Did you know that most adults lose about half a percent of their muscle mass per year after age 25? We’re not talking about bedridden adults here—it’s most adults. So do the math. If you haven’t been doing anything to maintain muscle mass, this can amount to a huge loss!
One of the first things that comes to mind when I think of muscle mass is metabolism. Muscle burns calories at a higher rate than fat. So the more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolism will be. At the same time, less muscle equals a slower metabolism. So as we get older, we are really faced with three options: 1–Gain weight, all the while cursing our slowing metabolism. 2—Eat less to maintain weight, still cursing our slowing metabolism. Or 3—Do something to prevent the loss of muscle mass, and don’t even notice a change in metabolism. (Or you could even increase your muscle mass, which would help you burn more calories all day long!) I choose option 3!!
How do we go about keeping, or increasing our muscle mass then? I’ll tell you one thing—it’s not by putting all our exercise time into cardio, cardio, cardio! (P.S. I love cardio, but have come to recognize that it is only a PART of a good exercise plan.) We need to be doing STRENGTH or RESISTANCE TRAINING. And for sooo many reasons besides that increase in metabolism (up to 15% increase, people!) Aiding in weight loss or maintenance is only one of MANY benefits of resistance training. Let’s talk about all the great reasons resistance training should be part of your exercise plan!
- Bone Density—Resistance training helps more than just your muscles. By doing strength training, you actually improve bone density as well, specifically in post-menopausal women. This results in fewer fractures, which is a pretty good thing, right?
- Improved Strength—This is the most obvious one, of course. But why does it matter? Because we are humans living life here on earth, and sometimes we need to do things that require some strength. (Moms, you know what I’m talking about, right?!) And as we get older, loss of strength results in lower quality of life and decreased independence.
- Increased Balance and Coordination—Life is just easier if we can control our movements better—and not fall down as much. In fact, participating in resistance training can reduce your risk of falling by up to 40 percent!
- Improved Performance—If you participate in any type of physical activity where you want to perform well, be it running, dancing, cycling, playing volleyball, or skiing, resistance training will help you see big improvements. For runners, like me, get this—studies show that as little as 10 weeks of training can improve your 10k time by 2-3%. So worth it!
- Appearance—So, I suppose this is more opinion than fact, but a toned body looks great! I love seeing before/after photos of people who have not lost any weight (and in some cases have even gained weight), but look completely transformed because of what has happened to their body shape by working their muscles. And improved posture (another benefit of resistance training) makes anyone look better too!
- You feel great!—This benefit has two parts. For one, strength training releases endorphins, which help improve mood. So, for all you runners who run for the “runner’s high,” these same chemicals are released during strength training as well. And part two, you will have less physical pain. First of all, resistance training has been shown to decrease risk of injury. And secondly, a lot of chronic pain is due to poor posture, weak muscles, weak tendons and ligaments, and muscle imbalances. Resistance training improves ALL of those things! Less pain=feel better.
So if you are convinced, and want to get started with some resistance training, you may feel apprehensive about how to begin. You may be worried that you need to invest in an entire home gym, commit a lot of time to it, or that it may change you in ways you don’t want, like making you look like a body builder. But none of those are true. In fact, you can get the benefits of resistance training right at home, with little or no equipment at all; and with just 2-3 strength training sessions a week, you will reap all the benefits, with absolutely no risk of “bulking up.”
Here are a few basic resistance exercises you can do at home, and all you will need is a floor and a body.
Single leg squats
Lunges (forward and lateral)
Standard Pushups (hands outside shoulders)
Military Pushups (hands just wider than rib cage)
Biceps Curls (ok, so you might need some dumbells—or soup cans!)
To begin with, just do 10-15 repetitions of each move twice a week. Then, as you gain strength and endurance, you can add weight, go through the series twice, or even three times, or even increase it to three days a week. Just remember, muscles need rest and recovery as well, so don’t work the same muscles two days in a row.
If you really want to get serious about resistance training, you may consider purchasing an at-home video workout plan (I love P90X!), or getting a gym membership and hiring a personal trainer. Having a professional assess your fitness level, posture, and goals, as well as teach you how to perform each move and coach you every step of the way can be a great way to improve your strength and overall fitness.
For years, I neglected strength training. I just wanted to run! But since incorporating strength training into my fitness program, I have experienced so many amazing gains! I am stronger, fitter, and my running has improved so much! I am a firm believer in strength training and hope that you will give it a chance as well. Resistance training is a fabulous way of letting our bodies know we love them and want to treat them right.
Love your body, and your body will love you. ♥