Lifting Your Way to Better Fitness

By: KELLY SHERIDAN

Strength training is an often overlooked form of exercise. With cardio emphasized as being an important aid to weight loss, many people are spending more time on treadmill than doing push-ups. What they don’t know is, strength training provides a wealth of health benefits. It helps build muscle, increase weight loss, and can make cardio workouts significantly more effective. Gradually adding strength training to a regular workout routine can be a great benefit to a healthy and fit lifestyle.

Perhaps lifting weights or doing a few sets of crunches does not sound as though it would be an appealing addition to one’s gym schedule. Below are a few helpful facts that may persuade those who are unsure if strength training is worth the extra time and effort.


  • Increase body strength: Regular strength training provides multiple physical health benefits, including the prevention of future disease. Research demonstrates that resistance exercise training has profound effects on the musculoskeletal system, contributes to the maintenance of functional abilities, and prevents osteoporosis, sarcopenia (loss of body mass), lower-back pain, and other disabilities. Basically, strength training now will ultimately aid fitness in the future.
  • Decrease body fat: Strength training increases metabolic rate, which speeds the process of burning calories. It should also be noted that muscle, while heavier than fat, takes up less space in the body. So, although the numbers on the scale may stay the same, a decrease in body fat and waist size will be noticeable over time.
  • Become invincible: Alright, so maybe it won’t give you superhuman powers. However, resistance training will decrease the likelihood of injury because strong muscles, tendons, and ligaments are less likely to give way under stress. Also, by working the whole body, you can improve overall flexibility, which decreases the likelihood of back pain or pulled muscles.
  • …All for less than an hour a week: Far from the time commitment that cardio training requires to improve fitness, the benefits of strength training become noticeable with just two 15 to 20 minute sessions a week.

These benefits can also increase the effectiveness of cardio workouts. With greater strength and flexibility a person can run, walk, or bike at a greater speed for a longer period of time. Michael Mykytok, a world-class runner with 30 years of distance running training, recommends strength training to improve cardiovascular workouts. According to Mykytok, strength training helps for the tone you won’t necessarily get from cardio training. That is the time you can build on the muscle mass. However, avid runners should avoid leg training at the gym, and only focus on the upper body and major muscles. This means to decrease the time spent on exercises such as squats, and instead focus on biceps, triceps, back, and abdominal muscles.

If resistance training is unfamiliar, maybe now it’s time to make the addition to your workout routine. For those who are new to the process, be sure to use well-maintained machines and equipment when lifting. This will significantly decrease the risk of injury while exercising. Before starting a workout, Mykytok recommends stretching, as you can do more with a stretched muscle than a tight muscle. Throwing the weights above your head, or swinging them up and down, is ineffective and may result in injury. Beginners should also start with lighter weights, doing 3 sets of 10 repetitions on any machine you do. As your strength increases, you will be able to lift heavier weights.

For those who are just starting out, here are some basic resistance exercises for different body parts that are easy, but will help you improve your strength.

Arms

  • Bicep curls: Standing feet shoulder-width apart, hold a weight in each hand with your palm facing upwards. Begin with your arms straight at the sides of your body. Elbows locked, lift your forearm to your chest so that it touches the bicep.
  • Tricep extensions: Standing feet shoulder-width apart. Grasp the weight in both hands with your palms facing upwards. Slowly lift the weight over your head, and lower it in an arc behind your head. From this position, slowly raise the weight back the starting position.

Legs

  • Squats: These can be done with a dumbbell or a barbell; however for beginners, the use of two dumbbells is recommended. Begin by standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and then slowly lower yourself by bending your knees and hips (as if you’re sitting down). Pause for a bit in this position, and then slowly raise back up.
  • Lunges: With a weight in each hand, stand with feet about one foot apart. Take a small step forward, and slowly lower one knee down (as if kneeling) while keeping the other bent at a 90-degree angle. Hold this position for a moment before rising back to the starting position. Be sure to keep the abs locked and perform this exercise slowly.

Abdominals

  • Crunches: Although this exercise is the most common, it is also often incorrectly performed. To do a proper crunch, place your hands behind on either side of your head (over the ears) or across your chest. From this position, raise your head, shoulders and chest off the ground, towards your knees, crunching the abdominals. Hold this position for a moment and then slowly lower down to the starting position.
  • Leg Raise: Lie on the floor, keeping your hands under your hips for back support. With your feet together and toes pointed, lift your legs straight up towards the ceiling. Hold the legs in position, pointing the ceiling and then slowly lower them to the starting position.

One more important tip to keep in mind is proper nutrition. According to Mykytok, proteins help build muscles so you would want a great deal of them. Proteins can be found naturally in common foods such as red meat and nuts, and will help you keep up your energy as you lift. For those who want to maintain their typical cardio workout schedule, he recommends to stay on top of carbohydrates, which are found in breads and pasta. Be careful to monitor your intake, because though you need them, you could gain weight by [eating] too much of them.

Basically, in the practice of strength training, the benefits greatly outweigh the time commitment. With the knowledge of its many benefits, as well as some simple exercises to get started, there is no excuse not to begin a resistance training routine today!

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