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Pump It Up

Don't shy away from strength training

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Pump It Up

My best friend Kim works out several times a week. Recently, after a few months of commitment and determination, Kim shyly approached me for some help. While she was feeling better–more energetic, less stressed, and more confident–she wasn’t seeing all of the physical changes she had hoped for.

My best friend Kim works out several times a week. Recently, after a few months of commitment and determination, Kim shyly approached me for some help. While she was feeling better–more energetic, less stressed, and more confident–she wasn’t seeing all of the physical changes she had hoped for.

Although Kim had been working very hard, I wasn’t surprised to find she’d been making a common mistake with her exercise plan: Kim’s program included very little weight training. Instead, she was “cardio-ing” herself into the ground, believing that this was the only way to achieve the change in body composition she was looking for.

While her main goals were to lose weight and to improve her muscle tone, she was avoiding weight training for a few reasons: she wasn’t sure what exercises to do, she was nervous to use the equipment, and she was worried that she would end up looking like a body builder.

What is Strength Training?

Synonymous with other common terms such as “weight lifting” or “resistance training,” strength training is exercise that uses resistance to condition the musculoskeletal system (your muscles and bones), thereby improving the muscles’ ability to work more efficiently without tiring too quickly. In turn, there is improvement in muscle tone, appearance, and strength.

The benefits of consistent strength training also include increases in bone, tendon, and ligament strength (tendons attach bone to muscle and ligaments attach bone to bone). These improvements have great impact on our appearance, physical capabilities, and metabolism. Combined with a solid cardiovascular training program, strength training rounds out a good exercise program. For my friend Kim, it may just be the key to helping her accomplish her goals.

Looking–and Feeling–Good!

An important physical result of strength training is the improved ability to function in day-to-day life. Stronger muscles equate to better performance at work and at play. They also tend to be more toned, giving a firmer, more fit appearance. This can positively affect mood, self-esteem, and confidence.

Both our physical appearance and physical performance can be enhanced by muscle gain or hindered by muscle loss. After the age of 25 we begin to lose muscle mass at a rate of three to five percent per decade. Strength training aids in preventing this loss, thereby allowing us to continue to do the things we are used to doing–from walking up stairs, to carrying groceries, to getting in and out of the bathtub.

You would be surprised at the amount of strength the “little” things require. In fact, many people think that it is normal to stop being active as we age and instead rely on aids such as canes to help us get around. This is neither normal nor inevitable. There is no reason why we all can’t continue to be active into our golden years. If our muscles are cared for as we age, they will continue to allow us to do all that we set out to accomplish. If they aren’t, they will retire far sooner than we may like.

Burn Calories–Even at Rest

Even when we are sleeping, our muscles require a great deal of energy. They are calorie-burning ovens! Therefore, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body will chew up over the course of a day.

If you are consistent with a strength training program, you can actually increase your body’s resting metabolism and calories required to function. This is true because an increase in muscle tissue equals an increase in metabolism, and a decrease in muscle tissue means a decrease in metabolic rate. It’s no wonder that aging, inactive people gain weight even though they may not be eating any differently; as they lose muscle mass each year, their metabolism decreases and, in turn, the pounds begin to pack on.

Can you guess what I advised my friend Kim to do? You’re right–she has made the gutsy transition to the weight training area of the gym and hasn’t looked back. Her newly balanced program of cardiovascular exercise and strength training has shown her results from the inside out. She couldn’t be happier!

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