Losing weight usually takes a combination of exercise and a healthy diet. Aerobic exercise — the kind that makes you breathe hard — is vitally important. But did you know that strength training can also help take off the pounds?
People with more muscle burn more energy even when they're doing little or nothing. Strength training can push your calorie-burning rate up by as much as 15 percent.
In addition, diets that cut way down on calories can cause your body to lose lean muscle mass along with fat. Strength training, while eating a moderate low-fat diet, can help you lose the fat but keep the muscle.
Besides weight loss, strength training can help keep your bones healthy and improve your balance and coordination. It may also help reduce the symptoms of chronic diseases, like arthritis.
Getting started with weights
If you have a chronic disease or have not been active, see a doctor before you start a strengthening program. Examples of chronic conditions include diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and high blood pressure.
Depending on how fit you are, simply raising and lowering your limbs may be enough to start. If you can do weights, start with a small amount initially and add additional weight gradually. You can get injured if you begin with weights that are too heavy for you.
Some experts recommend doing eight to 15 repetitions in a row. Wait for a minute. Then do another set of eight to 15, with the same weights. Take three seconds to lift or push the weight into position. Hold it there for one second, and then take three seconds to let it down. Controlling the movement is very important.
Set up a program that includes muscles in all parts of your body. The major muscle groups are the legs, trunk, shoulders, arms, upper back and chest. Don't neglect one group in favor of others.
You may have heard of using soup cans or weights made of a sand-filled milk jug. Some experts say that's not a good idea, though. Such substitutes are not designed to hold enough weight. And their shape may get in the way of you doing the exercise the right way.
How much activity do you need?
Experts recommend that you do strength training at least two days a week.
Gradually add more weight over time. If you don't add enough to challenge yourself, you won't get the benefits of strengthening exercise. It should feel somewhere between hard and very hard to do the exercises. If you can't move the weight at least eight times in a row, it's too heavy. If you can lift it more than 15 times in a row without much effort, it's too light.
None of the exercises should hurt. If you are exhausted, have sore joints or pulled muscles after weightlifting, you've gone too far. Feeling a little tired and having sore muscles for a few days is normal.
Enjoy the results
One of the benefits of weight training is that many people see improvements fast. You're likely to notice changes in your strength and muscle tone right away. The down side is that it becomes harder to notice progress as the weeks go by. The gains come more slowly.
Just remember, though, that your hard work is not only making you stronger. It's helping to keep away those extra pounds.
Created on 11/19/2003
Updated on 01/02/2013
- United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Sample strength activity plan for beginners.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Strength training for older adults: Introduction.
- United States Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity guidelines for Americans. Chapter 4: Active adults.
- American Council on Exercise. Fit facts: Successful weight control.