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Ask Dr. K: Strength training part of well-rounded regimen

DEAR DOCTOR K: I’d like to start strength training, but I have lots of questions. What should I know before I begin?

DEAR READER: Strength-training exercises are those that force your muscles to strain against an opposing force, like a dumbbell or elasticized band. There’s a lot you need to know before you begin. I’ll answer several common questions to help get you on your way.

• How often should I strength-train? Try to perform a complete strength-training routine two to three times a week.

• How much rest do my muscles need? Allow at least 48 hours for muscles to recover between strength-training workouts.

• What is good form? Good form means aligning your body correctly and moving smoothly through an exercise. Focus on slow, smooth lifts and controlled descents.

• How much weight or resistance should I use? Choose a weight that allows you to do only eight to 12 repetitions. The last one or two reps should be difficult. When you can comfortably perform 12 reps, increase the amount of weight.

• How long should I rest between sets? Rest for about one minute between sets.

• Should I warm up and cool down? Warm up for five to 10 minutes before you exercise, and cool down for five to 10 minutes at the end. Marching in place and gently swinging your arms, or using a treadmill or exercise bike, are excellent ways to warm up. To cool down, walk slowly until your heart rate and breathing are close to normal. Then do some stretching.

Remember, a well-rounded exercise program includes aerobic, balance and flexibility exercises, in addition to strength training.

Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.