Ask any person with a fitness resolution what their goal is and the answer is always the same, “I want to lose weight, get toned, shrink my midsection, and get healthier.” Cardiovascular exercise has its place in every fitness routine and weight training is equally important for your health. Strength training allows you to achieve your toning and weight loss goals more effectively than cardio. There are many different physical and psychological reasons why strength training is so important for the human body. Strength training reduces the natural age-related decline in muscle mass and bone density. Toning and sculpting your muscles can also improve body image and self-confidence. Lastly, being strong just makes life easier! Heavy groceries, hard yard work, moving clunky furniture, NO PROBLEM! I always laugh when a pet store clerk asks if I need help carrying the 80 pounds of dog food in my cart. I respond “no thank you, I lift weights,” and proceed to tuck 40 pounds under each arm. Wouldn’t it be exhilarating to do almost anything you want to with ease? Strength training can get you to the, "no help needed, I’ve got this." kind of life.
What is Strength Training?
Strength training, also known as weight lifting, requires your muscles to generate force in order to overcome a set resistance. Resistance can be in the form of weight machines, resistance bands, free weights, or even your own body weight. Many female clients often worry about “getting bulky” when beginning a strength training program. The hours in the gym and amount food you would have to eat to look like those women in magazines would be astronomical. It is almost impossible for the average woman to get bulky and pack on the muscle weight. The first 8 weeks of a strength training program does not change a person’s strength or muscle size at all. Sounds crazy right! The body makes neuromuscular improvements not actual muscle changes in those first 8 weeks. The nervous system becomes more effective at recruiting muscle fibers making your muscles work more effectively. In addition, you are building the stamina and force capacity of your tendons, ligaments, and joints. Your body is working smarter not harder.
Are there any reason why I shouldn’t strength train? After almost 10 years in the fitness industry, there isn’t a single reason why someone should not be strength training. I have strength trained clients hundreds of pounds overweight, those with brittle bones, clients needing joint replacements, children, pregnant women in their third trimester, and even people in a cast! If you have a broken arm, you still have another arm and two legs right? Your age should NEVER be an excuse not to strength train. My oldest client was a 99 year old woman who exercised every day and lifted weights. She survived a broken hip at age 97 and was fully recovered within a year. If that isn’t a testament of the power of strength training then I don’t know what is.
Boost Your Metabolism
Once you stop cardiovascular exercise, your calorie burning potential drops drastically and returns to baseline within ten minutes. Strength training allows you to burn calories up to 36 hours after your workout due to muscular rebuilding. I do admit the calories burned per hour after strength training may be modest, but when you multiply it by 36 hours the calories can become significant. I imagine my muscle cells to be like Pacman, constantly eating, constantly searching for more dots. Our fat stores provide the never ending source of “dots” for our Pacman muscle cells. Even if we haven’t eaten recently, the worn out muscle cells will burn stored fat to remodel and repair the damaged cells. Rebuilding our muscle cells requires a lot of energy (in the form of calories), which causes our resting metabolism to increase. This means you are burning more calories per hour even while you are doing nothing. Sounds like a bargain to me! Some studies estimate that every pound of muscle increases your resting metabolism by 30 - 50 calories per day.
Before You Start
Strength training can be done in your local gym or even in the comfort of your home. I always recommend consulting your doctor before you start any new exercise routine. If you decide to take the home route, I recommend buying some inexpensive exercise equipment. Most of the equipment can even be stored in your luggage so exercising while traveling is possible. Each of these items will cost around $20.00 and can be found at any local store. For your home gym I suggest you purchase:
- A set of resistance bands (light, medium, and heavy resistance)
- Yoga mat
- 2 sets of dumbells (8 – 15 pounds) on lighter and one heavier set
- 55 cm physioball or stability ball
- jump rope
Ready, Set, SWEAT!
If you click on "Find A Workout" at the top of the page, there are many options listed with some great exercises you can do at home using your body weight or set of resistance bands. Any of these exercises can be made harder by adding repetitions, doing multiple sets, or increasing your holding time. Try to hold the bodyweight exercises for at least 30 seconds. Resistance bands can also be made more difficult by stepping farther away from the band’s start point. Gradually increase sets and reps to prevent muscle stiffness and excessive soreness.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends performing strengthening exercise two days per week on nonconsecutive days. Perform one to three sets of 8 - 12 repetitions per exercise for novice to intermediate exercisers. Aim for 8 to 10 different exercises targeting all major muscle groups. Make sure to incorporate upper body, lower body, and core exercises into your routine. Click on the "Workouts" tab and check it out!