NOT so long ago, resistance training also known as strength training or weight training was only for the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger or for the 97-pound weakling hoping to avoid getting kicked in his face by bigger guys. The average man simply didn’t pump iron.
But those days are over. Today, health clubs and fitness gyms are beehives of muscle-making activity. And we practically understanding about resistance training and how it works: You provide a challenge to your muscles, and your muscles react by growing and getting stronger. When you challenge the muscles on a regular basis, you create a better, firmer, more attractive body, without becoming muscle-bound. In fact, many people are beginning to realize that a complete program of health and fitness is incomplete without some resistance training built into it. Resistance training helps increase your body’s power and endurance, and it reduces the risk of injury to muscles, ligaments and tendons during everyday activities and especially while doing sports. The nice part is, you see results very quickly.
Resistance training is also a key ingredient in any weight-loss plan. How? Since resistance training helps the body burn fat and build muscle, you’ll look firmer and more toned. Remember that resistance training by itself isn’t likely to produce weight loss, after all, muscle weighs more than fat. But once you start a regular program of resistance training, your body shape will definitely improve. In fact, don’t be surprised if you notice you’ve dropped a dress size even without a change on the bathroom scale. And because muscles burn calories at a faster rate than stored body fat does, sticking to your resistance training regimen after you reach your goal will make weight maintenance much easier.
It is important to know that when people lose weight by diet alone, a futile cycle can develop. They lose weight so quickly that their body shifts into starvation mode, that is, it tries to conserve as much energy as it can. The rate at which you burn calories then slows to a crawl, so you have to cut calories even more to continue losing weight. And once you start eating normally again, your body conserves each one of those precious calories in the form of fat. But with resistance training, we maintain our metabolic rate so we can have a much easier time losing weight. Resistance training is particularly helpful for older people who want to stay trim. Metabolism and muscle mass definitely decline as we age, which makes it tougher to keep off excess weight.
Resistance training may offer the most benefit of all to women past the age of menopause. Ironically, that’s precisely the group that seems to be the most reluctant to work out with weights. You won’t end up looking like the Terminator, but you will notice a dramatic improvement in your mobility and flexibility by performing a few simple exercises three times a week for eight weeks.
Resistance training is particularly important for older dieters. That’s because it can help ward off crippling osteoporosis by strengthening and maintaining bone so often lost during dieting. When a woman loses 20 or 30 pounds, she loses not only fat but also muscle and bone, which may compromise her health, says Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., Tufts University research scientist at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. So, get pumping! Invest in a pair of one or two pound weights and a resistance band, and get directions for a basic upper-body workout froma resistance training professional. If you’ve got a stationary bike, it will provide you with resistance exercise that benefits the crucial hip area. This strengthens the muscles of the upper hips and thighs so they pull on the bone, which is a good stimulus to bone growth.
Boost your muscles and your ego
While you’re losing weight, how would you like to lose all those bad feelings about yourself that accumulated along with the extra pounds? Pumping iron can help pump up your self-esteem as well.
Exercise has a powerful impact on the way we view ourselves, says Robert Motta, Ph.D., director of the doctoral program in school community psychology at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, New York. It offers one way to attain mastery over a task. Mastery—becoming successful in a given area, is key for self-esteem, whether it occurs in your work, a hobby or a recreational sport. In addition, resistance training compounds the benefits of mastery by offering almost immediate, powerful feedback in the shape of increased muscle and a trimmer body. To attain mastery of resistance training, you don’t need to be a master. You can reap all these physical and psychological benefits without necessarily being an athlete or expert. Improvement is generally a function of effort and motivation.