If you’re like a lot of my patients over 40, you may have a few pounds to lose and would like to regain that youthful, toned, muscular look you used to have. It’s true, as we get older, if we don’t use it; we lose it, muscle strength, that is.
Did you know that people lose 5 lbs of muscle mass every 10 years after the age of 30? That’s right! With that muscle loss comes decreased metabolic rate, which means we burn fat slower and may gain weight faster. However, the good news is that there is a way to reverse this process. It’s called resistance training.
There are so many aspects of optimal health that good muscle strength influences. In fact, toned muscles not only make us look more streamlined but they can actually help us age slower, lose weight, build bone density, and stay agile and less prone to injuries.
Many people trying to lose weight tell me that they do aerobic exercise like walking, running, or cycling, several times a week along with watching what they eat, yet their weight loss is still very slow. When I ask them if they do any resistance, or muscle strength training along with those efforts, they’re surprised to hear that they’ll see results faster if they substitute some aerobic exercise for some resistance training. Let me explain why.
What Is Resistance Training?
Simply put, resistance training is any kind of movement of your muscles against an external resistance like free weights, weight machines, exercise bands, or even lifting rocks, that causes your muscles to contract. Doing these kind of muscle movements causes microscopic tears in the muscle in a process called catabolism, or break down, of the muscle fibers.
The healing and repair that our body does in response is known as anabolism. It causes the muscles to not only repair themselves but also grow stronger, denser, and more resilient. The result of that two-stage process creates a more toned you and increases your metabolic rate which helps you burn fat faster. If you burn fat faster, guess what? You lose those stubborn pounds of fat faster.
Here are some other side benefits of resistance training that I bet you’ll be surprised to know:
- Can help lower blood pressure – current research shows that resistance training lowers both systolic (upper) and diastolic (lower) blood pressure by several points. It also decreases stress hormones in the blood which helps lower blood pressure.
- Prevents osteoporosis by building bone – friction of the muscle against bone during resistance training stimulates the bone to grow and become thicker.
- Reverse or slow down the aging process – along with a higher protein intake, resistance training helps release Human Growth Hormone (HGH) which slows aging.
- Improve glucose metabolism – weight training improves insulin usage by utilizing glucose for muscle work. Helps prevent type 2 diabetes.
Aerobic and Resistance Training – Both Work Together
Don’t get me wrong, aerobic exercise is very beneficial to your overall health. It also improves your mood, decreases your blood pressure, increases your metabolic rate, increases lung and heart capacity, and helps you sleep!
However, I have some patients who exhaust and dehydrate themselves doing aerobic exercise every day for 1 hour, trying to lose fat and tone muscles. This is actually counterproductive. You can shorten your aerobic exercise time to 20 minutes, 3 times a week, doing interval aerobic exercise instead which not only energizes you but strengthens your heart and boosts your metabolic rate far better and faster.
Interval aerobic exercise, is doing a 10 minute slower warm up with your chosen exercise (walking, jogging, traditional bicycling or “spinning” on a bike in a club, elliptical machine, swimming, brisk dancing) and then alternating between short, 2 minute bursts of more intense, faster, higher resistance level exercise and slow, resting exercise for the remaining 10 minutes. As you get used to doing intervals like this, you can gradually increase your length of high intensity bursts to 5 minutes.
Resistance training, on the other hand, specifically targets the strength of each muscle group and should be done 3 times a week. Whether you use free weights or standing weight machines in your gym is your choice. However, you may want to start out on weight machines and incorporate some free weight exercises into your resistance training routine after you’ve become comfortable with it. Also, a good warm up session of stretching before resistance training is important to avoid injury. Be sure to also stay hydrated and drink a lot of water while exercising.
In general, a good guideline is 3 sets of 10-12 reps (repetitions), starting with 5-10 lb free weights, or 20 lbs machine weight. Each exercise should be done on an every other day pattern, giving your muscles a chance to rest and repair in between sessions. However, to start out with for the first week or so, you may want to decrease your number of sets and reps to half this amount and gradually build up to this level, increasing your weight slightly as you go. You don’t want to over work previously unused muscles and become sore.
Remember, this is resistance/strength training and not bodybuilding so keep your weights at just slightly tougher than comfortable level to avoid building a lot of muscle mass. Resistance training is very easy, and safe to do on your own, but, you may want to start off with a little personal instruction at a gym with a trainer who can give you a basic resistance training program and help you keep track of your goals.
I hope the basics of resistance training mentioned here will encourage you to add it to your fitness routine. The benefits of resistance training are usually noticeable within the first 3 weeks, and if you’re faithful to your dietary intake, you should see some tangible results in fat loss. Take your measurements before you start resistance training, and then again 3 weeks later. You may not see a big drop in numbers on the scale, as muscle, even though it is smaller and denser than fat, weighs more. However, your clothes will fit better and you’ll start seeing more and more muscle definition. You’ll have more stamina, you’ll look great and best of all you’ll feel awesome!