Strength training: An all-in-one workout
Choosing a new exercise program can be overwhelming. With fads like Zumba, pilates and boot camp classes all promising body changing results, it is hard to know the best options. In our fast paced society, we often search for quick fixes with immediate results. When it comes to finding a fitness plan we may have different goals, e.g., losing a few pounds, increased energy or toning our arms for bathing suit season. No matter what the goal, there likely is not an easy solution.
Sorry, just telling the truth. A fitness program requires consistency and hard work to get the desired results.
One type of exercise that is often overlooked (although tried and true) is strength training. Strength training uses weights and body resistance to build muscle. Many people think that strong muscles are just for athletes or for those wanting to bulk up. However, strength training touts a long list of health benefits and is even included in the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations for daily exercise.
Two muscle-strengthening sessions per week are recommended for adults aged 18-65 as well as adults above age 65. That means everyone should incorporate a form of strength training into their daily routine. Even you.
There is a multitude of often conflicting data on the topic of strength training. In an effort to find the best information, I sought the expertise of two professionals.
DeEtte Feurtado, owner of N2 Living in Minneapolis, and Wayne McFadden, a personal trainer in Baltimore, Md., offered their opinions on the importance of strength training and the best way for people of all fitness levels to incorporate it into their lives.
With all of the benefits, it seems that with strength training you reap more than you sow. While this list is not all inclusive, here are some of the results you can expect from stronger muscles:
Weight loss and management: Cardiovascular activity such as running or biking is often the exercise of choice because it is perceived to burn more calories and fat. However, strength training helps to burn calories too and not only during a body pumping session. Building muscle increases your resting metabolic rate. That means that the more muscle you have the harder your metabolism is working all the time. So even while you are sitting on the couch you are burning many more calories than you did before your muscle makeover.
Independence: As we get older, we naturally lose muscle mass. This loss makes it harder to walk, go up stairs, carry groceries or perform other daily activities that once seemed effortless. Strength training counteracts the loss of muscle mass that occurs with age and inactivity. Feurtado most enjoys seeing her clients gain more independence and confidence by building muscle strength. She asks, “Why are we not doing everything that we can to stay strong?” According to Feurtado, “Stronger muscles mean more independence, more activity and less risk of injury.”
Toning and sculpting: Stronger muscles will not only make daily activities easier, they will also show on the outside. With the extra calories you are burning from boosting your metabolism your new sleek, toned muscles will be ready to show off just in time for bathing suit season. But don’t worry about looking like Hulk Hogan.
The only way you will achieve his body is by devoting hours each day to weight lifting. Body builder muscles don’t happen by accident.
Less pain: Increasing muscle strength can often reduce pain for individuals with lower back and neck pain and even chronic conditions such as arthritis. Feurtado states that she has clients that report no longer needing to take pain medication after committing to a regular strength training routine.
Increased energy and reduced stress: Strength training has been proven to elevate endorphins, which are chemicals the brain produces that make us feel happier and less stressed. If that wasn’t enough, blood glucose levels may also be lowered by strength training which also will help to boost energy throughout the day. You may no longer need your 3 p.m. cup of coffee!
OK, so hopefully I have convinced you that strength training is important. You may now be wondering where to begin. According to Feurtado, weight machines are commonly the method of choice because they are often safer and more predictable than other options. However, free weights (dumbbells), resistance bands and even body weight exercises such as squats and pushups and lunges are all muscle strengthening activities.
McFadden shares that anybody who is new to strength training must first focus on building strength and muscle endurance. An assessment with a personal trainer or fitness professional is crucial before beginning a new exercise program. They will help tailor a personal plan to ensure that you are maximizing your workout efforts and preventing injury. This doesn’t mean that you must fork over enough money for weekly personal training sessions. Often gyms include free assessments with your membership or your physician may be able to prescribe a plan for you.
Consistency is key, don’t expect instant results. Just like with anything worthwhile, there are no short cuts. It may take several months to see desired results, but with all of its advantages, strength training is well worth the effort. Feurtado and McFadden agree that to see increases in strength, beginners should commit to a program of at least two training sessions per week.
So there you go, an exercise plan with total body benefits. Soon you will be on your way to a healthier you.
DeEtte Feurtado may be reached at N2Living, 3260 Minnehaha Ave., 612-767-0240, n2livingstrong.com.
Raina Goldstein Bunnag has a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and is currently a master’s candidate in nutrition and public health at the University of North Carolina.She keeps abreast of the latest health news and will be addressing relevant wellness topics each month. If you have any questions or topics you would like to see covered in the column, please send her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.