Monday, November 14, 2011

The Missing Element: Part II

Are you giddy with excitement thinking about the new strength training program you're going to begin this week?  Perhaps you went out and bought a home gym with barbells and dumbbells, perhaps even a kettlebell or two.  Or maybe you still think I'm full of _____ and you're just going to keep on runnin'.  Let's hope it's the former.

Before we discuss exercises, let's address some of the concerns I typically hear from clients when I encourage them to begin a strength training program.  We'll review the ones from yesterday's post. 

1) They don't realize it's included in the Guidelines and is a critical component of fitness. 
ACSM includes strength training in the Guidelines "at least two times per week" with a focus on major muscle groups.  Shocking, I know!  But if it wasn't important for fitness, good health and heck, looking good naked, the fine folks at ACSM wouldn't have included it.  They would have said, "Do lots of cardio, and if you're bored and have time on your hands, lift some weights."  But they didn't.

2) In a time-crunched world, strength training takes a backseat to aerobic activity.  If a client only has 30 minutes a day, I find they focus on the cardio thinking they are getting the most out of their time.

Is aerobic activity important?  Absolutely!  But being strong is important too.  Being strong promotes bone health, functional movements and decreases the risks of falls as we age as well as increases the chances we'll live independently in our golden years.  Personally, I'd prefer to be able to care for myself at 90 than have to rely on someone else to do it for me. 

3) They think only aerobic activities promote weight loss.
Actually there is considerable research that shows that moderate intensity aerobic activity over long periods of time (over 30 minutes) can actually decrease muscle mass -- ever heard of "skinny fat"?  You may weigh less on the scale, but be higher in fat.  No one wants that (or shouldn't)!  Focusing on the scale is the wrong objective, focusing on fat is correct.  Increasing muscle (which burns more calories than fat at rest) should be a goal.  Plus, muscle looks better than fat (see: look good naked above).

4) For women, they think if they do strength training exercises they will "get big" and end-up looking like a masculine, professional body builder.
If a woman has huge, masculine muscles she is on drugs. It is that simple.  Show me a woman with huge biceps and quads, and I'll show you a woman on drugs.  Women do not have enough testosterone to produce big muscles.  If we did, we'd be men.  To the women who say they "get big" when lifting weights, they may.  But that's not big, bulky muscles. That's slightly larger muscles underneath fat -- and this is a nutrition issue.  As my favorite saying goes, "You can't out-exercise a bad diet."  Muscles are under there whether you have a layer of fat covering them or not.

5) They think a strength training program involves many different exercises, scary looking machines and many hours in the gym.

Not only do you not need machines, if you're new to strength training, all you need is your body weight.  The exercises I encourage you to incorporate into your program involve only four movements (though I'll give you some additional choices should you feel froggy) and involve either dumbbells or barbells -- standard equipment at any decent fitness center (or available for purchase at a reasonable cost for a home gym).  Don't use machines -- be the machine!  As for the time requirement, well, how long do you think four exercises can take?

I hope I've convinced you (or at least given you reason to consider) that incorporating strength training (and the right kind of strength training) into your fitness program is important.  No, not important, critical.  Tomorrow we'll discuss the only four exercises you need to know to get stronger:  the squat, press, deadlift and bench press.  As mentioned, I'll give you additional options, but these exercises when performed correctly work nearly every muscle in the body and do so in a way that is relevant to human performance and daily life.   Stay tuned for the good stuff!


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Kaplan Center for Health and Wellness
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