27 March, 2014.
Authored by Madhusmita Jena.
THE IMPORTANCE OF STRENGTH TRAINING
“Strength training is a specific type of physical exercise which specializes in the use of resistance to induce muscle contractions which builds the strength, anaerobic exercise and size of skeletal muscles.” (Source: Wikipedia)
From my own experience of working in a gym, I have seen fear psychosis amongst most women that is commonly associated with lifting weights. I have realized through my personal interactions and discussions that these fears primarily stem from the possibility of looking too masculine, “bulking up” and looking bigger. This article would like to allay some of these fears or myths surrounding strength training. It aims to create a basic level of awareness and encourage woman to be more receptive to strength training without losing any of their femininity.
Apart from focusing on these myths; the article also discusses muscle development and the importance of weight training for both men and women.
POPULAR MYTHS ABOUT STRENGTH TRAINING:
Let me start by discussing the most common myths.
- “I will look like a man!”
Due to hormonal differences, it is almost impossible for women to build the same kind of muscle mass as men. Men have much higher testosterone levels than women do, which is one major reason why men have so much more muscle mass. Women have lower levels of testosterone; so they build muscle differently to men through resistance training along with cardio workouts.
- Lifting light weights ‘tone’ your body and lifting heavy weights ‘bulk’ you up.
Many people talk about the difference between ‘toning up’ verses ‘bulking up’. When they say they want to ‘tone up’; they in actuality want to become leaner, lose fat, and add a little muscle definition – but not so much muscle mass that they look like a bodybuilder. In the fitness world, there is actually no real definition for ‘toning’. This is rather like a final milestone rather than a process; and is a combination of basic weight-lifting and fat-burning exercises.
It is true that ‘lighter weights with more repetitions’ are more effective for increasing the muscular endurance. However, lighter weights will not help you “tone” better than heavy weights. On the contrary, since heavier weights build the strength of your muscles, it helps to increase your metabolism and burn fat. Lifting heavier weights with fewer reps (8 to 12 on average) and working until you’re fatigued is far more effective at helping you reach your toning goals than lifting lighter weights.
When you lift, you create micro-tears in the muscle fibres.. These tears are then repaired by the body and in that process the muscles become stronger and a little bit bigger. However, adding a little bit more muscle to your body and decreasing your fat actually makes you look leaner and not bigger. This is because muscle tissue is far more dense than fat. Bodybuilders spend hours and hours in the gym lifting extremely heavy weights, along with eating a very strict diet in order to gain the type of muscle they do. A average person’s workout and diet won’t result with the same effect as they are not building the muscles in the same way with heavy weights and muscle gain diet.
- “It is pointless lifting light weights, as you won’t get stronger”
In order to get stronger, your muscles have to be worked on to reach a level of fatigue where you cannot lift the weights for another repetition. This is often referred to as a burnout point during a workout. It isn’t about how much weight you are lifting. Even lifting lighter weights can add as much muscle as those lifting heavy weights. However, the time it takes to reach fatigue with light weights is much longer than the time it takes to reach fatigue with heavier weights. Therefore, it makes more sense to lift heavy weights!
- Certain forms of exercise build long, lean muscles.
No form of exercise can make your muscles “longer”. Your muscles do not respond to exercise by getting longer. Muscles are a certain length and are attached to your bones. Muscle length is dependent upon a person’s skeletal structure. Different types of exercises can help you strengthen your muscles without necessarily making them bigger. In fact, you can develop a lot of muscular strength without your muscles ever increasing in size.
Exercises such as Yoga, Pilates and dancing can help to increase your flexibility (improving your range of motion at certain joints) and posture. This can give an illusion of feeling and looking longer or taller. But it is not possible to lengthen muscles.
BENEFITS OF STRENGTH TRAINING
Having deliberated on the popular Myths, let’s now dwell a bit on the benefits of strength training, for men and women.
- Muscles burn more calories at rest than fat does
Strength training is an important element for weight loss and weight maintenance. Muscle mass can burn up to an extra 10 calories per pound per day. A well organized strength training regime has proven benefits to boost a person’s metabolism for several hours after a workout, meaning you’re burning many more calories, even when you’re not exercising.
- Strength training burns calories and boosts metabolism
A high-intensity weight lifting session can burn up to 500 calories per hour. Weight lifting boost basal metabolic rate for up to 24 hours post-workout.
As mentioned in point No. 1, not only are you burning calories in the gym, but also afterward when you’re are sitting and relaxing. The more intense the workout, the more calories you’ll burn afterwards. This is actually a great incentive to maximize your time at the gym.
- Strength training keeps the muscle mass that degenerates with age
Sarcopenia refers to the natural diminishing of muscle mass with age. When nothing is done to replace this muscle lost, the body fat percentage will increase. Strength training can help preserve and enhance this muscle mass at any age. If a person doesn’t have strong muscles, they should start a strength training program immediately. If a person is strength training already, they should plan for it to be a lifelong habit – well into their later years.
- Strength training develops strong bones.
Weight training doesn’t just strengthen your muscles; it also strengthens your bones. Regular weight lifting increases bone density, which reduces the risk of fracture and osteoporosis.
Due to the hormonal cycle and also lack of weight training, women are four times more likely than men to develop and suffer from osteoporosis, and can lose up to 20% of their bone mass during the first five-seven years following menopause.
- Strength training lowers blood pressure
Strength training lowers blood pressure which helps reduce coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other heart conditions. Many people suffer from high blood pressure and have to take certain prescribed medication to keep their pressure in check.
- Strength training improves cardiovascular health.
Weight lifting is greatly effective for improving the strength of the heart by getting it pumping. A strong heart generally has a lower RHR (resting heart rate). A lower resting heart rate means that the heart doesn’t have to work as hard on a daily basis, which allows it to keep pumping blood for many more years later in life. Strength training also increases HDL cholesterol (the good type) which means fewer problems with clogging of the arteries.
- Improves posture.
A stronger back, shoulders, neck, and core can help you stand up straight. A better posture protects the spine and reduces lower back pain. This is very important for other types of athletics as well such as running. Many runners suffer from back pain associated with the constant pounding of the pavement or the amount they are running in a week. By strength training core muscles on a regular basis, runners almost always avoid or alleviate back pain.
- Reduces risk of injury.
Strength training strengthens joints, ligaments and tendons hence decreasing your chance of injury. This is especially important not just for athletes but also as we get older because strengthening muscles around our joints is one of the best ways to prevent and recover from injuries.
- Improves balance and coordination.
Weight-lifting is great for helping to improve balance and coordination. Lifting weights standing on a flipped-over Bosu ball can help even further.
- Releases endorphins.
Exercise and weight-training release endorphins–neurotransmitters that prevent pain, improve mood, and enhance pleasure. Endorphins are released during long, continuous workouts, when the intensity is moderate to high and breathing is difficult.
- Stress reduction, mood improvement.
Weight lifting is one of the best ways to naturally improve mood. It reduces stress, anxiety, and depression, and creates a sense of happiness as mentioned in No.10.
- Mental alertness and energy levels.
Weight lifting stimulates the mind, improves alertness, and provides an energy boost later in the day.
- Strength training makes you feel great!!
Whether you venture into the weights room of a gym or decide to pick up dumb bells at home, start lifting at least 2 or 3 times a week. Don’t just stick to cardio and get on that treadmill. Resistance training can benefit you in all aspects of your life. Put it into your fitness plan and feel stronger, healthier, and more confident!
This article has raised some good points about strength training and the compelling need for it. The article has also hopefully allayed some of the common myths about weight training. Most importantly, each one of us needs to recognize that taking care of our bodies is a lifelong commitment and strength training is one of those commitments that has proven to not only improve quality of life but add years to it. So why not start today? And Live Strong and Long Life
Author of this article is Madhusmita Jena, a qualified, practicing nutritionist, currently working at Gold’s Gym in Egypt. To ask her questions related to this article, please use the comments box below.
She offers paid consultation as well, for nutrition and training. To seek her consultation or advice, please write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You will find more articles written by Madhusmita and other health and training related information at http://globeracers.com/e-journal/