It’s the time of year when you want to look toned. Most exercise programs include aerobic conditioning and flexibility exercises. But if you want to burn more calories and thereby lose weight, the answer is simple: build muscle.
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Muscle burns more calories at rest than fat explains strength and athletic trainer Tom Iannetta, ATC, CSCS. Lots more! Ten pounds of muscle burns 50 calories at rest, whereas 10 pounds of fat burns 20 calories. This means, long after you’ve stopped working out — even while lounging by the pool or sleeping — your body is still burning over twice as many calories when you’re toned than when you’re not.
How does strength training work?
“In strength training, you add resistance to a particular movement to overload your muscles, which makes them work harder and become stronger,” says Iannetta. When you lift weights and build muscle, you’re actually creating tiny tears in the muscle fibers within your body. This is why you’re sore after a tough workout.
Strength training comes when your muscles build against those tears. Iannetta explains that strength training is beneficial at any age. “As we age, we lose muscle mass, which decreases metabolism, so establishing a strength program will not only increase muscles, it will boost metabolism,” he says.
Strength training includes many other benefits, such as increased muscle tone, and who doesn’t want to feel good in a bathing suit? But there are so many other benefits to strength training, including increased endurance and bone density, which is especially important to fight diseases like osteoporosis.
As we age, strength training improves balance and coordination. It can decrease the risk of injury when you’re active, and even help with daily activities such as doing the laundry or yard work.
“These activities will likely become easier,” says Iannetta.
And of course, strength training will increase your performance in your favorite sport.The most common strength training routines involve free weights such as weight plates added to barbells, fixed barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and medicine balls to name a few. Weight machines and resistance bands are other options as well as bodyweight exercises such as push-ups and pull-ups.
“The most important factor to consider when beginning a strength-training program is safety,” says Iannetta. So check with your physician before starting a strength training routine.
“While there are many benefits from strength training, performing the exercises incorrectly will put you at risk for injury,” he says. “If you’re a member of a fitness center, health club or recreation center, ask the staff for guidance on how to correctly use the strength machines,” says Iannetta.
“Many people prefer to do their strength program at home. So before beginning, consider consulting with a strength and conditioning specialist who can help you develop a safe program that uses proper lifting techniques,” he adds. (Many fitness facilities even offer virtual fitness coaching and training.)
As you start your workout program, a good rule of thumb is to allow equal amounts of rest for each muscle group as workout time. Iannetta says, “A general guideline for improving strength is to exercise each major muscle group at least twice a week. This could be performed as a full-body workout or by doing a split routine performing upper body exercises twice a week, then lower body exercises twice a week.”
Here are more helpful tips to get started:
- Warm up. Always begin with a light warm-up such as riding a stationary bike or an elliptical machine. Five to 10 minutes should be sufficient.
- Sets are key. Three sets of an exercise with eight to 12 repetitions has been the gold standard for an effective strength program. However, finding time to exercise may be a challenge. Recent research shows that many people see results with one or two sets of eight to 15 repetitions of a particular exercise.
- Push it. Pushing the muscle to fatigue is a key factor. Choose a weight that is heavy enough to fatigue your muscles in eight to 15 repetitions. As exercise becomes easier, you can progressively increase the amount of resistance.
- Variety is the spice of life … and muscle building. As you get stronger, try varying the exercises you perform. Different exercises or varying the weight training equipment in your routine should keep your program challenging.
The important thing is to find an activity that you enjoy. With consistency, you’ll shed that quarantine weight in no time.