Earlier this week we looked at importance of cardio with “Cardio: HIIT or Steady-State?” today we’re going explore the benefits of strength training. There is a common misconception about strength training, namely weightlifting, most people assume that by picking up a set of dumbbells they will instantaneously bulk up like a bodybuilder. Trust me when I say this: You will not get bulky from strength training. Actually getting a bodybuilder’s physique is incredibly difficult, believe me my boyfriend of ten years trains as a bodybuilder and I see firsthand what it takes to look like that. It is a very specific diet where everything is portioned out, timed and calculated, and it requires that you drink a specific amount of water, completely cut out alcohol and lift really heavy weights (my boyfriend can bench press a whopping 600 pounds!). So those little 5 pound dumbbells will not cause your body shift into bulk territory.
If you are new to strength training a good place to start is by adding bodyweight training exercises to your workouts like squats, lunges, push ups and plank. This is a great way to get started in building strength and it’s ideal if you workout at home. There are plenty of example workouts on fitness websites and in magazines that show you the right way to perform the exercises and explain how many repetitions of each exercise you should do (see below for my list of favorite fitness websites and magazines). Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider or a fitness trainer before starting a new program.
With each month you should either change your exercises or add more weight, reason being after one month your body may start getting used to the workout and it stops building as much as before which leads to a plateau. So it’s very important to change things up each month to keep your body guessing and growing. Another point I’d like to mention is that the best way to get the most out of strength training is to separate the exercises by body part each day, so for example Monday focus on legs, Tuesday biceps/triceps, Wednesday abs/core, Thursday Chest/Back/Shoulders. The reason for this is that it gives each body part adequate time to recover, which is partially why doing crunches and sit ups everyday will not give you a six pack of abs; each part of your body needs to rest at least 2 full days in order to fully benefit from your workout. The take away here is that when it comes to strength training, do not work out the same body part two days in a row.
If you are a gym goer, give free weights (dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells) a try, these are better than machines for building strength as they can create added resistance in your training. That’s not saying that weight machines are no good, because they are and you should consider including them in your training, but don’t only rely on machines for this. If you have any kind of injury be sure to talk to your doctor and fitness trainer to find the best strength training strategies for you. If you are cleared to workout then they will most likely suggest exercising with resistance bands or cable machines; these are great because they typically place less pressure on your joints and are easy to work with while still providing you with a challenge.
If you workout at home then consider buying a set of dumbbells and resistance bands for your strength training needs, these are inexpensive tools that you can buy almost anywhere these days on the cheap. If you are really strapped for cash, no problem, you can take empty plastic bottles or containers and fill them with water or earth or sand and use them as weights (just be sure to seal them to avoid gigantic messes in your home). Another option is to workout using your furniture or accessories around the home; pushing your couch around, lifting up side tables, and using kitchen chairs to do step ups are all effective physically and financially. Just be careful not break anything and I strongly recommend consulting a fitness expert to get the proper form to not injure yourself.
If you’re still not convinced then consider this: the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest, so if you want to look svelt, then you’ve got to pick up the weights. For years I only did cardio and bodyweight exercises, but once I added weights I started to really look lean and I felt strong too. I’ve been weight training for several years now and I am by no means bulky, in fact I’m still pretty tiny (not puny, just tiny).
Strength training is so important for your overall health as well; it’s great for strengthening bones which is a huge concern for women at risk for osteoporosis. Also consider this: once you turn 40 years of age, your body starts to naturally lose muscle (up to 40% for the remainder of your life), so the more muscle you build up prior to that the better. If you are over forty don’t worry, you can still build strength and muscle, it just may take a bit longer, but it’s definitely worth it to be strong as you age, that way your everyday household chores and tasks are a breeze and you can continue leading an active and comfortable life.
Building strength through exercise is key to being healthy and fit for your entire life. Cardio alone will only take you so far regardless of your goals, be it fat loss, maintenance or muscle building, you have to strength train, and when you’re ready add weights. I highly recommend this, you’ll see in no time the impact it has on how you look and feel. So go on, pick up those weights and challenge yourself to become the strongest you yet!
My Favorite Magazines and Websites:
FitnessRX for Women: www.fitnessrxwomen.com
Muscle and Fitness Hers: www.muscleandfitnesshers.com
Oxygen Women’s Fitness: www.oxygenmag.com
Natural Health: www.naturalhealthmag.com