Balance Series Part 5/Making Your Muscles Work For You

Some of you are not going to like this.  I’m back again on my strength training soap box.  But, the truth is, one cannot achieve a balanced exercise program without it.  I’ve written about this topic in several previous posts so this is a sort of “Best of Strength Training” edition.  I’ve consolidated and re-organized what I’ve written on the topic before and believe repetition will help ingrain in you the facts about strength training and why it is vital to a fit life.

Why Must We Strength Train?

For most women, the closer she gets to middle age and menopause, the more difficult it will become to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight and keep her percentage of body fat from increasing unless she strength trains every week.  You cannot run, Zumba, kick box, spin, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig or Slim Fast yourself out of it.  It is a physiological and evolutionary fact.  If you are among the few females who have super metabolism despite not having the muscle mass and accompanying testosterone of a male, thank your lucky stars and your genes because you may be able to avoid the increase on the scale.  But that doesn’t protect you from losing muscle and bone mass. (From June’s One Small Step)

I’m at a Healthy Weight, How Will Strength Training Make Me More Healthy?

In recent years, the Body Mass Index (BMI) has been used to determine the overall health of individuals.  It’s a tempting method to use because it’s derived from a very simple formula using height and weight.  But BMI isn’t the best indicator of health.  A much better measure is the ratio of a person’s lean body mass to fat body mass.  The challenge is it’s very difficult and often expensive to measure accurately.  My philosophy is that all apparently healthy women, even those with a normal BMI, should assume that their lean mass to fat mass ratio can be improved and here is why.  Beginning around the age of 30, a woman who doesn’t strength train will lose about ½ pound of muscle mass per year.  In addition, estrogen production decreases as menopause approaches, slowing bone regeneration.  Over time, this will slow her metabolic rate regardless of whether or not she does cardiovascular training. A person can be very thin and, yet, have an unhealthy fat to lean mass ratio.  The most recent studies bear out that persons with normal BMIs but with unhealthy body mass ratios are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis than those who are considered overweight according to the BMI but have healthy body mass ratios. (From Balance Series Part 2)

How Does Strength Training Work and How Much Do I Need to Do?

We build muscle and bone through regeneration, which means we must break muscle and bone tissue down in order for the body to build more. The more we stress our muscles and bones, the stronger they will become.  The definition of strength training is contracting a muscle or muscle group repeatedly with load until exhaustion – until you can’t do another repetition without losing proper form.  Load can be either body weight (think push-ups or crunches) or external load such as free weights, medicine balls, kettlebells, resistance bands or tubes.  It is recommended that women perform 1-3 sets of strength training exercises that target all major muscle groups (legs, core, upper body) 1-3 times per week.  The proper amount of external load for strength training for basic fitness is the amount at which your last repetition in a set falls between 8 and 16.  (If you can’t do 8 reps in a set, the load is too heavy and if you can easily do more than 16 reps, the load is too light.)  The key to proper strength training is rest.  It takes bone and muscle 48 hours to recover and regenerate after a strength training workout.  Without this rest period, you will continually break down tissue with no opportunity to rebuild.  So, while you can do cardio exercise on back-to-back days and even do cardio and strength training together in one workout, you should not strength train the same muscle groups on back-to-back days. (From Balance Series Part 2)

How Can I Learn How to Strength Train Properly?

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) has free strength training programs, exercise library and videos that give you all the information you need to train properly in any environment on any equipment, including no equipment at all.  Click the link here.  I also provide a detailed strength training program that can be done at home while watching television in my June’s One Small Step post.

Alternatively, if you already belong to a fitness club, select at least one class per week that incorporates full-body strength training.  Look for classes with the words pump or sculpt in the title or take a mat Pilates or TRX class.  Or you could consider hiring a personal trainer.  I have clients who come to me to do their strength training because they know they won’t strength train on their own without external accountability.  There are also lots of great strength training DVDs that use minimal or no equipment.  My favorites are the Exhale MindBodySpa Core Fusion DVDs. (From June’s One Small Step)

Still Skeptical?

I get it.  Strength training, especially for women, has an historically poor reputation borne of misinformation and misconceptions.  I debunk them all in my Myths Surrounding Female Strength Training post.

In as little as 20 minutes a couple of times per week, if you work your muscles, your muscles will work for you keeping you healthy, strong, toned and give you a fantastic posture to boot.  Strength training is absolutely essential to good health and balanced fitness.

Author’s Note: Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.

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4 comments

  1. […] Previous posts in the Balance Series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 […]

  2. […] Balance Series posts: The Fit Life, Balanced Exercise Formula, Cardiovascular Training, Strength Training, Flexibility Training, Balanced […]

  3. […] injury and keeps our lean mass to fat mass ratio in check to avoid typical mid-life weight gain.  {Part 5: Making Your Muscles Work For […]

  4. […] serious about incorporating a regular strength training workout into your fitness routine (and you should be), adding options and variety is important to keep it fresh and stave off boredom.  Luckily this […]

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