When most people think of weight training they think of big (or bigger) muscles. However, weight training is just a form of strength training, as is resistance training, which might not involve traditional “weights” at all.
Resistance training can also incorporate body weight, bands, elastic tubing, medicine balls or even sandbags — anything that creates resistance. All strength or resistance training is simply a matter of overcoming gravity or tension.
Strength/resistance training can benefit everyone because, muscles aside, it also increases the strength and density of tendons, ligaments and bones. Yes, strength training can prevent osteoporosis by augmenting bone mineral density.
Additionally, strength training can lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol, improve athletic performance and prevent injury. There are also psychological benefits, such as better sleep, reduced stress, improved self esteem and greater confidence.
However, for many people, improved appearance and body composition are the primary motivators. Simply put, muscle burns lots of calories and even body fat.
Strength/resistance training helps maintain and combat the loss of muscle mass. Unfortunately, unless we perform regular strength exercises, we lose more than a half a pound of muscle every year after the age of 25. This loss of muscle results in a corresponding and significant reduction in metabolic rate, and it occurs in every decade of adulthood, which means continually less calorie burning over time.
Think about that for a moment; by age 50, you will have lost at least 12 pounds of muscle, which is vital to functional movement, maintaining good posture and performing daily activities.
Most adults don’t notice muscle loss. What they do notice, however, is the corresponding weight gain, which is actually fat gain. The problem for the average 50-year-old isn’t just that they’ve lost 5 pounds of muscle per decade since age 25; it’s that they’ve added three times as much body fat per decade.
So, even if your eating habits don’t change as you get older, fat can still accumulate (meaning your weight increases) since metabolism usually slows with age. If you’re in your 40s, have been eating exactly the same way for 20 years and can’t understand why you’re gaining weight, it’s because your energy demand (metabolism) has dropped.
Metabolism is the process by which the body uses and makes energy (calories) for everything from the digestion of food, to the cellular absorption of nutrients, to breathing, circulating blood, adjusting hormone levels, and growing and repairing cells.
In the simplest terms, metabolism allows the body to process the nutrients you’ve eaten. Metabolism converts the fuel in the food we eat into the energy needed to power everything we do, from moving to thinking to growing.
The number of calories your body uses to carry out these basic functions is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR) — what you might call metabolism. Your BMR accounts for about 70 percent of the calories you burn every day. This is critically important since there is no way we can exercise away all the calories we consume each day.
However, metabolism inevitably slows with age — as much as two percent a year. The key to staving off that decline is weight training. Muscle is the single most important predictor of how well you metabolize your food, how well you burn calories and how well you burn body fat.
Strength training your large muscle groups at least twice a week is essential to boosting your metabolism. The effects of a good, consistent strength training program allow you to continue burning calories 24 hours a day — long after you’ve left the gym. Wouldn’t it be nice to burn extra calories while reading, driving or even sleeping?
Without an appropriate training stimulus, our muscles gradually decrease in size and strength (atrophy). Untrained men and women can gain about 2-4 pounds of muscle and 40-60 percent more strength after just two months of regular strength training exercise.
The notion that women shouldn’t lift heavy weights because they will “bulk up” is entirely false. Most women simply do not have the physiological ability to look like a body-builder, no matter how hard they train. That’s because women don’t have nearly as much testosterone in their bodies as men, and testosterone is a primary hormonal driver of muscle growth.
Research shows that testosterone has significant effects on body fat percentage. Higher testosterone levels lead to a leaner body. Conversely, lower testosterone levels result in a fattier body. This is one reason why, generally speaking, women naturally have more body fat than men. It also means that women usually have to work harder than men to build muscle and burn fat.
Muscle also helps to maintain body temperature. Ever notice that women are often colder than men in the same environment? That’s because men naturally have greater muscle composition than women and muscle generates heat (calorie burning). More muscle = more heat.
For women who want to look toned, strength-training is essential, but it will only help if they lift enough weight to properly stress their muscles.
Programs vary, but the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends performing 8 to 12 repetitions of a particular strength-training exercise at a weight that completely fatigues the target muscle by the final rep. You should complete 8-10 exercises that challenge all major muscle groups.
It is not necessary to train any longer than 60 minutes per workout. If you aren’t sufficiently tired by then, you aren’t working hard enough. Try increasing the load (weight), the volume (exercises, sets and reps) and/or decreasing the rest time between your sets and exercises.
The ACSM also recommends training the entire body 2-3 days per week (48 hours between workouts for full body). Intermediates should aim for 3 days per week and advanced lifters should workout 4-6 days per week.
If you stop exercising, muscle will not turn to fat. Muscle is muscle and fat is fat; they are entirely different body tissues. However, if you stop strength training you’ll lose muscle mass, which will make your body look less toned. You’ll also slow your metabolism, which will cause you to gain weight. That weight gain will be in the form of fat, which means you’ll likely look more flabby.
In short, there are numerous valuable reasons to engage in strength/resistance training, not the least of which is to maintain your muscle mass and perhaps even gain some.
Your muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, blood pressure, cholesterol, self esteem, body composition and metabolism will all benefit from it.
Get in Motion. Stay in Motion.