It’s easy to think that the best way to lose weight is to increase the frequency and intensity of cardio activities like running or aerobics. However, a little-known secret among successful weight “losers” is that cardio activity is most effective when it’s combined with 2-3 sessions a week of strength training exercises. Strength training helps build muscle, which burns more calories than fat, so it’s essential to develop your muscles in order to increase your calorie-burning potential. Additionally, strength training can keep your muscles, and the joints they help support, in top shape as you age. The aging process can be scary for a number of reasons, one of them being the loss of muscle mass, and the loss of strength and independence that comes with it. Studies have shown that the majority of women and the elderly, those most at risk for problems related to low muscle mass, do not meet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans twice-weekly goal of strength training exercises.
Strength training doesn’t have to be too difficult or time-consuming, if you follow a few simple tips:
- Warm up and cool down before strength training. Walking is a good way to warm your muscles up, and stretching is effective for both warm-ups and cool-downs.
- Stretching regularly can also help your strength training routine by improving muscle development, increasing range of motion, and reducing the risk of injury.
- Weight does not matter as much as form does. Make sure you keep your body aligned and focus on slow, controlled movements. Increase the amount of weight you lift only when you feel comfortable doing so.
- Choose 8-10 different strength training exercises, and do 8-12 reps of each. You should find it difficult, but not impossible, to do the last 2 reps of each set – this means your muscles are being properly challenged.
- Give your muscles time to rest. Don’t do strength training workouts on consecutive days; it’s best to allow at least 48 hours in between sessions.
If you’ve tried changing your eating habits and increasing cardio activity, and are still in a weight loss rut, I’d encourage you to try incorporating strength training into your weekly routine. Not only will you increase your muscle mass to help prevent problems as you age, but you’ll be increasing your metabolism, and burning more calories without feeling like you’re doing too much extra work, at the same time.