Strength Training for Fitness

This special report is everyone's guide to strenght training and fitness.

The Benefits of Strength Training and Why They Apply to Everyone

Physical fitness is generally divided into two categories. You have cardiovascular training and strength training. Many people falsely believe that you have to pick one or the other – that you either have a strength training personality and strength training goals, or you have to take a cardio approach.

The truth is that the best way to achieve lifelong health and vitality and the best way to lose weight and keep it off is to embrace both. You don’t have to be a lifter or a runner exclusively; you can – and probably should – be both.

There are several reasons why strength training is so beneficial to your health and well-being.

Stronger Bones

Strength training has been proven to help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. It’s important to know that while more women suffer from bone loss than men, men do get osteoporosis as they age. The gradual loss of bone density can cause serious issues, including fractures of the hip and spine. Strength training slows down bone mineral loss.

Strength training also improves your muscle strength and coordination, which in turn results in improved balance and overall coordination. This subsequently reduces the risk of injury and bone damage.

According to a study conducted by the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, strength training does have a positive impact on bone density as well as soft tissue lean mass.

The study was designed to evaluate the effects of 18 months of resistance exercise on regional and total bone mineral density and soft tissue lean mass in premenopausal women aged 28-39, who were randomly assigned to an exercise or control group. The results for bone density showed “significant regional increases” for bone density in those women.

Weight Loss and a Kicked Up Metabolism

Obesity in adults is defined as someone who has a BMI of 30 or higher. It’s a weight that is higher than what is considered healthy, and is correlated with many diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Strength training increases lean muscle mass, which burns more calories and has a positive impact on weight loss. To put it simply, muscle burns more calories than fat. Strength training not only burns calories while you exercise, but it also burns calories as your muscles repair themselves.

Strength training accomplishes this by increasing your metabolism to manage the repair process. Additionally, muscles require energy to function – fat doesn’t. By including strength training into your workouts you’re helping burn more calories in the moment, all day, and well into your future. Let’s not forget that obesity is about more than appearances, it’s a health risk.

Obesity is a risk factor for:

  • Cancer (including breast cancer)
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis and joint pain
  • Cardiovascular disease

According to the CDC, Center for Disease Control…

Strength training is crucial to weight control, because individuals who have more muscle mass have a higher metabolic rate. Muscle is active tissue that consumes calories. Stored fat uses very little energy. Strength training can provide up to a 15% increase in metabolic rate, which is enormously helpful for weight loss and long-term weight control.

Muscle burns an estimated three times more calories than a similar amount of fat tissue. Which means if you add a few pounds of muscle you can burn an extra 100 calories daily. That adds up quickly and facilitates weight loss.

A high-intensity strength routine has been shown to bump metabolism by 20 percent for several hours post-workout.

Stop the Middle Age Spread

In their mid-30’s women begin to lose 5 to 10% of muscle strength every ten years. This loss of lean muscle impacts strength, coordination, and mobility. As lean muscle decreases it becomes more difficult to maintain the same level of activity you might have enjoyed ten years ago. Walking, standing, and even rising from a sitting position can become difficult.

Strength training slows down the loss of lean muscle and can build new muscle, depending on your approach. Women don’t need to strive to become world class bodybuilders to benefit from strength training. A simple program can help ensure you’re able to stay active and healthy well into your golden years. No walker required!

Better Mood and Outlook

In a study published in 2005, researchers examined the effect of a three-month exercise program on mild to moderate depression. 80 participants were divided into five groups.

Two groups took on a rigorous program, one of them for three days a week and the other for five days a week. Two groups participated in lighter exercise either three or five days a week. A fifth group, the control group, only stretched.

The results were positive across the board; ratings of depressive symptoms on the standard Hamilton scale fell in all of the groups, including the stretching group. However, those that participated in the rigorous exercise program had the biggest drop – significant enough to equate rigorous exercise to antidepressant medications or cognitive behavior therapy.

Resistance training has shown to reduce anxiety and cause an overall improved sense of well-being. Studies comparing and evaluating resistance training have found that moderate intensity strength training has a stronger impact on anxiety than intense strength training, and this decrease in anxiety can impact sleep and brain function. Still, both intensity levels showed a marked improvement in anxiety levels.

Strength Training Makes You Smarter

Strength training is often used as part of a treatment plan when people suffer from neurological conditions. One of the reasons for this is to help a patient remain as functional as possible. Another reason is that strength training often requires a person to make new mind/body connections.

For example, if you’ve never performed a deadlift or a squat, you have to learn how to safely perform the movement. As you learn the various movements required, your brain begins to tell your body how to move and new connections are created.

As we age, circulation tends to decrease. The results can be uncomfortably cold hands and feet, and a blue tinge is also common in the elderly. Resistance training, which strengthens muscles, requires the heart to pump blood to said muscles and thus also strengthens the heart, improves blood flow to muscles, organs, and to the brain.

This increased blood flow not only helps decrease circulation problems, it also improves cognitive function as the brain receives more blood. Additionally, resistance and strength training require a person to make new connections and perform new movements. You have to think about “proper form” and learn the new exercise techniques.

Joint Pain

Tufts University recently completed a strength-training program with older men and women with moderate to severe knee osteoarthritis. The results of the 16-week program showed that strength training decreased pain by 43%.

The increased muscle strength and general physical performance also improved the side effects of the disease and decreased disability. The study showed that strength training is just as effective, if not more effective, than pain medications and other medications used to treat arthritis. Additionally, similar results have been shown for studies on strength training and rheumatoid arthritis.

Improved Coordination

Increased age often means a loss of balance and flexibility, which in turn results in falls and broken bones. Strength training can improve range of motion and flexibility, and as we discussed above it can improve bone density so any falls that may occur aren’t as damaging.

A New Zealand study looked at women 80 years of age and older, and found a 40% reduction in falls with simple strength and balance training.

A 12-month study conducted on postmenopausal women at Tufts University showed…

1% gains in hip and spine bone density, 75% increases in strength and 13% increases in dynamic balance with just two days per week of progressive strength training.

Sleep Better Too!

People who exercise regularly enjoy better quality sleep. They not only fall asleep more quickly but they wake less often and they sleep longer. This improves disposition and overall health and well-being.

When older adults engage in strength training programs, their self-confidence and self-esteem improve, which has a strong impact on their overall quality of life.

Better Cardiovascular Health

Your risk for heart disease is lower when you have a healthy BMI. Studies have found that cardiac patients gained not only strength and flexibility but also aerobic capacity when they did strength training three times a week as part of their rehabilitation program. The American Heart Association recommends strength training as a way to reduce risk of heart disease and as a therapy for patients in cardiac rehabilitation programs.

Strength Training At Home

Doing your strength training at home has many advantages.

Sometimes you don’t feel like going to the gym. What would it look like if you did your strength training at home? Using your own weight lifting equipment at home in general has several benefits, such as:

  • exercising when it fits into your daily schedule,
  • exercising longer because you don’t have to drive to and from a gym,
  • not having to arrange for someone to watch your kids while at the gym,
  • saving gas by not having to drive your car to the gym,
  • using the money you would normally pay for a gym membership to buy your own equipment,
  • if you are in a cold part of the world, not having to go outside to get to a gym.

Do these sounds like benefits you want? If so, let’s talk about the different equipment options to consider.

You already know your fitness program should include strength training – around two days per week. But what equipment do you need? Before you go out and blow your budget on a huge strength training machine, think about these three things…

1) Type of equipment

Home strength training equipment can vary from a few resistance bands all the way to a multi-exercise, all-in-one machine. If you are just starting out, a few different levels of resistance bands may be all you need. As you outgrow the bands, you can add to (or replace) with equipment that allows you to develop more.

Many medium level and higher home strength trainers use a weight bench and free weights along with dumbbells and a barbell. You can start out with a few weights and add to it over time.

Of course at the high end of the equipment scale, you have all-in-one machines that are actually several machines arranged and connected in a circular fashion.

2) Available space

Think about how much space you have to commit to strength training equipment verses how much space the equipment takes up. If you live in an apartment, you probably do not have the space for an all-in-one machine.

For planning purposes, you should allow 20 to 30 square feet if you plan to buy resistance bands, kettlebells or a weight bench and small selection of weights. Anything larger and you will need anywhere from 35 to 50 square feet.

3) How much you can afford to spend

Fortunately, you can spend as little you want or as much as you afford. For under $100, you can get resistance bands, kettlebells, or some free weights and a non-adjustable weight bench.

Once you get into the adjustable weight benches and higher, plan to spend a minimum of $500 (up to $1,500 or more). Once you have answers to the three considerations, buy quality equipment that you can afford.

For example, instead of buying the best all-in-one machine, buy a mid-range one and resistance bands or kettlebells. Not only will you have the same amount of money invested, it will give you more flexibility in the exercises that you can do with the equipment you have.

Weight Lifting Reps

Weight lifting reps and weight amounts.

How Heavy Should Your Dumbbell Weights Be?

The ideal weight of your dumbbells depends … it depends on your weight lifting goal in the first place. If your goal is to increase upper body flexibility and endurance, then you want to use lighter weights, but do more repetitions.

However if your goal is to build strength and muscle mass, then you want to lift heavier weights but with less repetitions. But the part of the question of each goal that remains unanswered is how much or how little should you be lifting? Let’s look at both.

Increase Flexibility and Endurance

The other parts of the equation that determines how much weight you should be lifting is the muscle group you are working and your experience level. If you are just starting out working your upper body, know that you will lift more weight when exercising your biceps than you will with the triceps, deltoids and trapezius.

Regardless of your experience level, use a planning factor of twelve to twenty repetitions (reps) per set – this range of reps should bring you to muscle failure – the point where you are unable to do one more rep; plan for one to three sets. If twenty reps don’t bring you to failure, use more weight.

When first starting out, try using a five-pound dumbbell in each hand. Once you can easily do twenty reps, bump up the weight until you reach failure at twelve. Once you have been exercising for a while, you should be able to fatigue biceps with one set using eight pounds in each hand. If not, reduce the weight and add in another set or two of reps.

For the other upper body muscles, try using between two and five pounds in each hand. Still use twelve to twenty reps per set as a guide.

Build Strength and Muscle Mass

If building strength is your goal, then the amount of weight you lift and the number of reps is much different. For upper body muscles, you want to use a weight heavy enough to allow you to perform two to six sets of six reps per set until muscle failure. Again you will be able to lift more weight when exercising biceps than other upper body muscles.

For increased muscle mass, plan on using a weight that will allow you to do three to six sets with six to twelve repetitions per set. As you max out on reps and sets, increase the weight and lower the number of reps.

Lifting more weight than your body can handle can lead to muscle tears and other injuries. Always start with less weight than you think you can lift and work up one pound at a time as your muscles get used to a certain amount of weight at maximum reps.

Regardless of your reason to workout with dumbbells, lifting weights can be both fun and challenging. Be sure to use common sense and lift responsibly.

How Many Weight Lifting Reps Should You Do?

Once the question of “How much weight should I lift?” is answered, the question of “How many weight lifting repetitions should I do?” soon follows … and with good reason – the two questions are relative to each other. You have to know the answers to both questions before starting a weight lifting routine.

The answer in general is “It depends on your goal.”

A weight lifting repetition (rep) is defined as moving a weight from point A to point B and back again. For example, when working a bicep, it would be the action of moving the dumbbell (and of course your forearm and hand) from horizontal, to vertical, and back down to horizontal; that is one rep. A specific number of continuous reps with a short rest period at the end is a set.

Because the number of reps you should perform is goal-oriented, let’s talk about the goal at each end of the spectrum. If your goal is to make every day lifting easier, such as carrying groceries or the laundry basket, then you are more endurance oriented. With this goal you would be doing more reps with lighter weights.

However if your goal is to get stronger and to have larger muscles, then you are strength oriented and you would lift more weight but with fewer reps per set. In between, there are several sub-goals which end up being a combination of the two major goals.

But we still have not yet answered the question of how many reps, have we. That’s coming! If you are at the endurance end of the spectrum, then you want to do 15 to 20 reps per set; the lower number of reps if you are just starting out – the higher number if you have been working out a while. If you are strength-oriented, then your range is 1 to 5 reps per set.

Now, let’s move on to the number of sets. For the endurance-oriented people, usually 1 to 3 sets is enough to reach muscle failure – the point in which the muscle you are working cannot do another lift; for the strength oriented individuals, that number increases to a range of 2 to 6 sets.

To prevent injury start with a lighter weight than you think you can lift. You know you have about the right amount of weight if you reach muscle failure with your minimum number of reps. Now you can add reps/sets until you max out. Once that happens, then increase the weight and drop back on reps/sets.

In the end, the number of reps you should do depends on your goal, current fitness level and lifting experience. Enjoy!