A visit to your local health club weight room will reveal a space filled with dazzling steel and chrome machines. Not long ago, these modern-day “torture chambers” were places for dedicated body builders, mostly of the male gender who had very little body fat and a whole lot of rather large, hard-to-miss muscles. There was a distinct aura to that room, a feeling of raw power and intimidation. The moment you entered, something told you to get out quickly – you didn’t belong there.
Not so today. Although the appearance of weight rooms today has remained somewhat the same, the game has changed and so have the players. Where once only getting “bigger muscles” was the goal of strength training and mostly men participated in the routine; today, women and men alike; young and old; thin and fat; healthy and not so healthy are finding their way into weight rooms and realizing the magic of strength training – beyond simply achieving a beautiful body.
Why all the sudden fuss about strength training? It’s really quite simple. Fitness experts have finally realized that there’s more to being “fit” than just cardiovascular strength. Muscle strength is an equally important component to overall health and fitness. According to Dr. Michael Pollock, chairman of the American College of Sports Medicine’s position paper on exercise guidelines, “With society living long and longer, it makes sense to keep people functionally capable and independent.” Strength training is a means to achieving this end.
Although physical appearance is certainly a plus that comes with strength training as well as a motivation factor for a great number of people, “physique perks” are not the primary goal of strength training participants. There are three additional reasons every body can benefit from strength training, regardless of age.
MAINTAIN AND/OR ENHANCE LEAN MUSCLE WEIGHT
It’s a fact. You will lose 1/2 pound of muscle for every year you age past 20, if you do not incorporate some type of resistance strength training into your exercise routine. Think about that for a moment. That means if you weighed 120 pounds at the age of 20 and you weigh 120 pounds now at the age of 40, you’ve replaced 10 lbs of muscle with 10 lbs of fat, even though your weight is exactly the same. Pretty shocking isn’t it?
We all recognize the health risks associated with excess body fat, but did you know that muscle actually burns more calories than fat? That’s right, one extra pound of muscle will burn 50 more calories a day, just at rest. On the other hand, every pound of muscle you lose will burn 50 less calories a day.
This may explain why you were able to eat more when you were young. And, since muscle is denser than fat and takes up less space (even though you weigh the same), your body doesn’t quite look the same and that size 8 is now a size 12.
Aerobic exercise will help burn the excess fat, but cannot delay the natural diminishing in overall body muscle tissue associated with the aging process. There are no magic pills or treatments…strength training is the only cure.
INJURY PREVENTION AND INCREASED CAPACITY
Skeletal muscles are the major shock absorbers of your body. Some of these muscles work up to 24 hours a day, such as the ones that help maintain your posture as you stand or sit. Muscles help protect your bones and joints every
time you take a step or dance during Jazzercise participation. lt’s easy to see how strengthening your major muscle groups (i.e., the shoulders, arms, legs, back, and abdominals), will diminish the stress of impact forces and lessen the
risk of exercise-related injury.
Strong muscles also help one to perform daily tasks with ease and efficiency. Activities such as climbing stairs, gelling out of bed, lifting groceries and children, cleaning the house and mowing the lawn all become easier to perform.
PREVENTION OF OSTEOPOROSIS
Although strength training cannot turn back the clock on osteoporosis once you have it, recent research indicates that regular strength training can help to maintain bone mass and reduce a woman’s risk of developing osteoporosis.
There you have it – three excellent reasons to start some type of resistance strength training. What does it take to get those muscles in shape? Not as much as you may think. You can choose from a variety of resistance equipment. There
are weight machines, free-weight dumbbells, wrist/ankle weights, bands, balls, or even your own body weight with calisthenics. Naturally, your fitness level and goals will dictate what type of equipment is best for you.
In terms of recommended training routines…if you ask ten different experts, you’re likely to get ten different answers. There are numerous routines for increasing strength depending on your specific goals. Working out “hard” and “long” may elicit greater improvement in strength, but it also increases your risk of injury. So why not take a sensible,
yet effective approach.
After years of research, here’s what the experts have found:
- Frequency of training: Minimum of two times per week.
- Number of Repetitions: 8-12 per set
- Number of Sets: Minimum of one set per muscle group.
- Number of Exercises: 8-10 exercises which focus on the major muscle groups.
- Movement Speed: Slow to Moderate
- Amount of Weight: Enough to fatigue your muscles by the last few reps. (8-12 reps for strength training, 15-20 reps for endurance training.)
Isn’t it great! You don’t have to spend hours in the gym to significantly improve your strength. You can be in and out in as little as 20 minutes. Now, that’s a schedule we all can live with!
Remember, you don’t have to be in perfect shape to work with weights. Strength training is now considered an important component of a weight loss program; along with diet, aerobic exercise, behavior modification, and is recommended for people suffering from certain types of arthritis and chronic back pain. Once believed dangerous for the elderly, research has confirmed that a low to moderate resistance strength training program is safe for the older population and people with high blood pressure or heart disease. Of course, if you happen to be one of those people in less than perfect shape, be sure to get your doctor’s “OK” before you start lifting away!
What are you waiting for? Now’s the time to turn your body into a strong and efficient, lean and mean calorie-burning machine. Strength training is for every body…start your program today!