Strength training yields healthy body, strong mind
Strength training is about more than building muscle. It's about building your body for a healthy life. When done correctly, strength training provides a long list of benefits for both men and women.
Michael Brandson, personal training coordinator at the Northwest Community Healthcare Wellness Center in Arlington Heights, said it has been linked to numerous health benefits including lower resting heart rate and improved aerobic and anaerobic capacity, lower risk of heart attack, reduced cholesterol, decreased risk of diabetes, improved blood pressure, improved cognitive ability and improved balance, which can help lower risk of falling, the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in older adults.
Strength training is especially important for women, who tend to lose muscle mass and bone density faster than men as they age due to differences in hormones. This puts women at more of a risk for developing osteoporosis.
"Keeping a consistent strength training routine can counter this loss, while supporting a healthy metabolism and a healthy ratio of muscle to fat," said Joshua Steckler, owner of Push Fitness in Schaumburg.
Strength training can help reduce your risk for injury and help you perform movements necessary in daily life.
"When combined with other activities, the appropriate type of strength training can be really helpful in making someone a more economical runner," said Dr. Philip Skiba, director of sports medicine for Advocate Medical Group. "For example, it can help a runner use the same of amount of oxygen while running at a faster speed or using less oxygen while running at the same speed."
How to start strength training
We can incorporate strength training into our lives from relatively young ages and can begin a program at any time. Brandson said strength training begins with building body awareness and is something kids can do with basic body weight exercises performed at same time they participate in sports. As adults, we can incorporate appropriate exercises into our weekly workouts.
If you've taken a break from exercise or are just beginning a routine, Brandson suggests starting with basic exercises and focusing on building postural awareness and good technique first. It's not necessary to grab heavier weights in the gym right away. In fact, it can even be detrimental to use too much weight before you know how to perform basic exercises correctly. Brandson suggests starting with body weight exercises such as planks and assisted push-ups and pullups.
"Squats, lunges, high step-ups, and dead lifts are four key weight-bearing exercises because they use your hips, back, and core muscles. These movements occur as a part of life's daily activities," said Brandson. "It's extraordinarily efficient to do these exercises in the gym because as you progress to weighted versions, each works the entire musculature of your body."
Brandson suggested aiming to complete 15-20 reps of a movement with good form for several weeks before adding or increasing the weight you're using. Increase weight in small increments, and if your technique starts to waver, reduce the amount you're lifting until you've mastered proper form and can maintain control of your movements.
"As the body adapts, using free weights such as barbells, dumbbells, and rubber bands allows you to add the resistance needed for continuous progression," said Steckler.
While it's tempting to start a strength training program on your own, the professionals recommend seeking guidance from a qualified personal trainer, athletic trainer, or strength and conditioning coach. Skiba said strength training programs are highly individualized and a credentialed professional can help make sure you're doing the right exercises for your body and goals, that you're using the proper technique, and progressing at the right pace to see results and prevent injury.
"If you've never formally learned how to do these exercises, engage a professional who can assess your strengths and weaknesses and educate you," said Brandson. "If done correctly, exercise can be restorative. If performed with poor form, it can increase the likelihood of injury."
The beauty of strength training is that it's not as time consuming as one might think. Skiba said following a strength training program twice a week is all it takes to reap its benefits. If you're training with Steckler, one of your strength training circuit might include dead lifts, walking lunges with an overhead press, dumbbell rows, cable woodchops, and a variation of the plank.
"This combination of movements activates most major muscle groups and also challenges balance and cardiovascular efficiency," said Steckler. "A general rule is to perform 3-5 sets of each exercise for 10-15 reps or 30-60 seconds per exercise."
Remember that a well-rounded fitness program is necessary for good health. Strength training should be done in addition to cardio workouts done throughout the week. Once you have a routine in place, the most important thing women can do is stay with the exercises.
"There is nothing more useless than the exercise you didn't do," said Skiba.
So get out there and start building a healthy body today!