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Fitness

Get buff without bulk: The benefits of strength training

Whether it’s due to gaining the “Covid-19 19,” or you just want to get in shape for the summer, many of us are eager to get back to our workout routines. That can be as simple as heading out the door for a walk, a run, or hopping on your bike.

But cardio workouts alone are not enough to get truly fit. Trainers and sports medicine doctors agree: Some form of strength or resistance training is an important part of every fitness routine. If you’re picturing lifting heavy dumbbells or pushing equipment around at a gym, or you’re afraid of bulking up by using weights, rest assured. There are many kinds of strength training, and some require neither a gym membership nor any equipment. And strength properly builds muscle without bulk.

Why is resistance training so important? We all start to lose muscle mass after age 30, and the number of muscle fibers declines with age, too. Strength training can slow the aging process and also prevent osteoporosis, a bone mineral loss that can lead to fractures. Resistance training can help to lower blood pressure, and it raises metabolic rate, which can help maintain a healthy weight. Getting stronger through exercise can also maintain flexibility and balance, leading to fewer falls. Other benefits include:

• Reduction or prevention of cognitive decline in older people;

• Improvement in overall stamina;

• Prevention of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, back pain, and depression;

• Improved posture;

• Decreased risk of injury;

• Improved sleep; and 

• Improved sense of wellbeing, higher self-confidence, and better mood.

GYM OR HOME GYM?

The benefits of a gym strength workout offer a choice between machines and free weights like dumbbells and kettlebells. Exercising on machines is simple once you learn how to use them, and they’re relatively safe. But because each machine works one muscle group, you need to use many of them to get a complete workout. 

Using free weights requires training, and there is a risk of injury if you drop a bar or dumbbell. Still, many people like the freedom of using different free weights, and they can increase coordination because it takes skill to move and control the dumbbells. You often recruit more than one muscle group, meaning one exercise like a front raise uses your shoulders and your abdominals to hold your body steady. 

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Other types of resistance training include working out with exercise bands, using your own body weight for strength training. Resistance bands look like giant rubber bands (some have handles) and come in different colors that denote different levels of tension. These bands can stand in for free weights and provide continuous resistance throughout a movement, and they are lightweight, inexpensive, and portable.

Bodyweight exercises are a simple, convenient way to strength train. These are movements like push-ups, lunges, or squats that offer resistance provided by your body’s weight and gravity. These can be done anywhere and require no equipment.

ASK AN EXPERT

If you belong to a gym, meeting with a trainer can help you assess your fitness goals and show you how to properly lift weights, use a machine, or resistance tubing. Alternatively, there are many private personal trainers who can develop a plan for you. And while there are plenty of workout videos on YouTube, the best way to learn how to incorporate resistance training into your fitness program is by having someone show you the ropes. If you have an injury or special health condition, always speak with your physician before starting a new exercise program.

GROWING STRONGER 

A typical beginner’s strength training routine involves eight-to-ten exercises that work each major muscle group in the body (chest, back, shoulders, arms, abs, and legs) starting with one set of each exercise and increasing the number of repetitions (reps) as you progress. If you’re doing a bodyweight workout, such as sit-ups, push-ups, squats, and lunges, slowly increase the number of reps you do in each set as you grow stronger. This is called the progressive overload principle, which means to continue to gain benefits from a resistance training program, the exercises need to be done to the point where it is difficult for you to do another repetition. 

How much resistance exercise should you do? The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that resistance training should be done two to three days per week. 

SET AND REPEAT

So the next time you’re about to go for a run or a bike ride, think about following it up with some push-ups and squats, or grab your resistance band or free weights for a few sets. You’ll be well on your way to a fitter, stronger body just in time for summer.

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