I have many clients who come to me wanting to lose weight quickly but don’t know how. They’ve tried dieting, aerobic exercise, even many of the fad exercise weight loss programs seen on TV. Nothing seems to work. What is often overlooked is that in order to lose weight, you need to challenge your muscle, and strength training is a good way to do just that.

Many people (especially women) fear weightlifting as they feel they will become bigger, or may injure themselves in the process. But strength training can tone the body and most problems arise when you push your body beyond its capabilities. If done correctly, strength training is one of the safest modes of exercise out there. Men want to lift heavy, but often get caught in a rut after doing so which is due largely to their routine choices.

Strength training challenges you both mentally and physically. When you can squat, bench press or even do 10 chin ups, you boost your self-confidence, feel good about yourself, and even feel more youthful than before. As a proponent of strength training, I’d like to provide you with a few benefits to encourage you to pick up weights and ask yourself, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?!”

1. Weight training helps you lose fat. The bottom line is that more muscle means more calories burned during rest. A major review of published research shows that weight training has an average loss of approximately 1.7 kg of fat in both normal and overweight individuals while preserving both their lean body mass and metabolic rate. With all the different fads on the market, nothing can match old style strength training. The key is finding the level that pushes your body hard enough to gain a metabolic effect during recovery when your body is at rest, but still burning fat.

2. Strength training decreases blood pressure and improves heart function. Weight training dramatically improves heart function and has been repeatedly shown to decrease blood pressure. A study found that across 8 trials of strength training programs, systolic blood pressure decreased by an average of 6.2mmhg. This study is of significance considering that this is more than double the benefit of typical blood pressure medications .

3. Strength training improves sleep and reduces chronic pain. A recent intervention showed that older men improved their quality of sleep by 5% and woke up fewer times during the night while on a strength training program. Lack of quality rest and deep REM sleep can influence glycemic control, diabetes risk, body fat gain and inflammation.

4. Heavy lifting can help build bone. More than any other physical activity, weight training helps to build bone mass and density. Studies show former elite athletes who included weight lifting as part of their workout routines have much stronger bones as they age. This translates into a 50% lower chance of fracture in men, and 20% lower fracture risk in women.

To build bone, you want a training program that emphasizes hypertrophy (muscle size increase) and strength ranges. This means lifting near maximal loads at times, doing plyometrics (jump training), and even wearing a protective vest. For hypertrophy, stay in a rep range of 8-12 reps and near 75% of your max. For strength gain, do 6-8 reps near 85% of you max load.

5. Strength Training can help prevent disease, particularly cancer and diabetes. Many specialists prescribe exercise for prevention and/or maintenance of diabetes. Research has shown that interval training is one of the most effective forms for this condition as building muscle increases the muscle’s demand for glucose pulling it from the bloodstream and contributing to better body composition.

Strength training has also been shown to lower the risk of a number of cancers, particularly breast cancer. Teen girls who weight train experience a greater reduction risk of breast cancer later in life. But the benefit for cancer prevention extends to women of all ages.

6. Strength training improves hormone levels and reproductive function. Strength training increases both testosterone and IGF-1 in men, which correlates to leanness. In women, building lean muscle has been shown to improve the metabolism of estrogen, which in turn means lower risk of cancer and decreased body fat.

Give strength training a try. You will enjoy the results and be glad you did. As with any new exercise program, it is advised to consult your health care practitioner and to work with a qualified professional in developing a program to meet your individual objectives and physical ability.

Michael K Butler B.A.;P.T.A.;CSCS*D;RSCC*D NMT is co owner of Kinetix Health and Performance center in Palm Desert. He holds a state license as a physical therapist assistant, national certifications of distinction through the NSCA as a strength and conditioning coach, Poliquin International state coach and as a Full Body Active Release Techniques Practitioner. He is the fitness expert on a sports radio talk show (1010 kxps) once a week. He can be reached at 760-200-1719 or at [email protected]

References: 1) Schuenke, M et al. Effect of an acute period of resistance exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. Journal of applied physiology 2002.86 (5) 411-417; 2) Shaw, L et al. Effects of resistance training on body composition and coronary artery disease risk. Cardiovascular journal of South Africa, 2006 17(3) 111-116; 3) Aargard, P, Anderson, J Effects of resistance training on endurance capacity and muscle fiber composition in young top level cyclists. Journal of sports Medicine and Science in sports 2011; 4) Eibben, W et al. The optimal back squat load for potential osteogenesis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2010. 26 (5)1232-1237.; 5) Campbell, K et al. Effects of Aerobic exercise training on Estrogen Metabolism in pre-menopausal women. Cancer Epedimology,Biomarkers and Prevention 2007 16, 731-739

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