Why is strength training so important? During weight loss, you may lose some muscle along
with the fat if you're not active. And with less muscle, your body burns fewer calories,
which means you need to eat less to prevent weight regain.
Talking about strength training once conjured images of muscle-bound men with barbells,
but today men and women of all ages and fitness levels are involved in strength training
programs. Comprehensive exercise programs usually involve both aerobic exercise and strength
training, which is also called anaerobic exercise and resistance training. While it's long
been known that aerobic exercise, such as running and biking, enhances cardiovascular health
and endurance and helps people lose weight, the many benefits of strength training, especially
among women, are now appreciated more than ever before.
Strength-training programs increase bone strength, helping to prevent bone loss conditions
such as osteoporosis. They improve joint stability and help reduce risk of injury during
sports and everyday activities such as doing laundry or walking up and down stairs. Strength
training also transforms body composition by increasing lean body, or muscle mass, and
decreasing body fat. This change in the muscle-to-fat ratio leads to a higher metabolism,
meaning you burn fat faster.
Strength training programs of the last decade have typically involved weight machines. But
studies now show that people should also include free weights and exercises such as lunges,
which use the body's own resistance, in their strength training programs, so they practice
moving their muscles and joints together as they do in real life.
If you want to stick with a strength-training program, it's important not to start out with
bad habits or the wrong personal trainer. Below, William J. Kraemer, PhD, a professor in
kinesiology and physiology at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, offers his strength
training dos and don'ts.
Strength Training "DOs" —
1. Do vary your workouts.
We recommend you alternate among light workouts, moderate workouts and heavy workouts. Sometimes
women use very light weights because of the fear of getting too muscular. In reality, most women
don't have the hormones to get the type of muscles that men can develop, but they will lose fat
just under the skin and have more definition of their muscles.
You just can't go in and lift heavy weights everyday, either, because they body gets used to it
and you won't progress. Lifting heavy weights can also increase the potential for muscle pulls
and strains. Through the use of what we call periodized schedules, where you have variations,
either from workout to workout, or over two- to four-week cycles, you can expose the body to
different types of workouts that will stimulate optimal development of bone, muscle and other
One key way to vary your workouts is to include power exercises, which have a speed or time
component. For example, throwing a medicine ball, which is a weighted ball, or doing a jump
into the air are explosive movements that involve multiple joints. A study done at the University
of Michigan showed if you only do a circuit of machine exercises and you don't do multi-joint
exercises, such squats, where you're standing and lifting weight, your balance gets worse. You
increase each of the muscle segments, but you don't know how to coordinate them with total body
movement. The speed component also enhances the ability of the muscles to react quickly.
Also, if you don't vary your workouts, exercise becomes boring and you quit.
2. Do include resistance training in your workout if you want to lose weight.
Strength training is good for caloric control for two reasons. Number one, you may be able to
increase the amount of lean tissue mass, and with more lean tissue, you'll burn a few more
calories at rest. There can also be caloric burn after the workout. After a good workout, many people
continue to burn calories at an accelerated rate over the next one hour to 24 hours.
3. Do learn the principles of strength training.
Sometimes people don't want to learn anything about strength training. It's human nature to say,
"I don't know if I want to read about my car unless I'm really interested in my car. I just want
somebody to fix it." Many times we have to spend a little bit of time understanding the basic
weight training principles and what it all means, so that we can understand what we're trying to
accomplish. Good personal trainers or good gyms include an educational component in their
4. Do get an OK from your doctor.
It's always prudent to check with your physician and let him or her know that you're going to
start an exercise program, especially as you get older. Your physician is the best one to say
if you need any type of preliminary workups or how exercise is going to affect your medications.
The other thing is have good musculoskeletal exam to make sure that your joints and your muscles
are functioning well and that you're ready to start applying a physical stress to your body. For
example, in older women, you want to make sure you don't have a preexisting form of osteopenia or
osteoporosis that could lead to fractures.
If you have any medical condition, you want to make sure that you have the right type of supervision.
Many hospital programs or physical therapy and sports medicine clinics have therapeutic training
sessions. If you have a medical condition and you just go to the gym on your own, you got to make
sure you have qualified, competent personnel working with you.
Strength Training "DON'Ts" —
1. Don't get an unqualified personal trainer.
Individuals beginning strength training need to find instruction from a qualified personal trainer.
There are over a hundred certifications out there, so sometimes you don't know who's qualified and
who's not qualified. Some gyms hire people who are just a hard body without any expertise.
Find out if the trainer has an undergraduate degree in kinesiology or exercise science. Do they
offer individualized programs to their clients? Are they certified by the National Strength and
Conditioning Association, which is the major organization for strength training? You can locate
a personal trainer who is certified on their website or call them for advice.
2. Don't do too much at once.
Especially for middle-aged people, if you're starting off without any training, sometimes
you have to get in shape in order to strength train. There is going to be a period of time
where you have got to do base programming to get going and then your workouts become more
specific. The base program is usually about eight exercises, such as an exercise for your chest,
your upper back, your shoulders, your abdominal muscles, your lower back, your thighs, your
hamstrings and your whole leg.
3. Don't expect results right away.
Many times marketing people say, "In six weeks, you'll change your whole appearance." A study
coming out in the Journal of Strength Conditioning Research looked at that question and found
out it's not true. We've got to separate the truth from the hype from marketing strategies and
Every person's different, but typically you will start to see your strength improve in the first
few weeks because the neuromuscular system responds very quickly. In other words, the motor
neurons in your brain that recruit the muscle fibers needed to lift weight will quickly learn
to recruit more muscle fibers. Then you'll hit a grey zone while you wait for the muscle to
develop. If you have a proper diet, you will see fat and muscle changes in the first four to
six months. Bone takes the longest to respond, but significant and measurable changes in
bone density can be seen within six to 12 months.
4. Don't have an asymmetrical workout.
Some people, particularly men, just do bench presses and other upper body exercises but don't
do any lower-body exercises. Or, some women will use only light weights on certain muscles;
they basically pick and choose what muscles they want to work out rather than try to develop
muscles across their body. One needs a symmetrical workout for proper balance in strength
between the front and back of the joints. This is important in terms of size, as one would
not want big biceps and small triceps, for example, and in terms of injury prevention. If
one only develops one side of the joint then the other side can be easily injured during
5. Don't overdo it.
Overtraining is probably most common in the younger populations who are very aggressive,
especially young males. Our rule of thumb is that, if you work out and you're excessively
sore, you've probably done too much, too soon. If it takes a crane to get you out of the
bed the next morning, you probably need to back off your workout.