Strength training: Get stronger, leaner, healthierStrength training is an important part of an overall fitness program. Here’s what strength training can do for you — and how to get started.By Mayo Clinic Staff Want to reduce body fat, increase lean muscle mass and burn calories more efficiently? Strength training to the rescue! Strength training is a key component of overall health and fitness for everyone.
Use it or lose itLean muscle mass naturally diminishes with age. Your body fat percentage will increase over time if you don’t do anything to replace the lean muscle you lose over time. Strength training can help you preserve and enhance your muscle mass at any age. Strength training may also help you:
- Develop strong bones. By stressing your bones, strength training can increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
- Manage your weight. Strength training can help you manage or lose weight, and it can increase your metabolism to help you burn more calories.
- Enhance your quality of life. Strength training may enhance your quality of life and improve your ability to do everyday activities. Strength training can also protect your joints from injury. Building muscle also can contribute to better balance and may reduce your risk of falls. This can help you maintain independence as you age.
- Manage chronic conditions. Strength training can reduce the signs and symptoms of many chronic conditions, such as arthritis, back pain, obesity, heart disease, depression and diabetes.
- Sharpen your thinking skills. Some research suggests that regular strength training and aerobic exercise may help improve thinking and learning skills for older adults.
Consider the optionsStrength training can be done at home or in the gym. Common choices may include:
- Body weight. You can do many exercises with little or no equipment. Try pushups, pullups, planks, lunges and squats.
- Resistance tubing. Resistance tubing is inexpensive, lightweight tubing that provides resistance when stretched. You can choose from many types of resistance tubes in nearly any sporting goods store or online.
- Free weights. Barbells and dumbbells are classic strength training tools. If you don’t have weights at home, you can use soup cans. Other options can include using medicine balls or kettle bells.
- Weight machines. Most fitness centers offer various resistance machines. You can invest in weight machines for use at home, too.
- Cable suspension training. Cable suspension training is another option to try. In cable suspension training, you suspend part of your body — such as your legs — while doing body weight training such as pushups or planks.
Getting startedIf you have a chronic condition, or if you’re older than age 40 and you haven’t been active recently, check with your doctor before beginning a strength training or aerobic fitness program. Before beginning strength training, consider warming up with brisk walking or another aerobic activity for five or 10 minutes. Cold muscles are more prone to injury than are warm muscles. Choose a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions. When you can easily do more repetitions of a certain exercise, gradually increase the weight or resistance. Research shows that a single set of 12 to 15 repetitions with the proper weight can build muscle efficiently in most people and can be as effective as three sets of the same exercise. As long as you take the muscle you are working to fatigue — meaning you can’t lift another repetition — you are doing the work necessary to make the muscle stronger. And fatiguing at a higher number of repetitions means you likely are using a lighter weight, which will make it easier for you to control and maintain correct form. To give your muscles time to recover, rest one full day between exercising each specific muscle group. Also be careful to listen to your body. If a strength training exercise causes pain, stop the exercise. Consider trying a lower weight or trying it again in a few days. It’s important to use proper technique in strength training to avoid injuries. If you’re new to strength training, work with a trainer or other fitness specialist to learn correct form and technique. Remember to breathe as you strength train.
Why Strength Training Is The Workout You Need To Do If You’re Trying To Lose WeightHere’s how strength training can help you meet your weight-loss goals. When you think about the best type of workouts for weight loss, your mind might not immediately jump to strength training, but it should. While it’s definitely true that cardio workouts get your heart working harder and as a result, help your body burn calories, strength training is what’s really going to give your weight-loss goals that extra boost. Before we really get into it, we want to make it clear that weight loss as a goal isn’t necessarily for everyone. For anyone who has a history of disordered eating, even if you’re in recovery, you should speak with a doctor before you pursue any weight-loss goal, including starting a new exercise routine. And even if you don’t have a history of disordered eating, it’s really important to have realistic expectations and make sure you’re pursuing weight loss in a healthy way. Results can be incredibly difficult to come by, may take a very long time to achieve, and are also really hard to maintain. Also important to remember: Exercise is only part of the equation. You have to create a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you consume in a day) in order to lose weight, which requires not just working out, but also being cognizant about what you’re eating, making sure to eat quality calories and watch portion sizes. You need to get good sleep, regularly. You need to have lowered stress levels. You need to take care of your other bodily needs. With so many factors at play, it’s no wonder weight loss is a very unique experience for every person. If weight loss is a goal of yours, incorporating strength training into your routine is key. Here’s the thing, while strength training may not give you the instant heart-pounding, sweat-dripping satisfaction of, say, Zumba or an indoor cycling class, in the long run, building lean muscle definitely works in favor of your weight-loss goals. The short version? Having more muscle means your body burns more calories at rest. The long version? Read on for more on why strength training is the best exercise for weight loss.
How Strength Training Helps Your HealthBesides the well-touted (and frequently Instagrammed) benefit of adding tone and definition to your muscles, how does strength training help? Here are just a few of the many ways:
1. Strength Training Makes You Stronger and FitterThis benefit is the obvious one, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. “Muscle strength is crucial in making it easier to do the things you need to do on a day-to-day basis,” Pire says — especially as we get older and naturally start to lose muscle. Strength training is also called resistance training because it involves strengthening and toning your muscles by contracting them against a resisting force. According to the Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine, there are two types of resistance training:
- Isometric resistance involves contracting your muscles against a nonmoving object, such as against the floor in a pushup.
- Isotonic strength training involves contracting your muscles through a range of motion, as in weight lifting.