Elizabeth and Clay Burwell, owners of High Performance Gym, share their tips for making strength training a regular part of your healthy routine.
Credit: Photo: Christopher Shane

Next time you're at the gym, take a look at the people using the weight equipment. Unless you're in a body-builder shrine, you'll see plenty of folks who look more like you and less like an action-hero wannabe. The new crop of iron aficionados aren't just keeping their triceps toned: They know that strength training increases bone mass and helps anyone maintain a healthy weight. And there is no perfect workout. Making muscle-boosting part of your routine—aim for twice a week—just takes finding a style that suits you, whether it's resistance bands or barbells. Soon, regular sessions will help you feel and look stronger and healthier.

Clay and Elizabeth Burwell were both attracted to bars of varying sorts from an early age. His were the ones with weights attached: "My stepfather was a fitness fanatic," Clay says. "I remember doing sit-ups with a 25-pound weight on my chest on a decline bench in our living room while watching Saturday morning cartoons." As a member of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division, he took responsibility for overseeing his fellow soldiers' physical training exercises.

Elizabeth preferred the bars—barres, actually—found in mirrored dance studios. Years of ballet, jazz, and modern dance lessons led to a move to Manhattan, where she danced professionally. Barbells led to wedding bells after she and Clay met while working as personal trainers in the same New York City gym. The two opened High Performance Gym in Manhattan in 2007 and relocated to Greenville, South Carolina, late last year. Together they've trained all types, from celebs to housewives. They point out that the rewards of working out—feeling young, avoiding injury—go beyond the aesthetic.

Think pumping iron isn't for you? "My advice is to stick with it for six to eight weeks, and then you'll understand the motivation to keep going," says Elizabeth. "If you stick with it that long and work hard, you'll feel so good that you're not going to want to stop."


  • Seek guidance. "I recommend training with someone one-on-one first," Clay says. However, don't shy away from strength training if you don't have the money or the time for a personal trainer, Elizabeth adds: "Do what your time and your budget will allow." For first-timers, the Burwells recommend Mark Rippetoe's book Starting Strength. Rippetoe has multiple demonstration videos on YouTube, as well.
  • Focus on form at first. "The newer people are to exercising, the more frequently I have them working out," Clay explains. "I'm not loading them up with a lot of weight. I'm primarily working on technique to build a baseline of strength." Once you begin using heavier weights, you'll need to work out less frequently to give muscles more recovery time.
  • Do the common uncommonly well. "Perfect your movements. Never assume your squats are good enough—always try to make them better," Clay says. And don't let factors like age limit you. "I have a 68-year-old client who is kicking butt," he says. "Age is not really a factor. But technique is, always."
  • Invite friends. Once clients have technique and routine down, Elizabeth encourages them to see exercise as a social event: "Make it a group activity. Whether it's 10 people or a buddy, having someone to hold you accountable helps. Even for my husband and me, it's not as much fun to work out alone as in a group environment. Create a group or join a gym that has classes like boot camp or CrossFit, and you'll have the added bonus of an instructor to help."