I see it all the time. People say that they want to get in shape, buy a gym membership, get all amped up… and then spend an hour on the elliptical. Bored to tears. They rarely lose the weight, they barely improve their fitness levels, they dread the gym, and they ultimately lose motivation. Read on to find out how to boost your metabolism, build some muscle, and burn calories without grinding away at the treadmill.
Resistance training can involve training with weights, machines, TRX/suspension trainers, and even your own bodyweight (pushups). Without getting too far into all of that, let’s go over why you should be lifting weights.
- Strength training can increase your metabolism by building muscle. Most people are shocked to learn that, so read it again. Muscle has a higher resting metabolic rate than fat tissue. It requires more calories to maintain muscle mass than it does fat. Therefore, the more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolism is. In addition, lifting weights has been proven to boost your metabolism for 24-48 hours after working out. You’re burning more calories without doing anything!
- Increased bone mass. This is very important for women and the elderly. Ladies, you will reach your maximum bone density by age 30.For men, age 40. That’s it! You need to make your bones as strong as you can before age 30/40, because after that, it’s all downhill. Past age 30 in women and age 40 in men, bone mass declines annually. It is a misconception that people “fall and break their hip.” They break their hip and fall. What’s even more tragic is that 1/3 of such cases lead to fatal pneumonia. The top three causes of osteoporosis are estrogen deficiency, inadequate calcium intake, and a lack of physical activity. Two out of three factors are under your own control!
- In women, declines in bone mass may be even more pronounced because of the menstrual cycle. After menopause, women become 2-5 times more likely to experience osteoporosis.Weight lifting, especially exercises that load the spine or use large muscle groups (termed structural exercises, i.e., squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and the various Olympic lifts), has been shown to increase or maintain bone mass.In other words, you need to place stress on the bones in order to increase their density.
- With that in mind, let’s take a look at the elliptical. The elliptical is designed to minimize the impact of weight-bearing activity on the body. This means that there are very few forces applied to the bones of the lower body, let alone the spine. If you are at risk for osteoporosis or osteopenia, have a serious talk with your doctor or a personal trainer about weight bearing activity (resistance training).
- Increased muscle size and strength. This is the main appeal for athletes and men, but it holds true for women looking to toneas well. I’m always amused by girls who try to “tone up” their arms when they’ve never worked their arms out. You cannot tone what you do not have to begin with. You won’t have the body of Gina Carano or Jillian Michaels by “toning”, guaranteed. There is a large population of beautiful, athletic women that lift weights without looking bulky or masculine. Remember: the larger the muscle, the higher the metabolism.
- Stronger tendons and ligaments. Strength training places stress upon your connective tissues, such as your tendons and ligaments. This stress is the stimulus they need to thicken and become stronger. As a result, you can become more resilient to injury and spend more time doing the things that you love. The same principles that apply to increasing bone mass apply here as well.
- Stimulate hormonal release. As we age, we produce and secrete less hormones. Specifically, human growth hormone and testosterone. Growth hormone (somatotropin) is responsible for growth-promotion and metabolic actions. In adults, growth hormone primarily targets bones and skeletal muscles. It promotes protein synthesis but it also promotes the burning of fat for fuel. Testosterone is responsible for muscle protein retention and changes in muscle size.Weight lifting has been proven to increase the release of both of these hormones.
- Weight lifting exercises that use large muscle groups for intense activity have been shown to be particularly effective. According to the NSCA, growth hormone release is increased in response to intense sets of ten repetitions with one minute rest in between sets. Testosterone responds best to heavy resistance (85-95% of your maximum effort or 1RM) at a moderate or high volume of sets. So if you’re not squatting or deadlifting, start now!
- Improve insulin resistance. A recent research review at the University of Texas at Austin found that “several months of weight training has been found to significantly lower the insulin response to a glucose challenge without affecting glucose tolerance.” In other words, weight training can decrease insulin resistance and help control insulin response. It is well known that insulin resistance is a precondition to developing Type II Diabetes. Many of these beneficial changes are associated with changes in the muscle fiber itself.
- Weight lifting burns calories. It seems obvious, but some people don’t associate weight lifting with burning calories. While it’s true that bodybuilding won’t burn tons of calories, circuit training can. Pick exercises that use large muscle groups (noticing the trend yet?), take minimal rest, and work as hard as you can. It’ll tax your heart and lungs, build muscle, and burn calories all at the same time.The best part? It’s fun and not at all monotonous. An easy way to do this is to pick 3 exercises and cycle between performing 10 repetitions of each for 5 minutes. For example, 10 pushups, 10 bodyweight squats, and 10 inverted rows performed as many times as possible over 5 minutes will definitely burn some calories.
- Appropriate for all ages and sexes.Regardless of who you are, you can increase your strength from 25%-100% in 3-6 months, dependent upon training status. Ladies, don’t be afraid of becoming bulky. Most women lack the hormones needed to become large and muscular. For the elderly, it’s a great way to regain independence as well as strengthen your bones and joints.
- Variability. The beautiful thing about resistance training is that it can be adapted for almost any goal. Strength, power, muscular endurance, hypertrophy (muscle growth), and even cardiorespiratory endurance through intense circuit training. In contrast, aerobic exercise is fairly limited in it’s applications. By changing the intensity of the exercise (sets and reps) and the length of the rest period, the purpose is changed.
For power, train with high intensity, low volume, and plenty of rest.
For strength, train with high intensity, moderate volume, and plenty of rest.
For hypertrophy, train with moderate intensity, high volume, and little rest.
For muscular endurance, train with a low intensity, a high volume, and very little rest.
So, these are all of the reasons why you should do some sort of strength training. You won’t
necessarily get big and bulky. However, you will become stronger, look better, and most
importantly – feel better.
Ivy, JL. “Role of exercise training in the prevention and treatment of insulin resistance and non-
insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.” Journal of Sports Medicine, 1997 Nov; 24(5):321-36.
“Physiology of Sport and Exercise, Third Edition” by Jack H. Wilmore and David L. Costill.
“Human Anatomy & Physiology, Eighth Edition” by Elaine N. Marieb and Katja Hoehn.
“Essentials of Strength & Conditioning, Third Edition” by Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W.
Earle, National Strength & Conditioning Association.