We know about the health benefits of strength training—better metabolism, energy, bone health and posture—but the real reason many of us lift weights is because it makes us look better. How long does it take to get "cut arms" and "ripped abs?" That depends on how you train, what you eat and how careful you are about form and technique.

Mike Ceja, certified personal trainer at Lloyd Athletic Club in Portland Oregon says, "Most people will feel a difference within one week of starting a strength training program, but only if they have a proper and perfectly performed routine. How soon they will see a difference is completely variable though, mostly having to do with diet. Most folks won't change their diets until they see a difference, which is unfortunate, because if they modified their diet as soon as they start training by eliminating easy-digesting carbohydrates and consuming more whole fruits and vegetables and high quality proteins, they'd see a good difference in less than a month. For some people it's even faster."

What exactly happens during "strength training" to give us that hard-bodied look? Strength training, also known as resistance training, improves muscle strength by gradually increasing its ability to resist force created by free weights, machines, or bodyweight. Muscle strength development and size comes from micro-tears formed in the muscle fiber during weight lifting that heal to create stronger muscles. Over time, the muscle itself becomes firmer (and sometimes larger). The "cut" appearance of the muscle becomes more obvious as calories are metabolized and fat is lost. The stronger the muscle and the less fat that covers it, the more visible benefits you'll see from strength training.

In order to see rapid benefits, you need to design a weight lifting program that's appropriate for your needs and goals. This program might include weight machines, yoga, hand weights, dumbbells, or body weight exercises like pull-ups, planks, squats, and lunges. Fitness experts recommend two to three strength training sessions per week of 30 to 60 minutes. Most of your attention should be paid to large muscle groups in the arms, back, legs, butt, and abdomen. 

It's essential that you don't over-train, which can result in injury. Instead, allow for at least one day of rest between strength training sessions on specific muscle groups. In order to amplify the metabolic benefits of strength training without overworking specific muscles, it's sometimes recommended to work only one muscle group per session. For example, you might focus solely on training leg muscles on Monday, arms on Wednesday, and back and abs on Friday. Results come from gradually increasing the amount of weight you lift, but be careful to avoid bumping up too fast. 

How do you know if you're doing an exercise correctly? It's easy to get hurt when performing strength-training exercises. That's why it's important to check in with a trained fitness expert for instruction on form and technique before you start any strength-training program. Then, check back occasionally to be sure the routine you're doing is still showing results.

Mike Ceja reviewed this article.



Role in Body Composition and Health Enhancement
Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., CSCS