I often see many dedicated gym-goers, especially women, who run endlessly on the treadmill, sweat gruelingly through group exercise classes and do other modes of aerobic exercise, but refuse to do any strength training exercises.
When questioned, they inevitably will state that their goal is to lose fat and stay healthy and they don’t desire to build muscle or “look like a man.” Sadly, they are missing a major component of a comprehensive program that would more assure them of reaching their goal.
Resistance training, also known as strength training, includes all forms of exercises with free weights (barbells and dumbbells), weight machines, exercise tubing, kettlebells or your own body weight.
Many of us realize the health benefits to be had through aerobic/cardio conditioning, but are not aware of all the benefits of resistance training. In addition to muscle toning and strengthening, resistance training increases metabolism, increases bone density, and believe it or not can be even more effective at long term weight loss than aerobic exercise.
This is especially true in regards to losing “fat weight,” not just bodyweight. The goal when losing weight should always be to lose fat while preserving lean bodyweight.
DISPELLING THE MYTHS
The benefits of progressive strength training can be traced back thousands of years when — as legend goes — Milo, a 6th century BC Greek wrestler, carried a newborn calf on his shoulders every day until it was a full grown bull.
Much more recently, there has been tremendous scientific research promoting resistance training and the corresponding overall health benefits. That same research has also taken away some of the common misperceptions associated with resistance training.
Don’t worry about resistance training making you bulky or big. I always tell my female clients that if you’re over 35, any amount of muscle you gain will be what you have already lost.
Muscle mass, in both males and females, diminishes with age. The more muscle we have, the higher our metabolisms are, so a loss of muscle will lead most often to a gain of fat. It has been reported that the average adult will gain as many as 10 pounds of fat every decade without ever increasing their caloric intake.
But strength training can help you preserve and enhance your muscle mass at any age. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn to reduce excess body fat. Research has shown that this not only leads to weight loss, but can also make it easier to control your weight over time. This is because lean muscle mass has a higher energy requirement on your body — you burn more calories even when your body is at rest.
STRONG BONES, NOT JUST MUSCLE
The minerals that compose our bones begin to deteriorate and become more fragile as we age. Resistance training helps to build tissue and support around the bones, in addition to increasing bone density and reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
Small-frame people and postmenopausal women are especially prone to bone loss. Research has shown that women increased their bone mass by 9 percent after a year-long strength training program. Women who did not participate in strength training lost bone density.
As you get stronger, your body will not fatigue or tire as quickly. Since our muscles act as shock absorbers, building muscle can protect your joints from injury. Stronger muscles also lead to improved balance. Less fatigue, less injury, and better balance add up to increased longevity because of the increased activity level that will be possible as you age.
Now that I have hopefully convinced you of the benefits of resistance training, where do you start?
The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommend strength training a minimum of two times a week, in addition to moderate or intense cardiovascular activity.
There are many benefits of resistance training, but perhaps the most obvious is that it can help you lose weight and keep your body strong. No matter what your strength training goals might be, it is never too late to start some form of resistance training. With all the benefits to be had, don’t resist making resistance training a regular part of your overall fitness plan.
Perry Buchanan, owner of PT Gym, is certified as Health Fitness Specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine and has been in the fitness industry for more than 30 years.