Guide to Strength Training for Fitness

Fitness is generally divided into two categories. You have cardiovascular training and strength training. Many people falsely believe that you have to pick one or the other – that you either have a strength training personality and strength training goals, or you have to take a cardio approach.

The truth is that the best way to achieve lifelong health and vitality and the best way to lose weight and keep it off is to embrace both. You don’t have to be a lifter or a runner exclusively; you can – and probably should – be both.

Reasons Strength training is beneficial to your Health and Wellness

Age and Bone_MassStrength training has been proven to help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. It’s important to know that more women suffer from bone loss than men as they age.

The gradual loss of bone density can cause serious issues, including fractures of the hip and spine. Strength training slows down bone mineral loss.

Strength training also improves your muscle strength and coordination, which in turn results in improved balance and overall coordination. This subsequently reduces the risk of injury and bone damage.

According to a study conducted by the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, strength training does have a positive impact on bone density as well as soft tissue lean mass.

The study was designed to evaluate the effects of 18 months of resistance exercise on regional and total bone mineral density and soft tissue lean mass in premenopausal women aged 28-39, who were randomly assigned to an exercise or control group. The results for bone density showed “significant regional increases” for bone density in those women.

Weight Loss and a Kicked Up Metabolism

Obesity in adults is defined as someone who has a BMI of 30 or higher. It’s a weight that is higher than what is considered healthy, and is correlated with many diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Strength training increases lean muscle mass, which burns more calories and has a positive impact on weight loss. To put it simply, muscle burns more calories than fat. Strength training not only burns calories while you exercise, but it also burns calories as your muscles repair themselves.

Strength training accomplishes this by increasing your metabolism to manage the repair process. Additionally, muscles require energy to function – fat doesn’t. By including strength training into your workouts you’re helping burn more calories in the moment, all day, and well into your future. Let’s not forget that obesity is about more than appearances, it’s a health risk.

Obesity is a risk factor for:

• Cancer (including breast cancer)
• Diabetes
• Arthritis and joint painv
• Cardiovascular disease

According to the Center for Disease Control, “strength training is crucial to weight control, because individuals who have more muscle mass have a higher metabolic rate. Muscle is active tissue that consumes calories. Stored fat uses very little energy. Strength training can provide up to a 15% increase in metabolic rate, which is enormously helpful for weight loss and long-term weight control.”

Muscle burns an estimated three times more calories than a similar amount of fat tissue. Which means if you add a few pounds of muscle you can burn an extra 100 calories daily. That adds up quickly and facilitates weight loss.

A high-intensity strength routine has been shown to bump metabolism by 20 percent for several hours post-workout.

Stop the Middle Age Spread

Middle Age SpreadIn their mid-30’s women begin to lose 5 to 10% of muscle strength every ten years. This loss of lean muscle impacts strength, coordination, and mobility.

As lean muscle decreases it becomes more difficult to maintain the same level of activity you might have enjoyed ten years ago. Walking, standing, and even rising from a sitting position can become difficult.

Strength training slows down the loss of lean muscle and can build new muscle, depending on your approach. Women don’t need to strive to become world class bodybuilders to benefit from strength training.

A simple program can help ensure you’re able to stay active and healthy well into your golden years. No walker required.

Better Mood and Outlook

By: torbakhopper

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In a study published in 2005, researchers examined the effect of a three-month exercise program on mild to moderate depression. 80 participants were divided into five groups.

Two groups took on a rigorous program, one of them for three days a week and the other for five days a week. Two groups participated in lighter exercise either three or five days a week. A fifth group, the control group, only stretched.

The results were positive across the board; ratings of depressive symptoms on the standard Hamilton scale fell in all of the groups, including the stretching group. However, those that participated in the rigorous exercise program had the biggest drop – significant enough to equate rigorous exercise to antidepressant medications or cognitive behavior therapy.

Resistance training has shown to reduce anxiety and cause an overall improved sense of wellbeing. Studies comparing and evaluating resistance training have found that moderate intensity strength training has a stronger impact on anxiety than intense strength training, and this decrease in anxiety can impact sleep and brain function. Still, both intensity levels showed a marked improvement in anxiety levels.

Strength Training Makes You Smarter

Strength training is often used as part of a treatment plan when people suffer from neurological conditions. One of the reasons for this is to help a patient remain as functional as possible. Another reason is that strength training often requires a person to make new mind/body connections.

For example, if you’ve never performed a deadlift or a squat, you have to learn how to safely perform the movement. As you learn the various movements required, your brain begins to tell your body how to move and new connections are created.

As we age, circulation tends to decrease. The results can be uncomfortably cold hands and feet, and a blue tinge is also common in the elderly.

Resistance training, which strengthens muscles, requires the heart to pump blood to said muscles and thus also strengthens the heart, improves blood flow to muscles, organs, and to the brain.

This increased blood flow not only helps decrease circulation problems, it also improves cognitive function as the brain receives more blood. Additionally, resistance and strength training require a person to make new connections and perform new movements.

You have to think about “proper form” and learn the new exercise techniques.

Joint Pain

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Tufts University recently completed a strength-training program with older men and women with moderate to severe knee osteoarthritis. The results of the 16-week program showed that strength training decreased pain by 43%.

The increased muscle strength and general physical performance also improved the side effects of the disease and decreased disability. The study showed that strength training is just as effective, if not more effective, than pain medications and other medications used to treat arthritis.

Additionally, similar results have been shown for studies on strength training and rheumatoid arthritis.

Improved Coordination

Increased age often means a loss of balance and flexibility, which in turn results in falls and broken bones. Strength training can improve range of motion and flexibility, and as we discussed above it can improve bone density so any falls that may occur aren’t as damaging.

A New Zealand study looked at women 80 years of age and older, and found a 40% reduction in falls with simple strength and balance training.

A 12-month study conducted on postmenopausal women at Tufts University showed “1% gains in hip and spine bone density, 75% increases in strength and 13% increases in dynamic balance with just two days per week of progressive strength training.”

Sleep Better Too

People who exercise regularly enjoy better quality sleep. They not only fall asleep more quickly but they wake less often and they sleep longer. This improves disposition and overall health and wellbeing.

When older adults engage in strength training programs, their self-confidence and self-esteem improve, which has a strong impact on their overall quality of life.

Better Cardiovascular Health

Your risk for heart disease is lower when you have a healthy BMI. Studies have found that cardiac patients gained not only strength and flexibility but also aerobic capacity when they did strength training three times a week as part of their rehabilitation program.

The American Heart Association recommends strength training as a way to reduce risk of heart disease and as a therapy for patients in cardiac rehabilitation programs.

Strength Training Doesn’t Make You Bulky

By: greg westfall

Photo By: greg westfall

Let’s mention that strength training isn’t about bulking up and becoming the next Ms. Universe. You certainly can bulk up if you want to, but know that the ability to become bulky is largely due to your genetics, your diet and your dedication.

If you want to become super big – and most people don’t – you’ll have to exercise several hours a day and you’ll probably need a professional trainer.

Strength training is using resistance to cause your muscles to contract. When those muscles contract, they get stronger, you lose weight, and you improve your systems on many levels.

Strength training is and exercise that:

• Uses resistance, which can be in the form of bodyweight, resistance bands, or weights.
• Induces or causes muscular contraction.
• Builds the strength, endurance, and size of skeletal muscles.

Weight Room Fear

Many women have a fear of the weight room. They hear the weights crashing to the floor and the grunts as the lifters go heavy.

To be fair, this can be an intimidating environment. However, it can also be extremely empowering and also a whole lot of fun. The key is to learn proper form and function from an expert.

For example, do you know how to do a proper squat or how to deadlift with good form? This is important because you can hurt yourself if you don’t lift the bar the right way.

Remember that no one is born with weight room knowledge. Everyone has to learn from the beginning. You can learn from watching videos online.

Or you can hire a personal trainer. You can also take a “foundations” type class at your local gym and learn about the weight room with a group of beginners.

Also keep in mind that no one starts lifting heavy right away. You might find that you start training with dumbbells, or the training barbell (15 pounds) plus a few small weight plates, or that you just lift an empty barbell for several months.

That’s fine. You’re building muscle and burning fat. You’re getting stronger and improving your overall health and wellbeing, and that’s what it’s all about.

If the gym weight room isn’t for you there are other options. You can build your own home gym.

Weights don’t actually cost much and they don’t break. You can start slowly and purchase a barbell, a few dumbbells, and some 5 and 10 pound weight plates.

That beginning setup should get you through just about any exercise you’d need. Or, if you prefer, you can invest in a set of kettle bells. There are some fantastic exercises that you can perform with kettle bells.

You can also invest in resistance bands and begin your entrance into strength training with bodyweight and resistance.

There are as many strength training options as there are different types of people. Consider how you want to begin and what you’re interested in. The next step is to dispel a few of the prevalent strength training myths and begin to build your own strength training program.

Myths about Weight Training

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As you might suspect, there are many different myths about strength training, lifting weights, and what happens to your body. Let’s address these first because it’s important to be comfortable with your strength training program. You’ll be more confident and you’ll be better able to create a program that’s right for you when you understand the facts about strength training.

The Weight Training Will Make You Bulky Myth

“If you lift weights you’ll get bulky.” This is far and away the biggest myth about weight lifting.

The truth is that most women just don’t have the genetics to build large amounts of muscle mass.

It takes testosterone, hours and hours a day in the gym, a very disciplined diet, and unwavering dedication to build a body that looks bulky and muscly.

According to Rachel Cosgrove, CSCS, author of The Female Body Breakthrough, unless you’re training for hours a day and also consuming a thousands of calories, your muscles will only grow to a healthy, normal level that promotes an increased metabolism.

“You have to really work for every ounce of muscle that you gain, and it’s not as easy as most women think to sprout big muscles,” says Cosgrove.

Because muscle is denser than fat, strength training actually makes muscles shapelier. The truth is that with good nutrition, weight lifting creates a leaner physique — not a bulkier one.

The Weight Training is Bad for Your Joints Myth

Some folks mistakenly believe that when you’re performing weight bearing exercise, you’re putting an unhealthy strain on your joints.

The thing that probably helps perpetuate this myth is actually just bad form. Because if you’re performing a squat and your knees are angling inward towards each other, rather than out over your toes, you may put a damaging strain on your knees.

However, with proper form, strength training is less stressful on your joints than many other activities. There’s no impact. Each movement should be smooth and fluid, which allows for full range of motion.

Strength training has been shown to improve the health of your joints by strengthening the muscles and ligaments that hold them together. In fact, studies performed on people who suffer from knee joint pain found that when they performed weight bearing exercises, they experienced a 43% reduction in pain and were better at performing daily tasks.

The truth is that strength training strengthens the muscles and improves the ligaments and tendons to help your joints function better and with less pain.

The Muscle Turns To Fat If You Stop Lifting Myth

Photo By: Charlotte Claeson

If an apple sits on the counter for a few days, weeks or months can it turn into bacon? No. And muscle cannot turn into fat. They’re two different things.

Muscle never turns into fat and fat never turns into muscle. You can increase and decrease the size of your fat and muscle cells, but you can’t convert one into the other.

Muscle does help you burn fat because it requires more energy to function. Additionally, after a strength training workout, your muscle cells need to repair, and that requires more energy as well.

Research has found that an intense bout of strength training burns calories for 16 to 24 hours after your session.

When you stop using your muscles, your body becomes significantly less efficient at burning calories. This allows your body to begin storing fat, so you might gain weight.

The fat-to-muscle ratio in your body can shift depending on how much you eat and how you exercise.

There are other common myths you might be familiar with. For example…

• You can spot reduce fat – You can’t burn fat in one area over another. Oh, it would be wonderful if we could all target reduce. However, your body doesn’t know that you want your tummy to shrink. It simply pulls energy or fuel from wherever it can get it.

• Men and women should train differently – You should train for your skill and strength level as well as your fitness goals. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman; strength training isn’t gender specific.

• You have to eat more protein – Protein is important for muscle recovery. However, the average American already consumes more than enough protein to give recovering muscles what’s needed.

• You have to do lots of repetitions – There are many different approaches to strength training. But doing lots of repetitions isn’t generally one of the most recommended approaches. We’ll talk about options and approaches in the next section of this report.

• It’s boring – Strength training, when you approach it in a way that fits your personality, is far from boring. It’s motivating, exciting, empowering and because the changes to your body can be both significant and fast, strength training can be just about the most fun you’ve had in a long time.

Ready to start improving your health, losing weight, and having more energy every day? Let’s talk about how to begin creating your own strength training program.

How to Integrate Strength Training Into Your Fitness Program

There are several different approaches to strength training. Many people believe that exercise is an either/or proposition, meaning that you either do cardio or you lift weights.

But unless you’re a competitive athlete, specializing in a particular type of exercise isn’t helpful. It’s better for lasting health and weight loss to embrace both strength training and cardio exercise. It also helps keep your fitness program interesting and varied.

As you’re exploring the possibilities the following approaches may work for you.

CrossFit

image003CrossFit is a fitness program that combines strength and conditioning. It’s a broad, general and inclusive approach that utilizes cardio, strength, gymnastics and other fitness approaches. The workouts are constantly varied, which means you’re never board.

It’s a workout program that is used by people from all walks of life, including police academies, military special operations units, professional athletes and individuals of all ages who are looking to improve their health.

Any CrossFit workout is scalable, meaning that you can modify the workout to fit your current skill and fitness level.

For example, if the workout calls for pull-ups but you’re unable to perform a single repetition then you might add bands or perform a jumping pull-up instead. Everyone from the elderly to young athletes can benefit from a CrossFit workout.

Beyond the rapid results that many CrossFitters enjoy, you might also prefer this approach because the workouts are generally intense but short. Many CrossFit workouts are less than 15 minutes long. If you’re crunched for time but want to achieve overall health, CrossFit may be the way to go.

Many gyms offer CrossFit type workouts. You can also visit the CrossFit.com website review the workout and perform it on your own in your home gym or at your local gym. You don’t need to join a CrossFit gym to enjoy the approach.

Alternating Days

Another approach to integrating strength training into your current fitness program is to alternate.

For example, you might go for a three-mile jog on Monday and then do squats and sit-ups on Tuesday. There are a few challenges to this approach. The first is that you may not give your body enough time to rest.

For example, if you run, then do squats, and then run again you’re working your leg muscles without focusing on your core muscles or upper body. This can be balanced with careful attention to your body and planning. Also, consider taking one day off from exercise each week.

The other challenge is that you may not know what strength training exercises to do. You can turn to books, websites, or DVDs to help guide you to the right strength training approach for you.

Remember that bodyweight and resistance bands are all you need to get started. You don’t need to invest in a barbell and weight plates. You certainly can, but don’t let your finances stop you from getting started.

Integrated Training

image005Finally, a third approach is to combine your workouts so that you’re doing both cardio and strength training in each workout. For example, you might begin with a warm-up on the elliptical or spin bike and then move to a series of strength training moves.

This approach means that you may have longer workouts. However, you may also enjoy a few more days off each week. For example instead of working out six days a week with one rest day, you might have two or even three rest days each week.

An example of an integrated training approach might look like this:

Monday, Wednesday & Friday – 15 minute warm-up, 30 minutes high intensity cardio, 30 minutes strength, 15-minute cool down/stretching.

Your high intensity cardio could be on the track or treadmill, on the elliptical or spin bike or even on a rowing machine. Your strength training would vary. On Monday you might work on legs and core, Wednesday might be upper body and core, and Friday might be upper and lower body strength training.

The cool down and stretching portion of the workout is important to help maintain flexibility.

7 Must Include Strength Training Exercises for your Fitness Program

1. Squats – A squat is a basic movement that makes a huge difference not only in the strength of your lower body but also in the shape of it. Proper form for a squat (with or without weight) is to position your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Angle your feet out and bend your knees, focusing on keeping your weight in your heels. Lower your body as if you’re sitting down in a chair. You should feel your glutes engage. Make sure to keep your knees in line with your feet. Lower yourself so that your upper legs are just below parallel with the floor then stand up, keeping your glutes engaged and your heels on the floor.

Photo By Parker Knight

2. Push-ups – Lay on the floor with your arms bent and your hands on the floor beside your body, just below your shoulders. Position your toes on the floor, then tighten your glutes and legs. Push up, keeping your body tight. Don’t let your back sway. You can also hold the push-up in the top position – an exercise position known as a plank. This is a great core strengthener.

3. Sit-ups – Keeping your feet on the floor and your knees bent, use your abdominals to lower your upper body to the ground and then to raise it back up.

4. Dips – Dips are performed by positioning your body on two parallel bars on either side of your body. Lower your arms are fully bent. If you can, press back up into a straight arm position.

5. Presses – Presses can be performed with dumbbells, kettle bells, or a barbell. Starting with the weight at your shoulders, press the weight overhead. The movement is complete when your arms are locked out overhead. Note that if you are using dumbbells or kettle bells then your wrists will rotate as you press overhead so that they’re facing out at the top of the movement.

6. Thrusters – A thruster is a squat and a press combined. They’re a full body strength training movement. With the weight at your shoulders, squat. As you reach a standing position, use the momentum to help you quickly press the weight overhead.

7. Pull-Ups – The pull-up is a standard movement that can take a while to build up to. If you struggle to get your chin over the bar, consider adding a bounce or a jump to give yourself a bit of momentum. You can also use heavy-duty resistance bands looped over the bar to support some of your weight.

Strength Training Success

Strength training is easy to add into your daily life and your current fitness program. You’ll lose weight more quickly, you’ll be better able to manage your weight and you’ll enjoy lifelong health benefits.

There are many different types of strength training you can embrace, and different types of programs to consider. Find a system that works for you and keep the following tips in mind as you begin your strength training program:

• Make sure you’re performing each and every movement correctly, on every repetition. Proper form helps prevent injury.

• Be smart and get a spotter if you’re lifting heavy weights.

• Keep control of the weight and control your breathing. Focus is important.

• Be patient. You’ll feel aches as your body adjusts to the new workload. Don’t push it too hard because you don’t want to be injured. Results do happen when you’re diligent with your workouts and keep yourself injury free.

• Don’t be intimidated by the gym. Women and men of all shapes and sizes can strength train and have fun doing it