TIP: strength training and muscle mass development can increase resting metabolism, which in turn can help promote weight loss. Along with increasing metabolic rate to help burn calories, doing resistance exercises to grow muscle (“hypertrophy”)—say, by training biceps and triceps with dumbbell curls or strengthening your lower body with squats and lunges— conveys many health benefits, including:
- improved blood pressure
- decreased body fat
- maintenance or increase of lean body mass
- decreased risk of bone mineral loss
- decreased risk of low back pain
- improved performance of daily living activities of w/less physiologic stress
- maintenance of functional independence
Unfortunately, most women do little or no resistance training, depriving themselves of its many benefits. Some are afraid they will “bulk up” like a body builder, which doesn’t happen unless you’re trying to do that. Bodybuilders eat strict diets to promote muscle gain and practically live at the gym lifting very heavy weights. Your workout and wholesome diet will not produce the same effect. In fact, gaining muscle and decreasing fat makes you look leaner—not bigger. Read more about “bulking up” and other myths.
So how to start? First, understand that form is critical. Buy some dumbbells and learn the correct form (pick me!) for using them to increase upper body strength. Do pushups—starting on your knees or against the wall if regular pushups are too difficult—and squats. Get some resistance bands (picture), and do more push and pull exercises.
With dumbbells, select a weight where your muscle goes to fatigue (feels “noodle-y”) and you can’t hold correct form after 8-12 reps (10-15 for older women).
Don’t cheat yourself by picking too light a weight. Lifting heavier weights with fewer repetitions and working until you’re fatigued is more effective at producing lean muscle mass than lifting lighter weights with more repetitions—and it also takes less time! After 8-12 reps, rest for 1-2 minutes and try another set. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that you do 2-4 sets (of 8-12 reps) for each major muscle group in the upper and lower body and to rest a single muscle group at least 48 hours between sessions.
For most of my clients, I program a split weight routine, working upper body one day, lower body the next, though it is possible to do the upper and lower body on the same day. I prefer free weights over machines because they are more easily customizable to the person, they recruit assistance muscles for support, and they do not assume that “one size fits all.”
Progressive resistance training is a key part of making a long-term commitment to a total training program. Along with resistance exercise go cardiovascular conditioning, good nutrition, and lifestyle behaviors to support training goals, physical development, and progress.
–Keep moving, Jen Katt