Strength Training

A well-rounded exercise program will include aerobic exercise, stretching, and muscle strengthening.

Understand the Role of Strength Training in Health-Related Fitness

Man lifting a weightBody composition describes the makeup of the body in terms of muscle and fat. Muscle cells
are metabolically active and burn calories even while you are at rest. In contrast, fat cells are
metabolically inactive. Good body composition results from:

  • aerobic exercise
  • healthy eating
  • strength training

The more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn throughout the course of a day. Unfortunately, when you eat fewer calories without exercising, you usually lose both fat and muscle. Losing muscle causes the body’s metabolism to slow down. This makes it harder for you to lose weight and to keep it off.

Strength training helps maintain muscle while losing fat, making it an important part of a weight management program. It helps prevent your metabolism from slowing down and may even cause it to speed up.

Benefits of strength training include:

  • Improved posture
  • Better protection against injury
  • Less pain in the back and joints
  • Improved confidence
  • Better self-image
  • Stronger bones
  • Improved function, especially in the older years
  • Improved body composition (helps with long-term weight management)

How Often, How Hard, How Long, What Type?

F – Frequency– How Often? You should exercise each major muscle group two or three days per week. There should be at least 48 hours of rest between strength training sessions to allow the muscles to rest and recover. You should not exercise the same muscle groups heavily for two days in a row.

I – Intensity– How Hard? You can use the RPE scale to judge the intensity of your strength workout. You should aim for an RPE of 12-15. During the first few weeks of your strength training program, do not exceed an RPE of 13. After that period, you may work up to an RPE of 15.

T – Time– How Long? The duration of your workout will depend on the number of exercises you perform and the number of times you repeat each exercise.

You should aim for 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise and work up to two to four sets of the same exercise.

You should allow a brief period of rest (two to three minutes) between sets to allow the muscles to recover.

You can increase the intensity of your strength training workout in two ways:

  1. Increase the number of repetitions of an exercise. Start with 10 repetitions and work up to 15.
  2. Increase the weight or resistance of the exercise while doing the same number or fewer repetitions of the exercise. For example, when you can do 15 repetitions with a three-pound weight, do 10 repetitions with a five-pound weight.
    Note: If your RPE is above 15, the weight or resistance is probably too much for you. Try either fewer repetitions or a lighter weight or resistance.

T – Type– What kind of resistance? Some examples include free weights, elastic bands, machine weights or your body weight against gravity (such as squats).

Repetitions (reps) are the number of times an exercise or lift is repeated during a set.

Sets are the number of times you repeat the whole sequence of exercises. A brief period of rest is allowed between sets for muscles to recover.


Safety Tips

  • Breathe properly. Do not hold your breath or grunt. Holding your breath and straining during strength training can significantly increase your blood pressure and make it harder for your heart to pump properly. Breathe out as you lift or push and breathe in as you return to the starting position.
  • Always warm-up prior to strength training exercises. Move the joints through the movements you will do when you add weight or resistance. This prepares the joints and muscles for the work that is about to come. An easy way to warm up is to do a few repetitions of each exercise with a lighter weight or resistance.
  • Take time to cool-down at the end of your strength training workout. Perform a few stretches to relax. Because your muscles are warm, stretching at the end of the workout is easier than at the beginning.
  • Drink water before and during your strength training session, especially if it lasts more than 20 minutes.
  • In general, you should begin with exercises that work the large muscle groups before proceeding to the smaller, individual muscles. For example, you should exercise the shoulder, back and chest muscles before working the arms (biceps and triceps).
  • Alternate exercises requiring a “push” motion with those requiring a “pull” motion, when possible.
  • Learn to do the exercises properly, using good form and posture. It is more important to do the exercise correctly than to add weight or resistance. You will make more progress and reduce your risk of injury.
  • Work the joint through the full range of motion to build strength and improve flexibility.
  • Take your time. Stress the muscle slowly and gradually. Allow approximately two to three seconds for each phase of a repetition. By returning the weight or rubber band to the starting position slowly, in a controlled fashion, you will get added benefit from each exercise.

Please see appendices 2-5 for strengthening exercises

If you are interested in a practical session, please look at our calendar and sign up for a strength training workshop.


Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice or discipline which includes breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures for health and relaxation.

Yoga practice can:

  • improve subjective well-being and quality of life.
  • help reduce stress.
  • decrease the sense of anxiety, fatigue and depression.
  • improve sleep patterns.
  • improve balance and flexibility.
  • increase body strength, particularly leg strength.
  • reduce the incidence of angina episodes.
  • improve exercise capacity.

When accompanied by dietary changes, yoga can also:

  • decrease body weight.
  • decrease blood pressure in those with mild to moderate hypertension.
  • decrease blood glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides.

At the Heart Institute Cardiac Prevention and Rehabilitation Centre, we offer an  introduction  session called Heart and Soul Yoga. It is a six-week session of gentle beginner yoga to help you determine if this is a good addition to your aerobic exercise program. Please speak to your physiotherapist or mentor if you are interested in joining this workshop. We can also provide you with a list of  centres  in the community offering ongoing yoga classes.