When so many people begin their fitness journey, they start with basic cardio exercise like running, cycling, and elliptical. There’s a lot of great cardio options out there, but cardio may not be enough to get you to your dream body. Cardio can be a great way to burn calories and is simple enough for any experience level. Beginners can hop on a bike and go at their own pace. While this is a great first step, doing cardio alone will generally lead to an exercise plateau.
If weight loss is the entire goal, then cardio may be the right choice for you, but if you also want to tone and build strength, you’ll want to combine that cardio with resistance based exercises. Resistance exercise/ lifting weights focuses on muscular engagement. You can focus on specific muscle groups and improve the engagement and overall strength of those muscles.
So why do people avoid weight training on their fitness journey?
When we do resistance training, the focus is to improve strength and gain muscle. Muscle weighs more than fat, though, and as soon as people see the scale go up, they often stop exercising. It’s normal to feel that level of frustration when you are working really hard and the scale keeps going up. It’s important to find other benchmarks of success when starting an exercise program. Taking measurements can be a great idea and then you can focus on that instead. I will often have clients keep a journal and write about how they feel each day. Did you feel more energized? Did you feel strong? Are you starting to notice improved mobility or stamina? Making your health journey about more than a number on the scale can truly help keep you working towards your goals. It also gives you constant mile markers you can celebrate.
Another big reason people avoid resistance training is that it can be intimidating. If you have never lifted weights before, you may feel completely confused about what to do in that free weight section of the gym. I always recommend that people start with using resistance machines on low weight vs. free weights. Those resistance machines like the leg press, leg extension, shoulder press, etc. typically have images on them to show how to sit and position yourself, as well as, highlighting which muscles you should feel engaging. It’s a great way to start building strength in a controlled setting while you also build up confidence!
Why does it matter if I build up strength or not?
Even if weight loss is your main reason for exercising, adding in weighted training actually helps with that, beyond just burning calories while training. You may not know that the more muscle you put on, the higher your metabolic rate is, which means the more muscles you have the more calories you burn in your day-to-day activities. What a great bonus!
Weight lifting and other exercise also helps to improve your reactiveness, which can help you be less of a fall risk. We often trip over curbs or other things and having strong reactive muscles will allow you to quickly change direction and recover before falling and possibly injuring yourself. This becomes increasingly important as we age and our natural reaction time slows down. Being strong also helps to keep from being injured if you do end up falling.
Now that I know why to exercise, how do I make it happen?
Deciding on an exercise plan that incorporates weight training can be confusing at first, but it is easier than it seems. A great way for people to get in both is to have cardio as part of your warm-up or cool down along with stretching. You can then add a 20-30 minute weight lifting circuit and get the best of both worlds while getting a very efficient workout. Some people prefer to alternate days and they will designate some days for longer cardio sessions and some days with weight training. Find what works best for you!
Regardless of how you plan to start incorporating weight training, start slowly. It’s important to focus on learning the basics, making sure you are engaging the necessary muscles and that you are doing the exercises correctly. This is when it could be really helpful to find a personal trainer or attend some introductory weight lifting classes. There are a lot of resources available to make sure you can succeed. Knowing how to correctly perform these exercises and that you don’t over-do it, will make you less likely to be injured and that you can continue building those skills.
Rest and recovery!
It’s also just as important to make sure you get enough rest and recovery to allow for muscular repair. You don’t need to be doing hours of training a day. You can focus on an hour of training and making sure to rest between sessions. Perhaps alternating upper and lower body exercises to reduce the risk of over-training. People will often start off their workout journey and over do it and injure themselves. Then you lose steam and some people will give up on training all together!
Getting those important 7-9 hours of sleep a night is also important as a lot of muscular repair happens during the night. If you don’t get enough sleep besides risking injury you may start to feel a lot of fatigue or weakness in those muscles. You want to make sure to set yourself up for the best exercise sessions that will lead to more growth.
So if your goal is to build strength, muscle and overall function of the body, add in that resistance training and you’ll start to see a lot of progress. It’s all about being consistent and finding what will work best for you!
Until next time… and remember Fitness is for all!