Cardio training is an excellent way to stay healthy and lose weight, but strength-training can give your weight-loss goals an extra kick—and it is more useful for building muscles than cardio workouts are. According to Michaela Devries-Aboud, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at McMaster University, when you lift weights, you overload the muscle, which then works to adapt to lift more weight. Strength training thereby stimulates muscle growth and muscle mass.
If your body has more lean muscle, it can burn more calories at rest. Having more muscle increases your everyday basal metabolic rate and your calorie deficit, which is necessary for weight loss.
Maintaining muscle is especially crucial as you get older. From age 30 to age 70, you can lose more than 25% of the strength muscle fibers in your body! Resistance training exercise can slow down the aging process, and it can also help people who have osteoporosis by strengthening bones.
Guidelines for Your Resistance Training
Resistance training refers to any exercise that causes your muscles to contract against an external resistance, which can be your own body weight or any other object that activates muscle contraction. The term “strength training” is also associated with lifting weights. It should be noted that strength training refers to a resistance exercise that also builds strength.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, beginners should practice resistance training about two to three times per week, resting for a day between workouts. Muscle soreness is likely to happen as you’re building up your strength, so allowing time for rest and recovery is crucial.
Before starting your resistance training, perform a quick warm-up, 5 to 10 minutes of cardio exercises, and gentle, dynamic stretches. It is important that you focus on learning the technique, so do as many sets and repetitions as you need to get used to the exercise—a supervisor can help in this phase. A starting point could be one set of 12 to 15 repetitions, and then progress to two to three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions in the following weeks.
Muscles get weaker after age 50, at a rate of approximately 15% per decade. When you enter into your senior years, resistance training should be done with lighter weights, increasing repetitions as muscles get stronger. The ACSM recommends that seniors exercise two days per week, doing one set of 10-15 repetitions. Weight can be increased at regular intervals to strengthen bone density and decrease insulin resistance. Seniors should also include core exercises in their training program to improve balance and stability.
For those who are already fit, strength-training optimizes your well-being. According to Shawn Arent, an exercise scientist at Rutgers University, strength training is ideally performed two to five days per week. Weights and repetitions depend on your age, expertise, and strength. Keep in mind that one set of 12 to 15 repetitions is always an excellent starting point to stay healthy and tone up.
Choose isolation exercises, which work only one muscle group at a time, to increase the intensity for that muscle group. All bicep and tricep exercises are isolation exercises. To work on your bicep curls, for example, start with a heavy weight that you can do for 10 repetitions, complete the 10 repetitions, rest, and then do another set of repetitions using less weight. Do as many repetitions as you can, then continue to use lighter weights. Rest less than one minute in between sets to increase workout power, and add one breakdown set for each workout, choosing a different exercise and a different body part each time. Keep a record of how many repetitions you can perform, then challenge yourself on a weekly basis by trying to improve your total.
When you design your strength-training plan, choose to work your large muscle groups including glutes, quadriceps, back, chest, and hamstrings, before smaller groups including shoulders, triceps, biceps, and calves. If you fatigue a smaller muscle group first, the larger group will not work at its maximum potential. For example, do bent-over-rows before bicep curls—biceps work in both exercises, but because the larger and stronger back muscles are used in the rows, they will not get an optimal workout if the biceps are fatigued.
For further clarification of the exercises listed above, check out this resource from U.S. News.