Forget cardio. It’s time to start picking up the weights if you’re a girl looking to blast fat and tone your figure. Stephanie Ayre explains how strength training works.
Over the last few years there’s been a huge shift in the way we train. Gone is the cardio grind for those looking to whittle their waist and tone their figure fast — now both men and women use resistance workouts to help build strength and muscle, blast fat and ultimately improve their health and fitness. But there’s more to it than just toned legs and abs.
According to a study from the University of Sydney, there is a strong link between resistance training and longevity. Participants who perform two strength-based workouts each week lowered their chances of premature death by 23% and were 31% less likely to die of a cancer-related death.
In fact, these types of workouts are now getting labelled just as important as, if not better than, aerobic activities like running and cycling. Here’s why.
Strength training uses resistance to work your muscles. This causes tiny tears to the muscle cells that are quickly repaired by the body, growing the muscles and increasing their strength, endurance and size.
Training your muscles this way releases a cascade of hormones and chemicals in your body. Research has shown hormones released help to protect your brain against ageing and dementia, maintaining brain cells, and even growing new ones. They also protect against Type 2 diabetes by regulating and stabilising blood sugar levels, and produce an anti-tumour response, which may be the reason why research has shown it to be effective against cancer.
Basically, building muscle tissue creates and collates body-beneficial chemicals, hormones, insulin, proteins and nutrients that keep you in optimal health.
Why you should add resistance to your workout
Strength has a remarkable way of squeezing into all aspects of your life — in and out of the gym. Here’s how.
Resistance training has now been shown to be radically more effective for weight loss than cardiovascular exercise. Strength training boosts muscle mass, which increases your metabolism — the rate at which you burn calories. Do the math: the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you’ll burn, even at rest. Clever.
While strength training will leave you noticeably stronger, it can also help fight the natural decline in muscle tissue and bone density that occurs with ageing, preventing diseases like osteoporosis. When doing resistance training, your muscles pull on your bones, forcing the bone to produce more tissue, making them thicker and stronger. Not to mention strengthening your ligaments and tendons and increasing your flexibility in the process, which ultimately means you’ll be less likely to injure yourself during everyday activities.
Any type of exercise will help you stick to a diet plan, but research has found that participants who took part in a three-hours-a-week strength training program ate far less than those who did no exercise or cardio only.
Break a sweat in the weight room and you’ll keep your cool under pressure. Resistance training has the amazing ability to pick you up when you’re feeling down. Just by working your muscles, feel-good endorphins are released, helping fight off anxiety, stress and depression.
Aerobic activity might have been the traditional go-to for heart health, but we now know that resistance training has cardiovascular benefits too. With resistance training you can expect lowered blood pressure, increased blood flow to your extremities and other cardiovascular powers that help protect from heart disease. It’s like armour for your heart.
Not a fan of the treadmill? A fast-paced resistance workout like HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) can work your body just like cardio. This power duo of cardio and resistance will not only give your weight loss goals that extra boost, it will set you up for a long and healthy life. It’s a two-for-one workout deal.
Looking for a little more spring in your step? Adding an extra dose of weights to your routine works your fast-twitch muscles (the muscle fibres responsible for producing power), giving you that extra hit of energy to help you smash-out your workouts.
Muscles don’t just strengthen the body, they strengthen the mind too. Research has found that just six months of resistance training was enough to enhance cognitive function. In fact, regular weight sessions resulted in better short and long-term memory, improved verbal reasoning and a better attention span. Maybe brains are in the biceps after all.
Busting the Myths
With so many positive effects there’s no denying that we should all be incorporating resistance training into our fitness schedule. But before you cringe at the thought of deadlifts and barbells, there are plenty of other ways to train resistance-style that aren’t powerlifting.
Resistance training can be yoga, bodyweight exercises like squats and push-ups and using effective tools like TRX bands, medicine balls, kettlebells and dumbbells.
And if you’re hesitant to step inside the weights room because you fear you may “bulk” in size, don’t worry. It’s going to take more than a few weekly bicep curls and bar squats to become oversized and muscle-bound.
While there’s still an established place in a well-rounded fitness program for aerobic activities like running and cycling, the powerful benefits of resistance training can’t be overlooked.