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One of the keys to getting lean, strong and healthy is starting a strength-training program.

Don't worry about getting bulky, like a female bodybuilder. You'd have to train like an animal and lift hundreds of pounds of weights.

What basic strength training will do is help you build lean muscle mass -- and change the way you look and feel. Include it with your cardiovascular conditioning and you'll get the results you want faster.


Increasing lean muscle mass does a couple of things: It makes your life easier and it increases your fat-burning ability.

Lean muscle mass burns fuel. It isn't a quick burner, but it burns fuel for a very long time. And one of the fuels it burns is fat.

Here's the best part: A pound of fat takes up five times the volume in your body as a pound of lean muscle mass. So if you lose fat through cardiovascular exercise and increase lean muscle mass through weight training, you'll end up littler and leaner than you've ever been.

This week I'll outline some lower-body exercises. Next time we'll do the upper body.

Here are some basic terms you'll need to know:

Repetition or "rep"-- one complete exercise movement from beginning to end. Set -- a specific number of continuous repetitions. Rest -- short pause taken between sets for muscle recovery. Contraction -- tightening of a muscle.

General guidelines

The only "equipment" you'll need to start is a straight-backed chair. Do up to 10 repetitions of each exercise. Rest 60 seconds between each set. Do up to three sets of each exercise.

When you can easily complete three sets of 10 reps, it's time to increase your level of intensity. Add ankle weights. Start with 2- to 5-pound weights and work up to 5- to 8-pound weights.

Muscle maintenance requires the same things as cardio maintenance -- correct form, resistance, control and extension -- done consistently.

These exercises can be done every other day. Be sure to stretch afterward and to take a day of rest between strength-training days.

Alternating leg extensions

This works the quadriceps (front of thigh).

Starting position:

Sit on the chair with feet flat on the floor. For balance, hold onto the back or bottom of the chair, placing your hands below the seat.

Doing the movement:

Extend one leg fully, straight out in front of you, contracting the quadriceps.

Release the contraction and slowly return to starting position.

Complete 10 reps, then switch legs. Alternate legs for three sets of 10 reps per leg.

Hip extension

This works the gluteus maximus.

Starting position:

Stand facing the back of the chair. Place hands on top of chair back. Feet are shoulder-width apart, knees soft. Make sure you have the correct postural position: abdominals tight, chest lifted, shoulders relaxed. Shoulder blades feel as if they are coming together.

Doing the movement:

Flex foot and slowly extend your leg to the wall behind you, contracting the gluteal muscle.

Release the contraction slowly and return to starting position.

Keep supporting leg slightly bent.

Complete 10 reps, then switch to other leg. Alternate legs for three sets of 10 reps per leg.

Hamstring curl

Works the hamstring (back of thigh).

Starting position:

Stand facing back of chair. Place hands on chair back. Feet are shoulder-width apart, knees soft. The exercising leg is bent at the knee with toes resting on the floor.

Doing the movement:

Flexing the foot, lift heel toward buttock and contract the hamstring.

Release contraction and return to starting position.

Complete 10 reps, then switch to other leg. Alternate legs for three sets of 10 reps per leg.

Things to remember:

Keep exercising leg parallel to supporting leg. Avoid letting knee swing forward. Keep supporting leg slightly bent.

Questions or comments should be addressed to Susan Powter, care of the New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column.

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