Alot of gym patrons swear by treadmills, ellipticals, and other cardio machines. They will come in a few days a week after work, hop on a cardio machine for 30-60 minutes and then head home for dinner. But they're missing a HUGE part of an active, healthy lifestyle: Strength training.
Strength training uses progressively heavier resistance in order to strengthen the muscles and bones. Strength training can also be referred to as weight lifting, weight training, body sculpting, toning, body building, and resistance training. A regular, structured strength program increases the size and strength of the muscle fibers, and also strengthens the tendons, ligaments, and bones. These can all lead to a positive impact on your physical fitness, appearance, and metabolism, while reducing the risk of injury and decreasing joint and muscle pain.
Without consistent strength training, muscle size and strength decline with age. An inactive person loses about half a pound of muscle every year after age 20. After age 60, this rate of loss doubles! The good news is, muscle loss is not inevitable. With regular strength training, muscle mass can be preserved and rebuilt throughout the lifespan.
Here are some tips to help you make the most out of your strength program:
- Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
- Find a nationally certified professional with a strong background in movement science to help you create a program that specifically fits your needs and abilities.
- Always warm up for at least 5-10 minutes before strength training.
- Proper form is essential for safety and effectiveness. Start with light weights as you perfect your form and get accustomed to strength training. Gradually increase the amount of weight you lift over time, by no more than 10% each week.
- Always cool down at least 5-10 minutes at the end of your workout.
- Vary your exercise program to avoid boredom and plateaus. Changing your routine every 6-8 weeks is crucial to keeping your body/muscles surprised and constantly adapting. They'll have to work harder, you'll be challenged, and you'll burn more calories and build more lean muscle in the process.
- Machines are best for beginners or individuals rehabilitating an injury. They usually have detailed instructions and a picture on them, plus they show which muscles you are working. They are set up to put your body in proper form and isolate the right muscles.
- Free weights are more advanced. After you’ve had a good foundation with machines (or body weight exercises) you can move into free weights. When using free weights, form becomes even more important because there is nothing to support you or make you do it properly. Lift in front of a mirror and use the proper benches for support. Always watch the alignment of the joints and their relationships: shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should be aligned. Your back should remain flat and your abs should be contracted to help support the lower back. Have a trainer assist you and have someone there to spot you if you are lifting heavy weights.
- Don’t hold your breath, which can be dangerous (it increases blood pressure and can cause lightheadedness, for example). Exhale fully and forcefully on the exertion phase—usually the phase where you are lifting the weight. Inhale deeply on the easier phase—usually when returning to the starting position. Try to keep this rhythm throughout every set. In the beginning, it will take some concentration, but after a while, it will become habit.
Remember, muscle is metabolically-active tissue. This means that the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism is while at rest. Which means that strength training is an important component of weight loss and weight maintenance, so be sure to include it in your exercise routine!