The Many Benefits of Strength Training

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By now you should know the drill. In order to lose weight and tone up, you need to combine cardiovascular exercise 5-6 days/week for an hour along with a sensible diet and strength training sessions two times/week. If you’re hesitant to begin a strength training regimen, here’s some valuable benefits that you will receive. And while this article is geared more toward older adults, the same benefits will be realized in all adults.

The Center for Disease Control extols the benefits of resistance exercise, particularly as you grow older. Science tells us that conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity, back pain and depression are significantly reduced through the effects of regular strength training. Studies have shown that older adults age 50+ who engage in strength training achieve a 43% reduction in pain, along with increases in strength and performance.

Balance is improved through resistance exercise, and a routine of strength training two to three times per week has been shown to lower the risk of falls by 40%. For post-menopausal women, bone mass decreases 1 to 2% per year, and weight training will improve bone density enough to counter that loss. Glucose control, mood, and sleep are all improved through strength training.

Even your heart benefits from resistance exercise, since it leads to leaner body composition…and therefore a decrease in heart disease, as well as increased aerobic capacity. As we age, our bodies are less able to crease new muscle tissue. Sarcopenia is age-related loss of muscle, and with it comes a reduction in the ability to do functional everyday activities. When you lose weight, you inevitably lose muscle mass as well as fat. By doing strength training exercises, you can reduce the amount of lean muscle tissue that you lose during weight loss. For those maintaining a stable weight, strength training reduces the age-associated loss of muscle tissue. In addition, strength exercise programs can be a significant help in maintaining our metabolic rate (which normally declines with age and with weight loss).

Increase Your Resistance

Studies show that if resistance is gradually increased, lean muscle mass will increase more than if resistance remains the same. In other words, if you continue to lift with the same amount of weight, you will not increase mass as much as if you continually increase the weight or resistance. When you get to a point where you’re able to do more than 10-12 reps without taking a break, it’s time to increase the weight or resistance until you can only do 8-10 reps. Simply by increasing the resistance as you get stronger, you could hold on to up to 5% more of your lean body mass over the course of a decade.

How Do You Get Started?

With any physical activity, you should consult with your physician before beginning. If you’re new to strength training and are not sure of the proper exercises to perform for your different muscle groups, it is a good idea to invest in some sessions with a personal trainer. Not only will they show you the proper form to avoid possible injury or stress to your body, but they will show you how to maximize the results you achieve.

Why Do Your Muscles Ache After a Workout (and other muscle facts)

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The better you understand your muscles and what they are capable of, the more you can do with them, whether it’s acing a tennis serve, running a race or just turning heads on the beach! Let’s start with the basics. There are over 650 muscles in the human body made up of three types: the cardiac muscle found in your heart, the smooth muscle that lines organs such as your stomach and esophagus, and skeletal muscle, which attaches to your bones via tendons. Skeletal muscles are the ones we are discussing in this article and they make up 30 to 40 percent of your body mass and are largely voluntary, meaning that you make them move.

Grow What You’ve Got

The number of muscle fibers you have was determined by the time you are in middle school. While you can’t increase the number of muscle fibers you have after puberty, you can control how big the fibers get which will determine how tight and strong you look.

Hurts So Good

When you cut your finger, your body heals, but if often overcompensates by leaving a scab. Something similar happens with muscles. Hoisting a barbell can cause microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. As a result, waves of white blood cells rush in to patch things up. While they’re at it, they release chemicals that set off pain receptors. The process peaks in about 36 hours post workout. This is referred to as delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. Try to resist the urge to take an over-the-counter pain medication to relieve the discomfort. This may blunt your body’s ability to rebuild muscle, meaning you get stronger more slowly. Kneading or massaging the muscle using slow, deep circles will provide relief. Soaking in a tub with epsom salts will also feel good.

Slow vs. Fast Twitch

All muscle fibers are not created equal. Slow-twitch fibers are perfect for endurance but don’t pack a whole lot of power. Fast-twitch fibers do the opposite. They offer bursts of rapid fire energy, but only for a short amount of time. Your genes control how much of one type or the other you have. If you’re looking to increase your endurance for a marathon, hone your slow-twitch muscles by lifting 2 to 3 sets with lighter weights, eking out 12 to 15 reps. If you want to improve your 5k final kick, try cranking out 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps at a heavier weight.

Our Muscles are Smart

When you fire a powerful punch in kickboxing class, your brain sends a signal down a nerve cell, telling certain muscle fibers in your arms, back, core and legs to contract. After a series of microscopic reactions, you deliver the knockout blow! As you practice, your brain and muscles learn to communicate more efficiently and you become more coordinated.

Visualize This

In 2007, researchers found that when healthy men and women spent 4 weeks visualizing themselves lifting weights, their actual strength went up 4 percent without ever lifting a single dumbbell. By comparison, a group that actually did strength train gained 5 percent and a control group that did nothing lost 0.2 percent. Bottom line? Thinking about exercises may help bolster the pathways between your brain and your muscles.

To Bulk Up or Not to Bulk Up

Weight lifting will not turn you into a raging superhero. It’s just not in your blood. Testosterone helps men gain bulk. When they lift weights the hormone causes their muscle fibers to grow. Since women have 20 to 30 percent less testosterone than men, women will gain strength without the bulk.

Men vs. Women – Who’s Stronger?

When researchers compared the muscle strength of men and women, they found that men were about 50 percent stronger than women. But when they factored in body weight and muscle weight, they discovered that, on a muscle to muscle basis, women are just as strong as men.

Where You’re Most Likely to Grow

It’s the width of your shoulders. Generally there isn’t a lot of fat around a person’s deltoids, so muscle growth there is more defined under your skin.

And finally…Why Do They Hurt After a Workout?

Recently researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered the reason your muscles burn after a workout. Lactic acid. The acid is a main source of fuel for your muscles. When you push yourself, your muscles convert glucose from food into lactic acid which is moved via proteins to the mitochondria, your muscles’ energy factories. The more you work out, the more efficiently your body uses lactate as fuel…which means you can go longer and harder. Feel the burn…LOVE the burn!