What’s “strength training”? It’s also called muscle-strengthening activity, resistance training, weight training, and resistance exercise. Examples include lifting weights, work with resistance bands, digging, shoveling, yoga, push-ups, chin-ups, and other exercises that use your body weight or other loads for resistance.
Strength training three times a week increases your strength and endurance, allows you to sculpt your body to an extent, and counteracts the loss of lean body mass (muscle) so often seen during efforts to lose excess weight. It also helps maintain your functional abilities as you age. For example, it’s a major chore for many 80-year-olds to climb a flight of stairs, carry in a bag of groceries from the car, or vacuum a house. Strength training helps maintain these abilities that youngsters take for granted.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “To gain health benefits, muscle-strengthening activities need to be done to the point where it’s hard for you to do another repetition without help. A repetition is one complete movement of an activity, like lifting a weight or doing a sit-up. Try to do 8–12 repetitions per activity that count as 1 set. Try to do at least 1 set of muscle-strengthening activities, but to gain even more benefits, do 2 or 3 sets.”
If this is starting to sound like Greek to you, consider instruction by a personal trainer at a local gym or health club. That’s a good investment for anyone unfamiliar with strength training, in view of its great benefits and the potential harm or waste of time from doing it wrong. Alternatives to a personal trainer would be help from an experienced friend or instructional DVD. If you’re determined to go it alone, Internet resources may help, but be careful. Consider “Growing Stronger: Strength Training for Older Adults” (http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/downloads/growing_stronger.pdf). Don’t let the title turn you off if you’re young—its a good introduction to strength training for folks of any age. Doug Robb’s blog, HealthHabits, is a wonderful source of strength training advice (http://www.healthhabits.ca/).
Current strength training techniques are much different than what you remember from high school 30 years ago—modern methods are better. Some of the latest research suggests that strength training may be even more beneficial than aerobic exercise.