Updated on 09.08.15

Investing in Yourself: Exercise

Trent Hamm

investRecently, I discussed the value of investing in yourself – putting time and money into improving you, not building assets. Today, we’ll look at one area of investing in yourself as part of an ongoing series on the topic, spread out once per weekday over two weeks.

The biggest cost in my grandmother’s life right now is health care. She spent most of her life not getting adequate exercise – most of her jobs involved clerical work and she was always more content to be standing in the kitchen making lasagna than getting out of the house and going for a brisk walk.

Whenever I see her gasping for oxygen, I’m reminded that I could easily be in the same spot. Right now, I have the advantage of youth, but that advantage is slowly slipping away. I don’t have any trouble doing almost any activity I want to do right now, but I do get out of breath when I’m unloading heavy boxes or moving furniture or other tasks that should be relatively easy. Even now, I can see some slippage – I could play basketball for an hour without scarcely pausing for a breath, but not anymore – a ten minute pickup game leaves me wheezing.

My health and vitality are things that I don’t want to slip away from me as I age, so over the last year I’ve been working hard to invest in myself by getting better exercise – and I’ve found that it’s one of the best investments of time and money that I could possibly make. I feel better each day. I have more energy to do the things that I want to do and need to do – like keep The Simple Dollar updated, for example. Even better, I know that I’m adding years to my life – and years of enjoyable life later on when I’m free from the shackles of the day-to-day work grind.

I’m not talking about peak performance or getting into killer shape. I’m talking about maintaining a basic level of physical fitness that can extend your life, reduce your health care costs, engage in more strenuous activities now, and enjoy reasonable health during your later years. Plus, it can help you to both look better and feel better every day, improving both your outward appearance and your inward sensibilities. Here are some basic steps to take.

Talk to your doctor
Before you begin any significant increase in your regular activity level, it’s useful to schedule a routine checkup with your doctor, just in case. If you’re suffering from an ailment that might hinder significant exercise, or you have some sort of condition that needs to be noted before you start, a doctor’s visit before you start upgrading your activity level can be a real help.

Be sure to lay out your plans and any concerns you have with your doctor. If the doctor is worth their salt, your concerns will be listened to and addressed. You’ll likely also get some advice on what you can realistically expect and what your safe limits should be – it’s always useful to get your heart racing just a little, but for many people (especially those out of shape), suddenly jumping into triathlon-style training wouldn’t be good at all.

I’ll admit to being partial – my physician is a wonderful person who genuinely cares about the health of everyone who visits him. I’ve never been as pleased with a doctor in my life as I am with my current physician.

Learn how to stretch and do basic yoga
The most basic exercise that most people should do isn’t even something that people think of as exercise. Stretching is a major piece of the foundation of health for a number of reasons: it improves flexibility, it makes other exercises easier, it improves range of movement, it reduces muscle tension, it improves circulation (which directly relates to improved energy levels), and it improves muscular coordination. Better yet, all stretching costs is a bit of time – you don’t need any equipment (other than maybe a clock) to do it. Here’s how to get started.

Start off with some basic stretches. A few times a week, run through a small routine of simple stretches just to see how it works for you – you can do it in about fifteen minutes. Here’s an excellent battery of very basic stretches. What I’ve found with stretching in my own experiences is that the first time is sort of painful, the next few times after that leave you feeling incredible, and the times after that just feel good. I’ve also found that playing some quiet music while doing this helps – something in the background that’s soothing but not distracting.

Move on to some simple yoga poses. Once you’ve done several sessions of stretching, you’ll find that your flexibility has increased quite a bit and your energy level is higher, too. That’s the perfect time to move on to yoga, which is basically a mix of stretching, isometric exercises (ones where you effectively use your own body as a weight), and meditation. Try out some of the basic positions – I’ve never really done anything that isn’t listed on this page.

I often incorporate stretches and yoga into my meditation routines. I use the time I’m stretching to relax my mind as well and I usually finish not only feeling physically refreshed, but mentally refreshed, too. For many people, spending twenty minutes stretching and meditating seems like a poor use of time, but when it raises your energy level and mental level so much, it’s well worth it.

Walking is another simple exercise that can be used to build up basic health. Even better, you can get a lot of this exercise in your daily life and supplement it with dedicated time for walking each day. You can combine a short walking period (fifteen minutes) with little moves like parking on the far end of the parking lot in order to slowly improve your muscular and cardiovascular health without turning it into a major distraction. Here are some tips for getting started.

Get good running shoes and a pedometer. One major challenge when you begin to increase your levels of walking is sore feet – most shoes simply aren’t designed for a lot of walking. Try getting a pair of shoes intended for walking/running and using them when you’re going to be doing it for exercise. Even more important: get a pedometer so you can count your steps. I personally use the Omron HJ-720 because it stores my daily stepping totals and I can easily extract it to my PC for easy record keeping.

Get a baseline before you do anything else. When you get a pedometer, don’t immediately start in on the exercising. Just keep it in your pocket for a week and do things normally so that you can get a baseline of how many steps you take in an average day. This will help guide you as you define what your goals for walking will be and also make sure that you don’t set an unrealistic goal right off the bat.

Use that baseline as your first daily goal. Take all of those daily counts and use them to define a daily goal. For me, I found success in using the first “even thousand” number above my highest normal day’s walking count to start with. So, if my highest normal day involved 3,800 steps, then I defined a daily goal of 4,000 steps as a minimum. This usually meant that I would have to walk 1,000 steps extra to make sure I broke that goal every single day. Once that became routine (a week or two), I kept upping my goal, with the long-term goal of eventually reaching 10,000 or more steps in a day.

Make a one month commitment
Most people who begin exercise get frustrated when they don’t see any benefits after a week of consistent work and they abandon their plans (or at least begin slacking off). A week is far too short of a time to see any noticeable changes, and even after a month your biggest changes will be in how you feel, not in your appearance. When you start, make a minimum of a one month commitment to exercising or else you’re just wasting time.

Start at the beginning of the month. This will help you keep your timeframe in mind throughout the month – you can clearly see the beginning date and the ending date. It’s a nice, constrained time for you to get started on things.

Define an exercise schedule. Literally list the activities you’ll do each day – and follow it. Mix it up, too, so that it doesn’t get boring. I usually stretch and do yoga every day, but I try doing a variety of things throughout a given week so that it doesn’t get too repetitious.

Take measurements only at the start and the end of the month. If you’re trying to lose weight via exercise or you’re gauging things by how out of breath you are after running around the block, do this measurement once at the start of the month, then don’t do it again until the end of the month. This gives you time to build up some real progress so that you can clearly see that things are working well.

Set clear and concrete goals based on the exercise
When I first attempted to shed some pounds, I set a target weight as a goal – and I was continually frustrated as I repeatedly failed to reach the goal. It took me a while to realize that I was setting the wrong goals. I was setting goals that were only partially controlled by exercising and expecting that exercising would do the trick. A much better approach is to realize that exercise will eventually lead you towards the level of fitness or the target weight you want to reach as long as you’re consistent with it. Here are some tips.

Use specific exercise numbers as goals. Instead of saying, “I want to lose 40 pounds,” instead say, “I want to walk 10,000 steps a day for the next three months.” That way, it’s just a matter of putting forth the effort to exercise, not a question of whether your body chemistry will help you along the way.

Always look upward. Be sure to set goals that aren’t easy for you to reach. If your current exercise seems very easy, try changing your goals around to increase the challenge level. If you can easily walk 10,000 steps in a day, add to that step total or make some of the steps into running or jogging steps.

Celebrate your successes with others. When you achieve a challenging goal, don’t be afraid to be very happy about it. Tell others about your successes and you’ll find that they’ll quickly become a great support for you as you challenge yourself to get into better shape.

Try other exercises
Although walking and stretching are two easy ways to start getting in better shape, there are lots of things you can do without ponying up the expense of a gym membership or expensive equipment – just a time investment. I personally use the exercise ladder as a way to keep motivated. It gives clear directions on what kinds of exercises to do, how many of them to do, and how to tell when you’re ready to keep increasing your exercise level, plus it directly integrates goals into the program. Here are some general tips for expanding your exercise regimen.

Start off below what you think you can handle. That way, you don’t over-exert yourself or accidentally strain something by doing too much at first. Once you’ve got the hang of it, slowly ease upwards until you find a level that’s challenging for you – and then work at that level.

A lot of repetitions with light weights or exercises are better than a few repetitions with heavy weights or exercises. The point is to exercise your muscles, and repetition is the real key to victory. If you’re a beginner, you’ll get more overall benefit out of five sets of ten reps with a ten pound weight than one set of ten reps with a fifty pound weight – it might not maximize your muscle growth, but it will help with overall aerobic health and have a vastly lower chance of muscle damage.

Is a gym membership necessary? For some people, the camaraderie of others exercising or the availability of coaching can really make the difference, but don’t jump in and sign up for a long-term plan. Pay for the shortest plan you can get (even if it’s pricier) and see whether it’s of real use to you. If it is, keep going and sign up for a longer stint – if it’s not, you’ve minimized your expenses.

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  1. Michael says:

    Each hour of aerobic exercise adds about an hour to lifespan.

  2. Andrew G says:

    Great, Trent, a post on exercise! As usual, your advice is spot-on. As a personal trainer, I have a hard time getting people to set the right kind of goals.

    Here’s a post I wrote that complements this article – it’s about how to make your own effective exercise circuits for general health/weight loss.


  3. KG says:

    “A lot of repetitions with light weights or exercises are better than a few repetitions with heavy weights or exercises. The point is to exercise your muscles, and repetition is the real key to victory. You’ll get more out of fifty reps with a ten pound weight than ten reps with a fifty pound weight.”

    This is in no way accurate.

  4. Katie says:

    I find this a good resource for yoga poses.


    A word of caution: even though the poses LOOK simple, many of them are not (even the “simple ones” can be hard when done correctly). I suggest renting a DVD from the library, or borrowing one from a friend/checking one out at Blockbuster/Netflix/whathaveyou (some people still use those :) ) – the MTV Yoga DVD has done me well (I still use it a few times a week) and it’s very helpful to see the poses being done, not just a picture.

    Yoga is great and I’m a huge fan, I would just warn those that haven’t ever done it before to try and see classes in action somehow (local gym, dvd, friend who does yoga) and learn that way – instead of felying solely on internet sources (unless they happen to come with how-to videos :) ).

    Great post, Trent!

  5. dawn says:

    Terrific post…
    I remember Dr. Oz speaking about daily aerobic exercise on Oprah – he said, no excuses! If there are dishes in the sink – you still do your 30 minutes. If it is a blizzard outside – you still do your 30 minutes. The point being… 30 minutes/daily no matter what. For some reason that little speech by Dr. Oz really stuck with me – I don’t make excuses and I just do it/no matter what!

  6. Amanda B. says:

    I know this is petty…but I really don’t like your graphic for this series. I am not sure why.

  7. TubaMan-Z says:

    Good post. I’d suggest following it up with “Investing in Yourself – Eat and Drink Better”. The average American diet will kill you faster than lack of exercise – of course the 2 combined are a heart attack looking for a place to happen.

    I read a posting y’day by someone who (according to her photos and self-description) is very fit. She made the comment that it is often assumed that fit people must love exercise. For her (and presumably others) that isn’t the case. She dislikes exercise and eating healthy – but finds it far preferable to the alternative. Interesting view that I hadn’t previously considered. Perhaps similar to choosing saving over spending.

  8. Josh says:

    The 50 reps with 10lbs is better than 10 reps of 50lbs pretty much goes against 99% of clinical exercise research.
    Muscle grows in only one way so if you are trying to add lean mass you should be doing somewhere in the 6-20 range with a good amount of intensity (meaning it shouldn’t be easy to do the last rep or two, it should be damn near impossible). If you are doing it for the aerobic benefit I guess 50 would be better, but jogging would be better in that respect.
    Other than that, good article.

  9. P.Denny says:

    “A lot of repetitions with light weights or exercises are better than a few repetitions with heavy weights or exercises. The point is to exercise your muscles, and repetition is the real key to victory. You’ll get more out of fifty reps with a ten pound weight than ten reps with a fifty pound weight.”

    I agree that this is bad information. I compete in powerlifting have been a personal trainer in the past, but honestly that doesn’t mean much. Both low and high reps are good for challenging your body, but consistently sticking with extremely low weight with higher reps is really going to get your close to nowhere, depending on the exercise.

    As far as weights go, the best thing you can do is stick to mostly compound exercises (squats, deadlifts, presses, pulls – movements that incorporate several muscles) and have a variety of set rep patterns. Currently I subscribe to a 3 days a week program. Mondays are 3 reps x 6 sets, Wednesdays are 24 reps by 2 sets, Fridays are 8 reps x 3 sets. This hits the high, low, and middle ground and keeps your body guessing at what is coming next.

  10. Brian says:

    Another quick word about stretching: it’s a great way to relax the mind and body after, say, a long day at work. A stretching session before relaxing in the evening is a nice way to mark the transition between work and not-work, and to signal your mind and body to relax.

  11. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    With the comparison of weights, I’m not talking about building muscle mass – I’m pretty clearly talking about overall muscle health and fitness. Lots of repetitions trigger more growth hormone release, which aids in healing and normal, healthy muscle growth.

    Of course, if you’re a bodybuilder, none of the advice in this article applies to you.

  12. corey says:

    Great post. I work at a hospital and do a lot of morgues assists, and it’s overwhelming nearly everyone I’ve dealth with has been out of shape and died earlier than they should.

  13. Elizabeth says:

    Trent- Glad to see that you decided to write about this, but you really should give credit to your readers when they offer an idea in the comments that you use. (If you look at the comments section from that post; you will see that I was the first one to mention health 6 or 7 comments down). Your readers have a lot of good thoughts, just remember to credit them :)

  14. Graham Lutz says:

    I’ve found that I am so much more productive in my whole life when I’m consistently working out.

    I’ve just bought a house and started a business, so I’m starting a whole new life and have joined the Gym! I used to be in great shape when I played soccer, so I’m looking forward to it again!

  15. Chris says:

    I agree with working out. but I hate stretching. It’s painful and feels like a huge waste of time. why spend 30 minutes stretching when it could be another 30 on the treadmill?

  16. Dana says:

    Bill Phillips of EAS says that it’s actually better to do fewer reps with heavier weight than vice-versa, but he’s speaking from a muscle-building standpoint. I guess it depends on your ultimate goal; I have no idea what effect it has in the long run on your fitness if you do more reps with lighter weights. Any exercise is probably better than none.

    I’m interested in taking on Callanetics, which are deep-muscle exercises requiring no weights. Someone put together all the videos on DVD down in Australia and when I get the fundage I will probably buy it. I’ve done the situps before and they kicked. my. butt. All the way around from my abdomen, no less. I’d love to see what the other exercises would do.

  17. Becky says:

    I got a pedometer for Chrismas and really love it. It’s depressing to find out, though, that I only average about 900 steps from the time I leave my house in the morning to the time I leave my workplace at 4pm. There’s not much I can do about this, but it made me realize how much I need to exercise after work to make up for my office job. Grrrr!

  18. Lucas says:

    The notion that tons of reps at light weight is better for general fitness has been pretty thoroughly debunked. Think about it — would you tell somebody that it’s a better workout to walk as slowly as possible, thus extending the total time of your walk?

  19. ClickerTrainer says:

    Trent, there’s been a sea change in the whole “do more reps for longer time” vs lower-reps-high-weight is only for bodybuilders.
    It’s for everybody who want results in an amount of time that we can actually fit into our busy schedules.

    And no, you don’t need a gym membership. You need knowledge.

    You can find out a lot about it for free by reading blogs (gosh who would’ve thought). Search for Alwyn Cosgrove or Craig Ballantyne as a start and learn about CrossFit….and prepare to get into the best shape of your life.

  20. John says:

    Personally, 50 reps seems a lot for most exercises that aren’t things like jumping rope (which is one of the best exercises out there btw). I wouldn’t entirely say what Trent is saying is wrong though. It certainly is miles and miles above a sedentary life-style and will get a lot of health benefits. It’s just not enough for me or people who want to be athletic, not merely in shape.

    For me, fitness is diversification. I want to be able to do both stamina training and strength training. At a certain point, too much of one will cannibalize the other, true, but a balance between them is a beautiful thing, and is unlikely to yield an overmuscled body-builder physique. Except for in the moments after a workout when the blood is really pumping.

    See Crossfit.com for the ultimate in this (albeit with a certain amount of equipment required). Go to “Start here” on the left for scaled versions of the workout of the day by Brand X Martial Arts.

  21. Daria says:

    It frustrates me many times that Trent doesn’t cite his sources especially when he’s out of the realm of his area of expertise. And especially on the Internet when it is so easy to do so (if Internet sources – a link; if a paper book – footnote to the book). The debate in the comments over weight reps is a good example of why it would be useful-neither side is citing their sources; thus, I have no source to actually determine who might be correct or why.

  22. JH says:

    Others have commented on the weight/reps variable, and I agree with them. More importantly, building muscle is a great way to lose weight. Muscle burns calories, even at rest, so by putting on more muscle, you’re burning more calories. So it’s important not to waste time with unchallenging weight levels and too many repetitions.

    Having said that, it’s certainly important for new lifters to start slowly, and make sure they get instruction on proper form.

  23. Steve says:

    Trent, just a quick comment. A heart rate monitor is one of the most effective tools for optimizing an exercise regimen at any level of fitness.

  24. P says:

    Good Post Trent. I agree with Amanda B about the Graphic. The font looks like what they’d use for the cover of a low budget horror movie.

  25. Harm says:

    Trent isn’t suggesting a “Mr. America” type
    training routine, just toning and changing a
    bit of fat to muscle. Of course, once you get
    more advanced, you’ll want to get more
    specialized advice. As the Nike advertisements
    say, “Just do it!”….and walking is great.
    Try going nonstop though, not walking the dog,
    where you stop at every tree, hydrant, and
    fencepost, LoL.

  26. JH says:

    Harm (ironic name): Fat doesn’t “change” into muscle. You lose fat, you gain muscle. These are different things. Trent’s weight lifting advice will accomplish little, which is why everyone’s chiming in. You will never lose fat nor gain muscle unless you challenge your muscles. This idea that serious weight lifting is the domain of bodybuilders only went out decades ago.

  27. rhymeswithlibrarian says:

    Good point, Daria. I’m with those who say that the most effective kind of strength training is to do 8-12 reps with a weight heavy enough to make that challenging. From what I’ve read in the popular literature (i.e., fitness books and magazines), this approach is recommended for everybody who wants to build muscle strength and tone, not just guys trying to bulk up.

    Off the top of my head, Dr. Miriam Nelson recommends this approach in her books “Strong Women Stay Young” and “Strong Women Stay Slim”.

    The patient education section of emedicine.com has this article:

    From the “general recommendations” section:

    How heavy should the weights be?

    More specifically, the amount of weight selected depends in part on your goal. People who train primarily for the purpose of getting as strong as possible usually use heavy loads which limit the number of repetitions that can be performed, and strength trainees often perform sets of only two to six repetitions. (Note: These are very heavy loads, far in excess of those recommended for health and fitness by the American College of Sports Medicine. Trainees engaged in this type of heavy resistance exercise gradually work up to such loads, and it is important to remember that using loads this heavy might increase the risk of muscle or joint injury.) In these kinds of programs, the goal is to expose the muscles to the greatest resistance possible. The obvious response to such training is increased muscle size and strength.

    Other trainees are more interested in shaping and toning their bodies. For these people, a load that allows completion of eight to 12 repetitions to fatigue is generally recommended. Such loads are great enough to induce increases in strength, tone, and endurance.

    Muscular endurance is one additional training goal. Some trainees have a particular need for muscular endurance, or the ability to repeatedly perform at a submaximal effort. In such cases, sets of 15-20 or even more repetitions may be performed. However, one needs to be careful when performing large numbers of reps, because of the risk of overuse injuries like tendinitis.

  28. Jeff C. says:

    I read just today about a gentleman who traded in his desk for a treadmill. He trades securities primarily using a computer. He set it up on his treadmill desk and works while walking, sometimes up to seven hours a day averaging about 6-7 miles a day. A small man to begin with, he has lost 16 pounds and feels much better. In addition, he has much more energy and is sharper throughout the afternoon. It’s an interesting concept in this day of computing.

  29. ClickerTrainer says:

    @daria, I think those of us suggesting an alternative to low weight/high reps ARE the ones citing our sources. But here is one for us women that you may like:

    “No pink dumbbells”

  30. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    My primary reference for my statement about repetitious exercise being beneficial for low-impact exercise comes from Pyka et. al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1992 Aug;75(2):404-7. The paper basically says that repetitious exercise releases more natural growth hormone. Growth hormone helps with healing and with muscle mass. Given that beginning folks are much more likely to overstress their muscles, the therapeutic effects of the natural hormonal release is really beneficial. My article is targeting beginners who are looking for basic fitness – it doesn’t apply to high-intensity athletes, powerlifters, etc. This article is intended to be beginning steps – if someone’s getting seriously into weightlifting or high-impact aerobics, then they’ll probably find other resources for advice than a personal finance blog.

    If someone would like to cite scientific literature countering this assertion, I’d like to hear it, but I think I trust a peer-reviewed journal article over a random internet source when it comes to medical issues.

  31. Great article. I’ve been reading your blog for the past month, and have been very impressed. You have great tips and advice.

    I made a New Year’s resolution to exercise more this year. I was doing great for a few weeks and then lost motivation. This article helped me get back on track! Thanks!

  32. Rick S. says:

    “A lot of repetitions with light weights or exercises are better than a few repetitions with heavy weights or exercises. The point is to exercise your muscles, and repetition is the real key to victory. You’ll get more out of fifty reps with a ten pound weight than ten reps with a fifty pound weight.”

    You’re totally wrong here. Do a little research…

  33. rhymeswithlibrarian says:

    Hi Trent. I found the article you mentioned, and will copy the abstract below, but I don’t see how it supports your point – are you sure you didn’t mean another article?

    The subjects in this study did 3 sets of 8 reps, rather than doing dozens of reps in a row. Also, the study notes that younger people produced more HGH the heavier the weights they used. So even if you took HGH production to the only goal of strength training, this article would encourage using heavier weights and fewer reps, rather than vice versa.

    Here’s the abstract:

    We measured serum GH responses to a standardized circuit of resistance exercise in 12 young subjects (6 men and 6 women; 27 +/- 1.6 yr old) and in 11 elders (6 men and 5 women; 72 +/- 0.8 yr old). Initial assessment of strength [1 repetition maximum (1RM)] was made of 12 muscle groups using Nautilus equipment. One week later, subjects carried out the exercise protocol, 3 sets of 8 repetitions for each of the 12 exercises, at 70% of predetermined 1RM values. Venous blood was drawn at baseline, after each exercise, and every 2 min during 10 min of recovery. In young subjects serum immunoreactive GH rose by completion of the second exercise, increased and remained elevated through the remainder of the exercise period, and decreased toward baseline by 10 min of recovery. In the elderly subjects, baseline GH values were similar to those in the young (1.76 +/- 0.41 vs. 2.61 +/- 0.73 micrograms/L) and did not increase above 6 micrograms/L at any time during or after exercise. Exercise increased GH in both groups, but peak values (14.9 +/- 3.5 micrograms/L in young; 2.44 +/- 0.6 micrograms/L in old) and integrated (198 +/- 47 in young; 37.8 +/- 0.8 in old) were significantly greater in the young subjects (P less than 0.05). GH responses showed no gender difference in either group. Brief increases in pulse rate were observed during individual exercises, but sustained elevations did not occur. To assess the effect of exercise intensity on GH response, we compared responses to exercise at 70% and 85% of 1RM in 7 young and 11 older people. In the young subjects, GH responses were nonsignificant at 60% and increased progressively at 70% and 85% of 1RM. No significant effect of exercise intensity was observed in the older subjects. We conclude that resistance exercise promptly elevates circulating GH concentrations in healthy young adults. This response is related to the intensity of the resistance stimulus, although a small contribution of aerobic stress cannot be excluded. The GH response to resistance activity is grossly diminished in healthy elderly men and women.

  34. rhymeswithlibrarian says:

    PS. Trent, it just occurred to me that maybe when you said “fifty reps” you didn’t mean fifty times in a row but rather 5 sets of 10 reps, or 4 sets of 12. Is that the case?


  35. riley says:

    An excellent compromise to the heavy vs. light weights is the heavyhands approach to workouts. Check it out on an internet search.

    If you find a recent photo of Dr. Schartz, the originator of this method of exercise, you will see how effective this type of exercise is. This man must be close to 80 years old and has the physical conditioning I’ll bet we’d all love to have.

    The heavyhands equipment was not available for a number of years but are now being manufactured again and they are very reasonable in cost. They can be ordered on the Internet. I have used this method of workout and find it to be an excellent combination of stretching, aerobic exercise, and muscle building all together. Regular use of this equipment using mixed exercises will prepare a person for just about any sport or activity you can imagine, from baseball to mountain climbing.

  36. lorax says:

    FWIW: every doctor and physical therapist I’ve met says to do more reps with less weight.

    I think the point is that building huge muscle mass is great for body builders, but isn’t good for the rest of us. There’s extra strain on joints and a greater possibility of injury. And many of us just don’t need huge amounts of muscle mass – it’s more for the heart to have to pump though.

  37. Ria Kennedy says:

    I think your advice to try it for a month is right on. You can do anything for a month, and by then you’ll see how effective it is.

  38. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    The exercises described in the abstract are low-intensity – they didn’t result in any significant heart rate increase. The intensity of using a small weight with many reps is aerobic in nature, not for building muscle mass. Small weights will not only reduce the chance of muscle damage, but allow for more aerobic exercise with the weights. Plus, weight exercise with many reps releases growth hormone, as stated in the abstract, and that hormone helps with healing and with muscle growth – this is but one piece in a complex puzzle of health benefits from such exercise.

    I’ll repeat once again: this topic is not about how to optimally build muscle mass. It’s about basic exercise and aerobic health – not being out of breath when you play a quick game of basketball with your kids in the driveway. Lots of reps with a small weight will give you that aerobic exercise much better than maxing out.

    I’m done commenting on this topic, but I would say that if you’re actually beginning to use weights (or do any exercise), consult your doctor, which was my advice right off the bat in this article. For most people beginning exercise, building muscle mass and maxing out in the weight room is not a healthy way to start.

  39. Mitch says:

    I recently graduated college with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science. In all of my classes which required research, any studies performed prior to 2001 were generally considered outdated because so much research has been performed in the last several years that debunks older research.

    “Damaging” muscle is what occurs any time a muscle is loaded beyond its normal capacity. In fact, the only way to build and strengthen muscle is by damaging it so that it can repair itself to become stronger. Most people, especially women, lack the necessary testosterone to bulk up. For most people it’s impossible–bodybuilders are either genetically inclined to build large amounts of muscle or are using steroids, end of story. After age 30, the average person loses 1% of their lean muscle mass per year. A low weight/high rep regimen does nothing to combat this loss, nor does any cardio-intensive workout routine.

    Additionally, true fitness encompasses many attributes, not just cardiovascular endurance. Fitness is a combination of strength, speed, flexibility, explosiveness, agility, and endurance. A properly designed strength training program improves all of the above, not just endurance. Think about it–who’s in better shape as described above, an Olympic sprinter or an Olympic marathon runner? Guess who lifts heavily and who doesn’t.

  40. JH says:

    It’s amazing how folks will stick to an incorrect assumption over admitting they were wrong. Go ahead folks, waste your time.

    I though this series was about how to NOT waste your time. My guess is those of us arguing the “weights” issue don’t have any trouble keeping up with our kids. Do you think you might learn something from us?

  41. guinness416 says:

    Great to see the mention of stumptuous.com up above. There are a million and one fitness blogs out there these days, but Krista’s site remains one of the better resources for beginners I’ve ever seen, and has some good stuff for the more experienced among us too. I would urge any beginners scrolling through the comments to dig through it.

    I wonder at those who post so casually about not aiming for huge muscle gains – it ain’t so easy, you know :)

  42. mjh says:

    Telling people to do 50 reps of low weights is the same as telling someone about to start walking for exercise to go so slowly that they do not break a sweat.

  43. JW Thornhill says:

    After working two jobs and lots of overtime in the last year I gained over 60 lbs. and ended up with both high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

    I learned the hard way about the repercussions of not taking care (investing) in yourself.

    Thanks for the post. :)

  44. Rob says:

    Somebody mentioned http://stumptuous.com/cms/index.php – great site. Also http://www.cbass.com/, http://www.crossfit.com/ and http://www.stronglifts.com/.

    There are many misconceptions that lifting heavy is bad for you, that it will bulk you up or that it is only for people that are hardcore meatheads. None of this is true.

  45. Ms. Clear says:

    I work out with weights for about an hour a week. I do 3 sets of 15 reps. I do not use heavy weights. I use weights in the six to ten pound range for upper body free weights. They aren’t easy for me to use, I have to expend effort, but I do not attempt to reach my limit.

    I also use machines for upper and lower body. I tend to stick with the same weights for upper body and increase a bit on the lower body.

    It’s certainly worked for me in terms of general muscle tone and strength.

  46. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “Telling people to do 50 reps of low weights is the same as telling someone about to start walking for exercise to go so slowly that they do not break a sweat.” versus Ms. Clear’s comment shows the problem. You have two different groups of people commenting here – the people who are already in good shape and the people who are in bad shape and trying to get started.

    This article is talking to the latter group, pretty obviously. If you’re not in shape, grabbing heavy weights and maxing out is a very *bad* idea. If you’ve never worked out, please, do *not* listen to the people who suggest picking up heavy weights for a few reps. That’s good advice for people already in shape, but not for people starting out.

  47. Sarah says:

    Seconding a look at Dr’s Oz and Rozien’s integrated health/wellness recommendations. They’re all over tv, have a shelf-full of books out, and a terrific usable website.

  48. Avraham says:

    A great site for beginner fitness is simplefit.org. Trent’s right, it depends on your goals. The important point is to find something you like and can work into your schedule, and keep moving.

  49. John says:

    I agree with Trent’s last comment, and honestly, if you do your research, so do most people that advocate lifting heavy and maxing as part of a routine. It’s for someone who’s gotten to a comfortable level of fitness in order to continue to improve their level of fitness, not for newbies.

    As I said above, I follow the Crossfit method, as well as all their cautions. If you look at their scalings, they will pretty much always tell the “puppy” level athletes to just practice the exercise on max weight days, not to do anything resembling a heavy load. For more technical bar exercises, they won’t even suggest using an actual bar, just use a pvc pipe and have someone watch your form. Maxing while inexperienced can be dangerous, and proficiency must be learned before testing the limits of one’s ability is attempted.

    That said, it is by no means a poor method if increasing health and fitness, merely one that should not be jumped into unprepared.

  50. JH says:

    Wow – what an incredible misinterpretation on your part Trent. Who’s advising beginners to “max out on heavy weights”? You can’t admit that you’re wrong? 50 reps of a light weight (something you can lift 50 times) is simply a waste of time. This doesn’t mean you should bench press your car, but start out with a weight that you can lift, say 15 times, rather than 50. It is NEVER, repeat NEVER, worth your time to do 50 reps. Find me ONE resource that advocates 50 reps. Wow – unbelievable.

  51. guni says:

    Trent, I know you mean well. However, you’d do well to educate yourself before posing as an authority on a subject where your knowledge is mediocre at best (being very generous here).

  52. Lucas says:

    Trent — yes, “maxing out” with heavy weights is a bad idea for a beginner. However, grabbing extremely light weights and knocking out 50 reps is equally bad advice.

    Lifting weights is NOT a cardiovascular endurance exercise, and trying to make it into one is not only ineffective, but can lead to repetitive stress injury. If you’re lifting weights for general fitness, then you’re lifting weights to get stronger. As Mitch explains above, strength is one important component of general, functional fitness. I would argue that it’s the single most useful component.

    Any strength or conditioning coach will tell you that light weights many times is NOT the way to get stronger. Moderate to heavy weight (for you) at a moderate to low rep range is how you get stronger. Of course, if you’re a beginner, this means taking a very light weight, doing a moderate number of reps, and then incrementally increasing the weight you use from workout to workout.

    After reading the abstract posted by rhymeswithlibrarian, I’d say that it proves your point to be absolutely wrong. The study concludes that:

    “In the young subjects, GH responses were nonsignificant at 60% and increased progressively at 70% and 85% of 1RM. No significant effect of exercise intensity was observed in the older subjects.”

    In other words, as the weight used for the exercise increases, the amount of growth hormone released increases in the young subjects, with no change in the older subjects. This is diametrically opposed to your claim that light weight and high reps increases growth hormone release.

    Sorry for harping on this Trent, but as you can tell by the comments here, it’s frustrating for many of us to see misleading fitness information disseminated, especially considering that your blog is usually so spot-on and has a very large, very trusting audience.

  53. mjh says:

    No one is suggesting “picking up heavy weights”, rather they are saying to do less reps of a weight that provides some resistance to you lifting it. Add weight incrementally. Adding weight (progressive loading, in the argot) is the key- that is how you’ll get stronger

    The stronglifts.com 5×5 beginners workout starts with an EMPTY bar. In this program you add only 2.5 kilos at a time.

    Mark Rippetoe, author of “Starting Strength”, stresses all the way through his book to start with an EMPTY bar.

  54. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “Wow – what an incredible misinterpretation on your part Trent. Who’s advising beginners to “max out on heavy weights”? You can’t admit that you’re wrong? 50 reps of a light weight (something you can lift 50 times) is simply a waste of time. This doesn’t mean you should bench press your car, but start out with a weight that you can lift, say 15 times, rather than 50. It is NEVER, repeat NEVER, worth your time to do 50 reps. Find me ONE resource that advocates 50 reps. Wow – unbelievable.”

    It is extremely common to do sets of 50 reps of flies with a weight that’s 10% or 15% of your max weight. This is a *great* exercise for endurance, even for people in tremendous shape.

    I don’t insult you. Please don’t insult me.

    How about instead of hurling insults, you offer some advice for the extreme beginner – the person I’m obviously writing to? What should a person who has not actively exercised in a long time do to begin with? I think it’s reasonable to suggest a very small weight to this person. Do you disagree? Why? Do you think that weight training is a better choice than, say, walking? Why?

    “Lifting weights is NOT a cardiovascular endurance exercise,”

    That’s a fairly obvious statement.

    If you have a complete beginner, you’re far better off telling that person to pick up the lightest weight possible and seeing what they can do with it than to have them pick up a giant weight.

    For most people in weight training, fifty reps of a five pound weight will do nothing. Even for a moderately fit person, most exercises you’d do with a five pound weight wouldn’t do much. For a beginner, it will be a serious challenge to even do a few and that *will* trigger the growth hormone response cited in that paper. Don’t laugh – there are a *lot* of people with no fitness in America. Do you think it’s healthy if that beginner in that kind of shape grabs a fifty pound weight?

    As for the benefits, scroll up and read Ms. Clear’s comment. Are you telling her she’s a fool as well? She’s doing 45 reps with 6 to 10 pound weights and it’s improving her health, which is virtually the same as what I’m suggesting. For a lot of people, such seemingly simple exercise, which would do “nothing” for you, can be really beneficial.

    We’re talking about two different groups of people here. I’m assuming no fitness (which I think is pretty clear from the article) – you’re assuming the person is already fairly fit. You guys are quoting sites like stronglifts.com – the advice there is totally inappropriate for people who are complete beginners. You’re also perceiving that everyone has a pretty decent basic level of fitness – that’s totally not true.

    When I’m writing about setting goals of 500 more steps in a day than you normally take, I’m not talking to athletes. I’m talking to people who really need to start doing *something* for exercise – and these small victories are invaluable first steps.

    Comments where athletes are suggesting that these complete beginners start doing serious weight training – even just picking up a benchpress bar – are misguided and dangerous. If you’ve never lifted a weight, you should *not* be trying to max out or even coming close to it – you’re just begging for injury. The only reason I’m leaving these comments up at all is because the discussion is really important for people to read, whether they’re afraid to leave the couch or they’re ready for anything.

  55. Mehdi says:

    Hi Trent, my readers reported your article. I’m Mehdi, author of StrongLifts.com.

    I agree with you, beginners should not max out, beginners should not lift heavy weights, beginners should focus on technique. Safety depends on exercise technique, and this is indeed best learned with light weights.

    Mrs Clear does 3 sets of 15 reps, which totals for 45 reps. 3 sets of 15 reps is different than 1 set of 45 reps. I assume you meant 5 sets of 10 reps (50 total reps) rather than 1 set of 50 reps. The bad comments you received are because doing 1 set of 50 reps is potentially dangerous for beginners. Here’s why.

    Technique deteriorates as fatigue sets in. When doing 50 reps in a row, you’re getting an endurance workout as you wrote. This fatigue gets in the way with learning technique. Your last 15 reps will be of mediocre quality compared to your first 15. Bad technique increases risks of injury.

    Therefore low reps are recommended to learn proper technique during the first months. 5 sets of 5 reps with an empty barbell for example. Beginner has 5 reps to focus on technique for 5 sets. Not 50 reps in row.

    Several of my readers are 270lbs, 30% body fat, can’t do 1 single pull-up, can’t touch their toes, etc. I call this out of shape. I all have them do weight lifting exercises, starting with an empty barbell, 5×5, add weight every workout. Tony is my best example: http://stronglifts.com/forum/discussion/108/1/tonys-training-log/ Read his progress for yourself. You’ll find more examples in the forum.

    If you really want an endurance workout using weights, than you could do 10 sets of 5 reps (50 reps) with 30second rest inbetween, kind of a HIIT workout. However you need to know how to lift correctly before attempting this kind of stuff, thus again proper technique. Anything like 1 sets of 50 reps is best left for intermediate/advanced trainees who have a solid base of technique.

    The weight lifting community would appreciate if you’d change the 50 reps to what I think you meant: 5 sets of 10 reps. This way beginners don’t get injured.

    Let me know if you have further questions.

  56. guinness416 says:

    It’s just such a tough subject to address in one paragraph, I can sympathize with you there.

    Often on this site, when a number of comments disagree with the post, it’s because the post wasn’t clearly communicating what your comments suggest you were saying, leading to these “I obviously meant” circular conversations. You should perhaps add “in my opinion, for beginners” to the paragraph starting “a lot of repetitions” to make your point, it reads as though you’re saying it’s always better, which is getting peoples’ backs up.

    We were all beginners at some stage, and are speaking from experience. I’m not a powerlifting monster, I’m a 5’3″ woman, and when I started lifting, maxing out on a lot of exercises was with the five-pound weight you mention above! “Maxing out” (which I don’t think anyone above is advocating, they’re talking about doing low reps with a challenging weight) doesn’t necessarily equate to 300lb deadlifts, or even empty bars – it can mean squatting with bodyweight, or holding soup cans, or whatever is challenging to you. There are a number of elederly people at my gym, and they don’t do 50-rep exercises, they do 12-rep exercises, some certainly only with bodyweight. Anything is better than nothing, and I can see that there may be confidence-building and form-developing advantages to a very low weight which doesn’t challenge you, but god, it would take such enormous time from your day!

  57. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I added the “for beginners” phrase that guinness suggested, as it’s a very good idea, and I also added Mehdi’s suggested clarification of five sets of ten reps rather than just fifty reps.

  58. Paweł Mrozik says:

    Excellent post, Trent. This is my first comment on your site, but I’ve found it to be truly inspirational. So inspirational in fact that I’ve decided to start my own blog :)

    Anyway, it’s good that you mention how our habits today have a huge effect on our life later on.

    When I look at my parents I seriously become a bit spooked with the thought of being like them at the same age. They’re just under 50 but both are overweight and getting worse.

    Paradoxically, the fear of becoming like them is forcing me to seriously think about making exercise a part of my life.

    I started jogging in the summer of last year. Unfortunately I stopped after about a month. The reason? I had bad shoes and my feet would start to hurt tremendously. Initially I took breaks, but the problem just kept coming back and I gave up.

    With winter fading, I’m going to start again tomorrow. I’ll probably have to buy some new shoes.

    For those who hate running as I did in the past, I seriously suggest starting out slow by using a schedule such as Nike’s http://www.nikerunning.com

    You can find some cool schedules on there, for beginners I suggest the Walk to Run schedule – it really is great and keep in mind that you’re hearing this from someone who absolutely detested running.

  59. JH says:

    “I don’t insult you. Please don’t insult me.”

    How did I insult you? By pointing out that even in the face of overwhelming evidence, you still stick to your falsehoods? You are simply wrong, and you’re not admitting it, and by doing so you’re losing credibility with your audience. This doesn’t seem wise to me.

    You have failed to find one account of someone doing fifty reps effectively. You have failed to acknowledge that none of us is talking about “maxing out” weights.

    I think you are ruining your credibility, and that can carry over to other articles.

  60. rhymeswithlibrarian says:

    Hi Trent – I think your second last posting clarified a great deal about where you’re coming from – and changing the wording from “50 reps” to “5 sets of 10 reps” makes all the difference (the difference between bad advice and great advice, actually).

    You said: “For most people in weight training, fifty reps of a five pound weight will do nothing. Even for a moderately fit person, most exercises you’d do with a five pound weight wouldn’t do much. For a beginner, it will be a serious challenge to even do a few and that *will* trigger the growth hormone response cited in that paper. Don’t laugh – there are a *lot* of people with no fitness in America. Do you think it’s healthy if that beginner in that kind of shape grabs a fifty pound weight?”

    The standard advice, that has been repeated by myself and your critics here, is to use a heavy or challenging weight if you want to accomplish anything. What you didn’t appear to understand is that “heavy” doesn’t mean 50 pounds instead of 5 pounds – rather, heavy means whatever amount makes you feel pretty tired after 10 or so reps. It’s an individual definition, and is related to a person’s gender, age, and level of fitness.

    So, for the beginner who finds it a serious challenge to do a few reps with a 5 pound weight, 5 pounds IS heavy, and doing 5 sets of 10 reps (or just 2 sets of 6 reps, even) is legitimate weight training, and will lead to an increase in strength if they keep it up.

    However, if that same beginner picks up a 1/2 pound weight and does 50 reps in a row without feeling tired, he or she will accomplish nothing – that’s not cardio, and it’s not weight training. In your original posting, that’s what it sounded like you were suggesting. And that is why so many of us pointed out you were wrong, even if what you actually meant was right.

  61. eaufraiche says:


    Been reading about a month, and marvel at your work – you amass an amazing amount of information. Please know how much this work is appreciated.

    Yoga, anyone? The classic Richard Hittleman book “The 28 Day Yoga Plan,” is a great, beginner friendly way to proceed. Not 100% spot on sure about title, but you’ll find it if you seek it!

    Someone else mentioned Callanetics – also quite excellent for effective, easy toning results.

  62. thehungrydollar.com says:

    A good pair of shoes is absolutely necessary. Even if a “brisk walk” is as aggressive as your exercise regiment gets, you will still benefit from a pair of properly fitted running shoes.

  63. seabass says:

    Wow trent. I’ve lost quite a bit of respect for you just by reading the comments section of this post (and I’ve been a loyal reader for 14 months). Maybe you can write a lengthy post about respectfully taking criticism and on how a little humility can go a long way.

  64. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I’m not sure why the attacks are still going on here, but I’ll repeat: I changed the post in multiple ways to reflect the advice of the exercise-oriented commenters.

  65. Sally says:

    I think the general principles are correct – just some disagreement on the details. Personally I lift weights (and have given up the treadmill thing – I do jump rope – but in 2-3 min. increments and then mix in the weights.)

    Since doing just weight lifting (not Arnold lifting – but enough to cause some struggle) I have lost a few dress sizes and have more energy, etc.

    I also agree with the posts that stress diet as well. It’s a combination of exercise and good diet – which is still the same – lots of fruits & veggies, good carbs, beans, nuts, etc. No one is 300 lbs from green leafy vegetables and oatmeal. The fat is from processed, fat and sugar laden foods that has become a staple of our food diets.

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