If your idea of a workout is an hour on the treadmill followed by 1,000 ab crunches, I have some good news that will help you get twice the results in half the time.
In case you don’t know, resistance workouts are the fastest way to get an amazing figure. In fact, nothing can “shape” and “tone” your body like training with weights. Now I put “shape” and “tone” in quotes because these are fitness magazine marketing words that women like. Truth is, to get a great figure you’ll need to build some muscle (shape) and lose body fat (tone). Stacks of research suggest that resistance training may be the single most important activity you can perform to transform your body.
Reason #1: Improve body composition
Too much body fat may be the culprit in many degenerative diseases, including high blood pressure and diabetes. As you age, body fat increases and lean muscle tissue decreases. Along with a good diet and aerobic activity, resistance training is proven to slow the inevitable effects of time by adding muscle to your body while reducing fat stores. Penn State University scientists collected data from 31 healthy women who performed resistance training activities for 6 months. Researchers found that the subjects experienced a 2.2% decrease in body mass, a 10% decrease in fat mass, and a 2.2% increase in soft tissue lean mass.
Monitoring changes in body weight using the bathroom scale may not be the best way to evaluate progress, says Dennis McGorry Jr., M.D., a physician in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “Your bathroom scale cannot distinguish fat from muscle,” says Dr. McGorry. “Measuring body fat percentage is a better assessment of health and fitness.”
Reason #2: Speed up metabolism
Think of your metabolism as the total amountof calories you use to keep your body alive (breathing, digestion) and perform activities of daily living (exercise, prepare meals, work). Moderate to high intensity resistance training helps you burn more calories in three ways. First, muscle tissue is very metabolically active and quite inefficient—it uses lots of calories just to survive. Since muscle is busy eating calories all day and night, there are fewer calories available for fat storage. Fat, on the other hand, requires almost no calories to maintain itself. The bottom line: If you want to burn the most calories, build and maintain muscle.
Second, you will burn calories at a higher rate immediately after resistance training exercise. According to a Colorado State University study, young female subjects demonstrated a 4.2% increase in metabolism three hours after a high-intensity resistance training workout. Third, resistance training fires up your metabolism during exercise. The increased metabolic rate means you’ll burn more calories while you train.
Reason #3: Strengthen bones
Osteoporosis is a gradual deterioration of the skeletal system that is characterized by low bone mass and increased susceptibility to broken bones. It is estimated to cause 1.5 million fractures annually in the United States in people aged 50 years and older.
Fortunately resistance training may slow the effects of osteoporosis while strengthening bones. A review article in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise concluded that resistance training builds bone density and helps fight osteoporosis by improving strength and balance and increasing muscle mass. “Moderate to high intensity weight bearing activity will provide the stress needed to induce bone to strengthen itself,” says John Cianca, M.D., assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine.
Reason #4: Increase self-confidence
It’s no surprise that a strong, healthy body affects how you feel about yourself.
Interest, motivation and self-esteem remain high in progressive, results-oriented resistance training activity. “Many women begin to realize—especially if they are relatively new to aggressive and planned exercise–that they are capable of performing, tolerating and receiving high-level strength benefits from a resistance training program,” says Douglas Brooks, M.S., exercise physiologist and author of Your Personal Trainer. A well-organized resistance training program, coupled with progressive and proper overload, not only optimizes strength gains but also improves confidence and self-esteem, adds Brooks.
Reason #5: Reduce depression
Progressive resistance exercise is an effective antidepressant in depressed elders, plus it improves strength, morale and quality of life, according to research from Harvard Medical School. In the study, 32 depressed subjects aged 60-84 either exercised 3 times per week for 10 weeks or were placed in a non-exercising control group. Researchers noted a relationship between intensity of training and decrease in depression scores. In other words, train hard to enjoy the revitalizing benefits of resistance training.
“Resistance exercise may help a woman combat depression by increasing self confidence and esteem, as well as providing her with a sense of self accomplishment,” says Brooks. “Along with successful training comes a sense of personal success, self empowerment and the feeling of being in control of one’s life.”
Reason #6: Lower blood pressure
Scientists at the University of Maryland concluded that heavy resistance training activity may reduce resting blood pressure in older individuals. Test subjects experienced reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure following six months of progressive, whole-body resistance training performed three days per week.
As a general rule, never hold your breath while strength training. Women should maintain normal breathing patterns during resistance exercise. Simply breathe out as you raise the weight and breathe in as you return to the start.
Reason #7: Improve cholesterol
Genetics, diet and exercise play an important role in determining your blood lipid profile. Scientists at Old Dominion University placed 24 premenopausal women in either a non-exercising control group or a resistance training group. Subjects who exercised 3 days a week for 14 weeks experienced significant decreases in total cholesterol and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, as compared with their baseline values. No changes were found in the control group. Because of the positive effects on increasing good cholesterol and decreasing bad cholesterol, resistance training can lower your risk for heart disease.
Reason #8: Decrease lower back pain
The strong curvature of the low back region causes pressure in this area that, in turn makes the muscles and bones vulnerable to injury. Eighty to 90% of all people experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. Resistance training strengthens the deep muscles of the spine, which may lead to greater inherent spinal stability and decreased pain.
It is important to limit excessive motion of your lumbar spine during resistance training. This is accomplished by holding your pelvis in a neutral position and tensing your abdomen, like your bracing for a punch.
Reason #9: Reduce arthritic pain
Scientists from Leiden University Medical Center studied the effects of resistance training on physical functioning in 64 arthritis patients. Subjects performed either a conservative or intensive resistance training program for one month. The authors determined that a short-term, intensive exercise program is more effective in improving muscle strength than a conservative exercise program–and does not worsen arthritic pain. “Resistance training creates strong muscles which support and protect arthritic joints,” says Dr. Cianca. “Increased muscular strength may potentially reduce the progression of arthritis.”
Reason #10: Improve sports performance
The better you can bridge the gap between training and competition, the better you will perform during competition. Optimal performance in tennis, for example, requires flexibility, strength and endurance, power, agility and speed—all of which can be improved through a structured resistance training program. Strong and powerful joints generate faster motion production at the joint. This may lead to improvements in sports requiring explosive movements.
Weight lifting, progressive resistance exercise, weight bearing activity, strength training—they’re all terms to describe the practice of resistance training. But contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to lift heavy weights to see progress. Resistance training has a little to do with how much weight you can lift and a lot to do with how you train your muscles. And don’t hesitate to ask for help. Elite athletes have coaches and so should you.
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