I used to have the cardio part down. Running, plyometrics, and high intensity interval training were a part of my regular routine. But strength training? Isn’t that for the men?! Wow, was I wrong. For some reason, I honestly just didn’t even think I liked strength training. I’m not sure why because my favorite segment of freshmen P.E. was the quarter of the year we spent in weight lifting class. Don’t get me wrong, I knew there were benefits to strength training…my double major was in fitness after all. However, when it came to implementation, I really underestimated what it could do for me.
Strength training has boosted my mood significantly, helped me to run long distances injury free, and built lean muscle mass that not only helps maintain my metabolism, but also helps me lift things I would otherwise struggle with. I have a really petite build, which naturally l’ve usually had less muscle than most of my peers…that is, until I started strength training!
If I haven’t convinced you to start yet, read on for the benefits, why it’s important throughout the life cycle, and my recommendations for seamlessly incorporating strength training into your life.
Benefits of Strength Training
1. Boost Your Metabolism and Assist in Weight Maintenance.
Strength training builds muscle, and muscle really does burn more calories than fat. Studies have shown that 10 weeks of strength training can increase lean weight by 1.4 kg, increase resting metabolic rate by 7%, and reduce fat weight by 1.8kg. Obviously this increase in lean muscle mass makes a huge impact on your metabolism, which will lead to fat loss.
2. Boost Your Brain Power
Some research actually shows that resistance training and physical activity can actually sharpen your critical thinking skills! Of course, exercise definitely gives the brain a mental boost in promoting feelings of well-being as well.
3. Prevent Loss of Lean Muscle Mass and Bone Density with Age
Inactive adults lose anywhere from 3-8% of their muscle mass per decade! Studies show that bone loss is another prominent problem with age. The incidence of osteoporotic fractures rises exponentially with age. Strength training assists by not only preventing your risk of falls, but also by preventing bone loss.
Strength Training Throughout Your Life
Use it or Lose it!
For the average person, muscle mass decreases at a significant rate with each passing decade. This leads to a decrease in metabolism as well as fat accumulation. Older adults can absolutely benefit from adding strength training to their exercise regimen.
In addition to assisting with maintaining functional activities throughout life, studies have shown that strength training can assist in preventing lower back pain and other disabilities as well as assist in the management of blood pressure, glucose control, and even gastrointestinal transit time. And GI transit time, which is simply the time it takes for food to digest and move through your body is huge. I hear this complaint so frequently from the aging population, and even though it’s one of the less obvious benefits of strength training, it has a big impact on quality of life. Furthermore, some research shows that these benefits can be obtained in just 2 short 15-20 minute sessions per week.
However, we are aging everyday. Don’t wait until you are “older” to start strength training. Now is the time to help prevent muscle mass and bone loss! And it’s never too late to start (after checking in with your doctor, of course).
Methods and Equipment for Strength Training
1. Free Weights
Think dumbbells and barbells. These are the most well known tools of strength training. If you don’t have free weights you can use milk jugs full of water or canned goods. Get creative! We have these bowflex adjustable dumbbells and can’t recommend them highly enough. Sure, they come with a price tag, but honestly they have been so worth it. In fact, it doesn’t take very long of forgoing a gym membership to pay for them.
2. Body Weight Exercise
There are tons of great bodyweight exercises you can do that build muscle mass. In fact, this post I wrote on 7 Exercises You Can Do Anywhere will give you a few ideas that involve resistance training without the weights. Basically, in these types of exercises your body is used to build strength. Think: Push Ups (all variations), Planks, Squats, and Pull Ups.
3. Resistance Bands
My husband and I used to rely on resistance bands (and bodyweight) before we bought our bowflex dumbbells. And even now that we have the dumbbells, we still use them frequently for certain exercises. Basically, the bands provide resistance when they are stretched. Resistance bands usually come in a variety of colors that represent varying degrees of resistance. They are a really inexpensive alternative to buying free weights for home use. We have had this set for 7 years and they are still going strong! I do recommend purchasing a good set as our first set was a bit less expensive and one of them snapped and hit me in the face. Ow!
4. Weight Machines
If you have a gym membership or purchase a weight machine for home use, you can add this method to your strength training regiment. Machines can be a great way for beginners to get used to lifting, and they can safely help get your muscles started using the correct form.
Recommendations for Strength Training
Both the Department of Health and Human Services and the ACSM recommends incorporating strength training for all muscle groups 2 days per week. Therefore, if you choose to resistance train twice per week (the minimum recommendation) you should aim to do a full body workout both days, and they should be nonconsecutive days.
As you begin to get stronger, it’s important to assess your workout and move your weights up. Continue to challenge yourself in order to effectively build muscle!
Start Strength Training Today
According to data in 2011 only 29.3% of adults across the US met the strength training guideline. Today is your day to add strength training to your exercise regimen.
ACSM has some great tips and a basic full body strength training workout that may be helpful if you are just starting out. If your budget allows it may be beneficial to get a personal trainer to get started with strength training. However, this is not necessary and you can begin at home or in the gym. The most important thing is to make sure you are using correct form. A mirror or a buddy can both be helpful in finding the proper form.
ACSM Information on Resistance Training for Health and Fitness
Adult Participation in Aerobic and Strength Training Physical Activities – United States 2011
Mayo Clinic: Strength Training: Get stronger, leaner, healthier.
Physical Activity Effects on Bone Metabolism
Potential Health Related Benefits of Strength Training
Resistance Training is Medicine: effects of strength training on health
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