used to describe how many times
you do a specific exercise.
- Repetitions are the number of times you
continuously perform each exercise. For example, if you lift a dumbbell up and
down once, that's 1 repetition (or rep). If you lift it 5 times, that's 5
- Sets are the number of times you do a certain number of
repetitions. For example, if you lift the dumbbell 15 times, take a rest, and
then lift it another 15 times, you have done 2 sets of 15 reps each.
The number of repetitions and sets you do depends on your goals. If
you want to gain strength, do a few sets of a few reps with heavy weights.
But you may want muscular tone and endurance, which means a few sets of
many repetitions with light or medium weights.
results, use a resistance (weight) that makes your muscles tired
after 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise. As you build muscle strength, you'll notice that you
can do more and more of each exercise. Some people will see a change in the way
their muscles look, but others will not see a change for a long while. A more important sign of progress is how many
repetitions and sets of an exercise you can do, or how
much easier it feels to do them. This means that your muscle fitness has
How can you get started?
It's always a good idea to
talk to your doctor before starting a resistance-lifting program, especially
if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or joint problems.
Begin with professional instruction from a local YMCA, a fitness club, or an experienced
professional trainer. Set a goal such as body building, toning and
shaping certain body areas, or improving performance in a certain
- Don't forget to warm up. Take 5 to 10 minutes to walk or jog in place.
- Learn the proper form for each exercise, then always use it. The proper form ensures that you get the most out of
each exercise and helps prevent injuries. A good trainer will teach you about
- Allow at least 2 weeks for your
muscles and connective tissues to adjust to the new stresses and strains of
weight training. Start by lifting weights that are lighter than you can manage.
This helps you tell the difference between the normal aches and pains of weight
training and the pains of overuse or real damage.
- Work slowly, and move your muscles through their full range of motion. Fewer repetitions that are done slowly, using the entire length
of the muscle, are more effective than many repetitions that are done quickly
with only a short part of the muscle.
- Learn how to breathe properly when working with weights. Exhale when pushing against
the weight. Don't hold your breath at any point. Inhale when there is little or
- When you are ready, ask your trainer for guidance on:
- How often to
sets and repetitions. In general, do 1 or 2 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.
Older adults and people who are frail can do 10 to 15 repetitions with less
- When to increase weight. Start with a weight you can lift 8
to 12 times but that gets hard to lift by the last repetition. When it gets
easier, add a little weight and go down to 8 repetitions, then gradually build
up to 12 repetitions again.
- Vary your program. Variety
keeps your interest up and injuries down. Mix muscle strengthening with
flexibility and aerobic work. Also, vary your work by alternating between:
- Your upper body and lower
- Free weights (barbells) and machines.
weights with fewer repetitions and lighter weights with more
By starting slowly and using the right technique, you may
find that weight training is an enjoyable and effective way to build
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Actionsets are designed to help people take an active role in managing a health condition.
- Fitness: Increasing Core Stability
Fitness: Getting and Staying Active
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/default.aspx.
Other Works Consulted
Anspaugh DJ, et al. (2011). Building muscular strength and endurance. Wellness: Concepts and Applications, 8th ed., pp. 111–137. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Williams MA, et al. (2007). Resistance exercise in individuals with and without cardiovascular disease: 2007 update: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association Council on Clinical Cardiology and Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism. Circulation, 116(5): 572–584.