- A Woman’s Fast (& Thorough) Guide to Buying Dumbbells
- The Best Dumbbells for Women Right Now
- Common Mistakes Women (like me) Make When Buying Dumbbells
- Looks Matter
- CAST IRON (aka, my first dumbbell)
- *My Top Recommendation for Women’s Dumbbells*
- A Few Pro Tips for Using Dumbbells
- 5 LB – 35 LB DUMBBELL SET
- I was Exercised by Wolves
- What I learned about how the fitness industry lies
- TONE AND BULK: LIES THE FITNESS INDUSTRY TOLD ME
- STRENGTHEN ALL YOUR MUSCLES (NOT JUST THE ABS!)
- SO, WORK YOUR MUSCLES
- GET YOURSELF HUFFING AND PUFFING
- So, here it is: Build your muscles by stressing them, but don’t forget to rest. Get your heart rate up at least a few times a week, for about 20 minutes at a time.
A Woman’s Fast (& Thorough) Guide to Buying Dumbbells
The Best Dumbbells for Women Right Now
So, you’ve decided it’s time. You’ve become a the Queen-of-Cardio and you’re ready to step up your game. It’s time to morph all that soft and supple into hard and chiseled.
Welcome to the party.
You won’t regret this. Adding weight training to your exercise routine is like adding ice cream to a warm brownie, flavored cream to coffee or spanx to your wardrobe. Enhancement, girls, enhancement.
You’ve just upgraded your workouts from coach to first class. You’re an official Badass. (If you haven’t actually lifted a dumbbell yet then you’re teetering right at the edge of Badassville (AKA Awesometown). We’re waiting for you to arrive. You get a free t-shirt;-) Not really.)
If you use one of my links to purchase something it helps support my business. Thank you! (No hard feelings if you don’t.) You can get more information about that here.
Whether you’re a woman just getting started with weights, you lift weights regularly, or if you’re about to step up your at-home weight routine (as you should) then I’m going to help you.
I’ve tried every kind of dumbbell they make.
I’m going to tell you what style you should invest your money in and why.
And I’m going to tell you what to avoid so you don’t make a purchase you regret (Ab roller, anyone?)
Let’s get started.
Common Mistakes Women (like me) Make When Buying Dumbbells
(I’ve literally made every mistake on this list.)
The Assumption That All Dumbbells Are Alike
My First Dumbbell
When I decided to purchase my first dumbbells I drove to the only store in my small town (that sold non-grocery items) and bought the cheapest 5 lb. dumbbell they had. It was cast iron and looked like this.
Did it work? Of course it did. Would I buy it today? No way.
Listen to me. Your exercise equipment is an investment in you.
If you’re going to spend $100 on a pair of jeans or a purse then don’t decide you’re suddenly out of money when it comes time to buy your exercise equipment.
You need to invest in something that’s good.
Most of your exercise equipment will last forever. It won’t pay off to buy the cheapest dumbbells.
Keep reading to find out exactly what to purchase.
Purchasing A Single Dumbbell
Did you notice in the little story about my trip to the store to buy my first dumbbell that I only bought a single dumbbell? Yeah, that was dumb.
Buy them in pairs, girls. You will (almost always) use them that way.
And if you purchase them in singles then when you decide it’s time to go get another one (because you didn’t listen to me and bought a single dumbbell) then the store will no longer carry the same equipment.
You’ll end up with mismatched styles of the same weight. I’ve done this. It sucks (because the grip is different on every model).
Buy PAIRS of dumbbells.
Listening To Someone Who Doesn’t Use Dumbbells Tell You What Dumbbells To Buy
You know what I’m talking about, Girls. Just because the man in your life has read a story about lifting weights, has friends that lift weights, has seen dumbbells in a magazine or maybe lifted weights in high school, doesn’t mean he knows what dumbbells are right for you.
He may. But he may not. Don’t risk it.
Don’t worry. Hang with me. I’m about to tell you what to buy.
Thinking That the Shape Doesn’t Matter
Yeah, I laughed when I typed it…get your head out of the gutter and let’s continue.
This is a big one for me. You’ll find that dumbbells come with different shapes in the head (the end pieces). There are round, square and hex heads.
Always get the hex shape.
Round dumbbells roll across the room when you don’t want them to.
And square heads have corners that will bump up against you when you’re doing certain exercises.
Trust me. Always get a hex shaped dumbbell.
Buying the Wrong Size (pounds)
There are so many options!
How was I supposed to know that I’d never need a 4 or 7 lb. dumbbell? Guess what? You don’t need those.
And now I have even more equipment to store and keep clean and convince kids that all those weights (I don’t use) aren’t toys.
If you’re going to lift weights at home then you won’t need all those in-between sizes.
Keep reading. I’ll tell you what size weights you SHOULD buy.
The Nitty Gritty
Dumbbells come in different materials. Here are the pros and cons of each (and which ones I recommend.) Keep in mind I actually have dumbbells in all of these materials (*ahem* listen to me).
To compare prices I used Amazon because I love them (Prime shipping!) and because they sell each of the different kinds of dumbbells. But obviously you may be able to find them at a different price somewhere else.
cast iron dumbbells
CAST IRON (aka, my first dumbbell)
Cost of a pair of 5 lb. cast iron DB’s (on Amazon)-$10.99
Cons-The iron material can flake off (this is what happened to mine), and the cast iron is rough on hard surfaces (like hardwood or tile floors)
A pair of chrome dumbbells
Cost of a pair of 5 lb. chrome DB’s (on Amazon)-$29
Pros-Hmmm…they’re really shiny?
Cons-The only ones I’m familiar with are rounded on the end (and I’ve already told you how I feel about that style) and they’re the most expensive option.
*I have a single 15 lb. chrome dumbbell (it’s rounded on the end). It’s lasted forever but I have to wedge it up against other weights when I store it (to keep it from rolling) and I hate that I only bought ONE of these (see what I mean? Learn from my mistakes). It’s a specific style and I’ve never found another dumbbell with a similar grip so I don’t like to use it.
A pair of neoprene dumbbells
Cost of a pair of 5 lb. neoprene DB’s (on Amazon)-$14.99
Pros-Colors! These come in a variety of colors. I love that. These are softer and easier on your hardwood and tile floors. You can find the neoprene style in a lot of random sizes (like 9, 11, 17, etc.).
✔Pro Tip-Keep reading to find out if you actually need those random sizes.
Cons-The material can tear/rip (mine have small tears on the ends).
Neoprene aren’t a bad option. Especially if you have your heart set on a specific color that you can only find in neoprene.
A pair of vinyl dumbbells
Cost of a pair of 5 lb. vinyl DB’s (on Amazon)-$20.99
Pros-Colors! These also come in a range of cool colors. (The vinyl-covered dumbbells have a shiny surface while the neoprene is a matted material.) Like neoprene, you can find vinyl dumbbells in a variety of random sizes like 3, 7, and 11 lbs.
Cons-The vinyl is also susceptible to rips and tears. The cost is comparable to neoprene (but slightly higher).
SO, WHAT KIND OF DUMBBELLS SHOULD YOU BUY??
*My Top Recommendation for Women’s Dumbbells*
A pair of rubber dumbbells
(Seriously, girls, this is a family show.)
Cost of a pair of 5 lb. rubber DB’s (on Amazon)-$22.99
Pros-You can get these in colors*, too. The rubber will last forever and is easy on your hard surfaces (like hardwood and tile floors). These are my favorite option.
I’m in the process of slowly replacing all of my dumbbells with this style.
You can get this style all the way up to the heaviest weight you might need (for me that’s 30 lbs.). The grip size is perfect and the rubber doesn’t rip or tear.
*The cool colors go up to 15 lbs. After that, you can stick with the same style but may have to purchase them in black. You can find the heavier (black) ones here.
Cons-These aren’t your cheapest option.
*Pause for laughter* I had no idea there would be so many terrible puns in this post when I started. (My goal is to change your life but if I can make you smile I’ll take that, too.)
Now I’ll give you a few tips on how to decide what size weights you should buy. This is general but will give you a good starting place.
ATTENTION: Depending on where you are in your fitness routine will determine what (size) dumbbells you should purchase.
Find where you are on this list to decide what dumbbells you should start with.
If you’ve started your fitness routine in the last 3-6 months (Congrats! Keep it up!) and haven’t lifted anything heavier than a milk jug your entire life then consider investing in 3, 5, 8, and 10 lb. dumbbells to get started.
PRO TIP-Looking for a great exercise video to start with? Try Cathe Friedrich’s LITE (low impact training extreme) PHA training workout.
If you’re vaguely familiar with the term ‘lifting gloves’ and you exercise regularly (but only do cardio) then you should start with 5, 8, 10, and 12 lb. dumbbells.
PRO TIP-Try Cathe Friedrich’s ICE series. These are a variety of weight training and cardio routines for the intermediate athlete. If you don’t want the whole series then try Boot Camp Circuit and/or Metabolic Total Body. (Cathe also uses an aerobic step with a few risers in these videos).
If you cuddle up with your lifting gloves at night (and have been lifting weights for years) then this advice is for you. You may or may not need it.
Maybe you’ve been lifting at the gym for years and are just now transitioning into an at-home program. Or maybe you’ve been using machines at the gym for so long that you aren’t sure what free weights (dumbbells) to buy. I can help.
You need to purchase 5, 8, 10, 12, and 15 lb. dumbbbells. (In a few months you’ll want to add 20 lb. dumbbells, too).
If you’re looking for a good program to try then consider P90X3 with Tony Horton (I love this series for women). And a second option to look at would be Cathe Friedrich’s Muscle Max or Flex Train.
PRO TIP-I’ve posted a detailed review of Muscle Max and also Flex Train. So, you can read more about them before you buy. And you can read about P90X3 here.
LET’S TAKE A TIME OUT FOR A WORD ABOUT ADJUSTABLE DUMBBELLS LIKE THESE:
To be completely thorough I need to mention this style of dumbbell.
They’re adjustable. I call them ‘click weights’.
I love them…in theory. (Mostly because it’s so much easier to store them than an entire set of individual dumbbells.)
I have some of these adjustable dumbbells. I don’t use them.
I’ve found a few problems with them…
You can’t switch quickly between sizes.
So, if you do on-demand workouts then you’ll have to pause the video to swap out the size of your dumbbells. It’s SUPER annoying to do this several times over the course of a workout.
The other problem for me is that they aren’t comfortable.
The design is made for all the pieces to fit together so the heads of the dumbbells are really wide.
(Click on the picture of the adjustable dumbbells above and then check out a few of the product images and you can see what I mean about the design style. The heads of the dumbbells are too wide for me to do certain exercises without hitting my body. Overall, I find the design to be awkward when you go use them.)
Because of these reasons, I stick with my recommendation for women to purchase the individual rubber dumbbells.
A Few Pro Tips for Using Dumbbells
Remember, IN GENERAL, doing more reps and less/lighter weight will result in sculpting/toning and NOT bulking.
Quality Over Quantity. NEVER EVER sacrifice form to get more reps. You will hurt yourself. It’s dumb. You’ve been warned. Don’t do it.
Stretching is vital! Essential. Necessary. Required. Make sure you stretch your muscles before AND after you do any resistance training (just like when you do cardio).
For maximum results try to do a mix of cardio AND resistance training in your regular exercise program. You’ll turn into an amazing badass.
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5 LB – 35 LB DUMBBELL SET
Bolt’s 5 LB to 35 LB Rubber Hex dumbbell set is a great fit for anyone whether a beginner or avid athlete.
Bolt’s brings you Rubber Hex Dumbbells. What are Rubber Hex Dumbbells?
These Dumbbells are made with a Hexagon shaped weight on each end, making it easy for storage and safer for each athlete than a rounded hand weight. With the dumbbell not being rounded off, there is less chance of it rolling around as you work out, possibly causing an injury.
The rubber coating around the weight of each dumbbell, brings the benefit of minimal wear and tear to the hand weight itself, and to protect your flooring, if ever dropped. The textured Chrome plated handle brings great benefit to any athlete by creating a great surface for a strong grip throughout any workout.
When using a set that ranges from 5LB-35 LB dumbbells, it is great for a group of people at a commercial gym, a family at home that has varying workout levels, or for a solo athlete in a garage gym that needs to switch routines and intensity levels, depending on the day.
Dumbbell Sets are great for strength training. Some exercises you can incorporate with the varying weights of the dumbbell set, are bicep curls, bench press, step-ups with plyo boxes and much more.
Bolt is here to bring you affordable dumbbells that are made to last.
Sold in Pairs and Individually.
– Includes 14 Rubber Hex Dumbbells
– No assembly required
– Strong, weather resistant finish
– Textured handle for easy grip
– Weight pairs: 5 LB, 10 LB, 15 LB, 20LB, 25LB, 30 LB, 35 LB
– Material: Steel, Rubber
– Length: 10″
– Finish: Chrome-Plated handles/Rubber Coated weights
– Total Weight: 280 LB of dumbbells
I was Exercised by Wolves
Zeynep TufekciFollow Feb 27, 2015 · 14 min read
What I learned about how the fitness industry lies
So, ladies, let’s first put down the two-pound, pink dumbbells. We have been sold a false story about fitness, health (and its connection to weight loss).
I was exercised by wolves. And I’m going to tell you all the secrets and tricks I learned by avoiding the fitness-industrial complex.
Most of what I’ll say applies to men, but I have discovered that most of the outrageously wrong advice is given to women.
The biggest secret? Almost everything you need to know fits into two or three sentences, and a few pages for the implementation. I’ll have most of it down before this article is over.
It’s almost March, that time of the year when eagerly-purchased home exercise gadgets evolve into permanent coat hangers, and the attendance in exercise classes, spiked up by Groupon-facilitated mass purchases right before or after the new year, starts to fall off.
Only about 20% of us get the minimum exercise we actually need, though most of us are interested in learning how to exercise. News items that promise shortcuts, new inventions, or magical potions tend to go viral. Last year, New York Times health blog The Well had back-to-back viral stories: first, how to exercise in seven minutes, and then how to exercise in one minute. There are a constant stream of allegedly better, novel ways to exercise.
I’m a lifelong exerciser, and also an academic with interest in, and access to, research, so I tend to read the research about most things I do regularly. It was all a lucky coincidence, there is nobody in my family who exercised (or was in the least interested in healthy behaviors.) I just stumbled into that world, and I was lucky enough to have avoided the fitness industry aimed at women. Instead, I was trained by serious (amateur) athletes, in thai-boxing rings and in running tracks, in basketball courts and in actual gyms by people who knew what they were doing, not for-profit fitness clubs.
Here’s the secret I have learned: There is none. We have long known most everything there is to know about what the average adult in reasonable health needs to do for fitness, and how. There is no new fad to uncover, nor is the science of it an unknown, complex field.
Here’s the shortest version: Lift. Move. Regularly.
I’ll outline all the basics you need before this article is over.
Every study uncovers more benefits to exercise. From helping ward off depression, to prolonging life to supporting immunity to regulating sleep to increasing alertness. If there was a miracle drug, this is it. The positives of regular exercise spans age limits: octogenarians and even older people benefit from exercise, as do people of all genders and weight categories.
Except for one small thing.
Pssst. The very thing it is most touted for.
The thing people who hop on the exercise bandwagon are told it will do, and are disappointed when it doesn’t.
Here’s the truth: Exercise is unlikely to help you lose weight (directly). There is a link, but it’s convoluted and not the path most people think.
So, forget the weight part. Just this: if your health permits, you should exercise. Remember, I’m not a medical doctor, and in any case, only your own doctor knows about you, not any general article on the Internet. Check with your doctor. This article is contains the broad lessons I have learned as a lifelong exerciser, which the CDC says is a small minority of people. That is a shame, as there are few other things you can do in life with such broad impacts on quality and length of life. Yet, the fitness industry keeps touting unreasonable messages and false promises, which discourages people.
TONE AND BULK: LIES THE FITNESS INDUSTRY TOLD ME
So, here: truth number one. Very few of us consider strength-training as essential exercise, but it is. It is especially crucial as one ages, because a natural part of the aging process is losing muscle. Women, especially, need to lift weights, and the trick to lifting weights is stressing muscles. And that weight has to be a real weight, progressively increased, and barring health issues, an average woman should not even bother with two pound weights because that won’t stress your muscles enough to benefit you.
Exercise industry is surely partially to blame for why people don’t exercise regularly: they promise the wrong thing (weight loss) and then don’t push/guide people to do the right thing.
I encountered those pink, useless dumbbells when I joined commercial exercise classes, attempting to recover from an ankle injury, and seeking some novelty. Classes can be fun, and group exercise isn’t a bad option. I thought, after lifelong avoidance of the industry, I might as well give it a shot.
A young woman had come to class with her toddler, and she exercised in the back room set aside for kids, participating through the half-open door. When we switched to strength-training, she strolled out of the room, her toddler under one arm, and walked to the weight rack, and picked the two-pounders, turned around.
Her toddler, held under one arm, was at least 25 pounds.
But it’s hard to blame her. The weights in the class were mostly under five pounds. I was actually out of shape, due to my ankle injury. These were women who exercised regularly in this class that ostensibly included strength training. Some had been attending for years. Yet, there were only two dumbbells over seven pounds, and a single set of ten pounders. I asked around why the weights were so puny, and was told that “they wanted to tone, not bulk.”
Lies the fitness industry tells women. The dumbbells available at a local, popular fitness club for women.
Hahahahahahahaha, would say my gym friends, actual athletes, which included a few women who actually tried to bulk up. It’s very hard for women to “bulk up”. An average woman is not going to accidentally “bulk up”. Women also have naturally higher body fat percentage—even if they “bulked up” in muscle, it would take an enormous amount of effort, and let’s be honest, likely some shady medical “enhancements”, before an average woman ended up with noticeable musculature plus lose enough body fat for the muscles to show through. (Pssst. Carrying that low levels of bodyfat for women has lifelong negative consequences. Women and men really do differ in that aspect).
You are not going to bulk up. You don’t need to “tone.” You need to strengthen your muscles, all of them.
In hotels which have fitness rooms, I often encounter weights that have the opposite problem of women’s club—sets whose minimum start at 20–25 pounds per dumbbell. The assumption, I suppose, is that women won’t use them. (There is, indeed, some physical differences in upper body strength in men and women, especially the maximum. But many men wouldn’t start at 20 lbs—yet the racks were full of 50–80 lbs range which is probably used by very few people). Men don’t need to be needlessly lifting too heavy weights that court injury. There is great benefit to strength training that doesn’t require trying to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. When it comes to strength training, the industry pushes women to under-exercise, and men to over-exercise, accompanied by pictures of people who almost certainly are not merely weight-training. This is just as wrong.
STRENGTHEN ALL YOUR MUSCLES (NOT JUST THE ABS!)
Women’s exercise classes and magazines are often focused on endless amount of “abs” work, and they skimp on strength-training for upper body and arms. It’s great to do what’s increasingly called “core” body strength training (the muscles from your abs to your knees) as that part of the body gives you stability and strength, but it won’t make you lose weight, it is not going to make a huge difference in your weight, or your looks, and you need to strengthen all of your body, and that includes all the muscles not just your abs.
Part of the emphasis on abs, it seems, comes from the pregnancy and “post-baby body” industry that urges women to try to look like they never got pregnant. It’s a whole other ugly lie, bolstered by pictures of celebrities in their “post baby body” pics, and hides this truth: for most women, it is virtually impossible to “exercise” your way back to a pre-pregnancy body. Those celebrities? Surgery, mostly. And genetics: just like the industry tries to find those few people who are just genetically prone to being thin, the celebrity-fitness complex focuses on the exceptions. And, oh. The muscles you exercise (abs) and where you lose fat (tummy, etc.) are not related. Muscles are muscles, and fat is fat. Your genetics/body determines where the fat comes from.
All this lack of interest by the fitness industry on effective strength training is doubly ironic because besides the enormous health and fitness benefits for keeping up your muscles, no matter your weight, muscle is metabolically active. The amount of muscle you have determines how many calories your body burns throughout the day, even as you sit. Loss of muscle as we age (natural part of aging for both men and women) is one key reason we gain weight as we age, a concern that pushes many to exercise, but without strength-training—you see the irony. The more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns at all times, while an activity like running even a whole hour, not an easy feat, can be offset by eating a sandwich and an apple. And active people tend to get hungry, naturally, and add those extra calories to their diet. Besides, caloric restriction dieting (especially if it’s severe and without exercise) often results in muscle loss, which makes people even more likely to gain weight once they stop their diet, as their body now has proportionally more fat and less muscle compared to before the diet. They’ll now gain weight on even fewer calories per day, leading to further frustration and cycles of yo-yo dieting and weight gain.
SO, WORK YOUR MUSCLES
Strength training exercises have a few basic principles.
First, you must stress your muscles, meaning that it doesn’t work if you don’t push yourself a little. Your body is honed to conserve energy, convincing it to keep building muscles requires giving it a good reason, i.e. a bit of stress. That’s what’s wrong with that 2 lbs dumbbell. If a weight becomes too easy because you’ve grown strong, increase it a little. Once that’s easy, too, increase that. That principle underlies all strength training.
Second, you must allow for time to rest, so don’t do strength training on the same muscle two days in a row. Rest is when your body decides to and can build up the muscle you stressed. The exercise is the signal, the rest is when the real work is done.
Third, exercise all your muscle groups, in turn. You can use dumbbells, whole body exercises (great), strength training elastics. The principle is the same.
You need to learn the names of the main muscles, and which exercises use which. (Here, this two pager has most of what you need). You can train for as little as two days of the week (say, back, triceps, trap and hamstrings one day, and chest, biceps and quadriceps the other day, and abs on both). You can train four days of the week (with rest days in between) or any combination. It usually takes 20–30 minutes each time, so you are looking at 20 minutes twice a week at a minimum. Remember, always take rest days, that’s when your body takes the chance to build that muscle, which is your goal.
There are some good guidelines out there. Here’s a one. Here’s another. This isn’t bad either. Remember, ignore the unrealistic pictures. You won’t and almost certainly cannot look “ripped.” But you are best off learning the principle: look at that guide of major muscles, and make sure you exercise all of them, once or twice a week, with weights that challenge but not overwhelm you.
If you are using dumbbells, here’s your rule of thumb: Pick a weight you can comfortably lift 12 times, rest a few minutes, lift for another 10–12 times, rest a few minutes more, but can barely lift 8 more the last time (called a set). You’ll have done three sets, and you are done with that muscle. If you go too easy your first try, increase it the next time. If you start too heavy, decrease it a bit. Err on the side of caution.
You can apply the same rule of thumb if you are using whole body exercises (like pushups, squats and pullups). First, do a number (probably around 5–10) that leaves you tired, but not exhausted. Repeat. If you got it right, by the third set, you should be really feeling spent, but not miserable. Stop when you can’t do anymore. Remember, if you feel miserable, you’ve overdone it. You’ll find your sweet spot quickly, and you’ll soon learn to know what your body can do, and what feels right. When in doubt, stop. Don’t overdo it. You can try again later.
The first few weeks of weight-lifting will be accompanied by a soreness that starts a day or two late—it’s called delayed onset muscle soreness. It should feel like soreness, not serious pain. This is very common. It’s okay. It won’t always be that way. It’s a normal part of starting weight-training from scratch.
If you read online guides, remember ignore the parts about looks, weight, “toning” and various admonitions. You need to lift weights because stronger muscles are going to make you healthy, less prone to injury and more fit.
GET YOURSELF HUFFING AND PUFFING
I have even less to say about aerobic exercise, the part that conditions your cardiovascular system. What we know is exceedingly straightforward (except how to get people to do it). Every study finds more benefits. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you are left somewhat breathless, but not too much. You can run, bike, walk briskly (not leisurely). You can dance, hop, skip and jump. You can swim or spin. If you go to an exercise class, remember, almost all the dancing choreography is to keep you interested and somewhat distracted; it is not the part that’s benefiting your health. If you just want to jump up and down, while the rest of the class twirls to a modified samba step, that works, too. Just move.
How long? I’ll be straight. Like most things, most of the benefits are in the initial ramp-up, not the margins. If you are sedentary, just doing some cardio, even 30 minutes a week, 10 minutes at a time, will get you some real benefits. If I were doing bare bones, I’d say try 20 minutes at a time, three times a week. That’s just one hour the whole week. Research observes real benefits even to that little. But don’t stop there: the research also strongly suggests that you should try to do about 150 minutes per week, or 30 minutes, per day, for at least five days of the week. That’s two-and-a-half hours per week.
By the way, if you have a desire to lose weight, research shows that people who’ve lost weight and kept it off long-term through non-surgical means, have mostly done it primarily through (drastically) lower caloric intake plus about an hour of exercise per day, everyday. Research also shows more weight-loss benefits to strength-training than aerobic exercise. But that’s a whole other issue: remember, exercise is for health.
How little at a time? 10 minutes seems to be the absolute minimum that starts accruing benefits. So if you can do 10 minutes every day, do it. You’ll benefit. But if you can, increase it.
How hard? There are heartbeat calculators and formulas out there, but here’s your rule-of-thumb: You should be huffing and puffing a bit, but able to talk. If you are so out of breath that you can’t talk, slow down, and then gradually stop. Catch your breath. If you can hold a conversation with no huffing and puffing, it’s too easy: step it up.
If you can, throw small spikes into your exercise. These are called intervals. While walking briskly, for example, break into a jog for 20–30 seconds, and start walking again. Do it 2–3 times in your whole routine. Research shows that intervals help fitness benefits. But don’t worry about it. This is optional. You don’t need to read 30 articles on the best interval method. You don’t even need to do them if you don’t feel like it.
There is one last trick, one that actually works, in this field of a million tricks which don’t work. You can combine your strength and aerobic exercises, by doing your strength-training at a brisk pace, hence keeping your heart-rate up, for the whole 20–30 minutes in which you are stressing your muscles. This exercise routine by Jillian Michaels, available seemingly legally on Youtube in both introductory and intermediate forms, is very good in that it does really cover most major muscle groups, and is done briskly enough to be good for both cardio and strength. Ignore its name: just this won’t make you “shred.” I’ve heard that she later became a TV star with a show that’s focused on losing weight, which I’ve never watched and I actually find the idea somewhat disturbing, but the routine is good and she is mostly telling the truth throughout the video which is a rare thing in this industry.
If you were crunched for time, you could get a lot out of doing the beginning version of that particular routine, and pushing yourself progressively harder, just 3–4 times a week, moving up to the intermediary version, and maybe a brisk walk or two here and there for 10–20 minutes. By the time you are too fit for the intermediate version, you will have learned a lot about your body, and how to push yourself appropriately.
So, here it is: Build your muscles by stressing them, but don’t forget to rest. Get your heart rate up at least a few times a week, for about 20 minutes at a time.
Most important part of this is that you will find your own groove, and your activity, as long as it fits the above broad outline. Over time, I have gotten aerobic exercise through a variety of means, including the thai-boxing ring, biking, running and basketball when I was younger (I’m not good at any of those! In fact, I’m, ahem, lousy at most. I’ve always been fortunate enough to find people who enjoyed the sport and friendly competition, not aggressive one-upmanship). At the moment, I have a time-intensive job which involves a lot of writing, so I’ve found other ways to incorporate exercise into my day. Most months, I lift weights. Sometimes, I do whole body exercises. I switch routines as I get bored. I own an elliptical that I bought for $400 about 10 years ago and use almost every week, and I’ve recently acquired a treadmill desk. I’ve packed away my television, and the only time I watch a screen for leisure is on the elliptical, which motivates me to get on it. I think better when I walk, so the treadmill desk helps with that while getting the brisk walking in.
But this is me. I don’t have an answer for what will work for you, but I encourage you to find something you enjoy. Swim with a waterproof music player, and make it your time to listen to music you miss. Go for a brisk walk with a buddy, and chat. Dance for 20 minutes. Take a class, and don’t worry if you can’t do all the complicated moves. Just move, briskly, 20–30 minutes at a time. Lift weights, or do whole bodyweight moves a few times a week. Listen to podcasts or audiobooks. Tune out and just focus on the exercise. Whatever works for you, and your body, and your motivation.
That’s it. There is, surely, a lot more to learn about fitness, exercise and health but those two bolded sentences above are the core basics, and that’s where most of the benefits are. All the fads, promises, tricks are confusing and misleading. The intense focus on weight-loss and exercise, especially for women, is doubly misleading and harmful because everyone benefits from exercise while weight-loss is fraught, complicated and frustrating.
Exercise because exercise. Don’t listen to the exercise industry, don’t look at the ads, and don’t read articles that spend a lot of time on the latest thing or trick.
Forget the resolutions. Forget the fads.
Lift. Move. Regularly.
That’s it. You can do it. Go.