Want to look good — and feel even better? Try strength training. You’ll build strength, improve your muscle tone and boost your self-esteem. Here’s how.
You know exercise is good for you. You look for ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, and you set aside time for longer workouts at least a few times a week. But if your aerobic workouts aren’t balanced by a proper dose of strength training, you’re missing out on a key component of overall health and fitness.
Despite its reputation as a “guy” or “jock” thing, strength training is important for everyone. With a regular strength training program, you can reduce your body fat, increase your lean muscle mass and burn calories more efficiently.
Use it or lose it
Muscle mass naturally diminishes with age. “If you don’t do anything to replace the muscle you lose, you’ll increase fat,” says Edward Laskowski, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., and co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center. “But strength training can help you preserve and enhance your muscle mass — at any age.”
Strength training also helps you:
- Develop strong bones. By stressing your bones, strength training increases bone density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. If you already have osteoporosis, strength training can lessen its impact.
- Control your body fat. As you lose muscle, your body burns calories less efficiently — which can result in weight gain. The more toned your muscles, the easier it is to control your weight.
- Reduce your risk of injury. Building muscle protects your joints from injury. It also helps you maintain flexibility and balance — and remain independent as you age.
- Boost your stamina. As you grow stronger, you won’t fatigue as easily.
- Improve your sense of well-being. Strength training can boost your self-confidence, improve your body image and reduce the risk of depression.
- Get a better night’s sleep. People who strength train regularly are less likely to struggle with insomnia.
Consider the options
Most fitness centers offer various resistance machines, free weights and other tools for strength training. But you don’t need to invest in a membership or an expensive home gym to reap the benefits of strength training. Hand-held weights or homemade weights — such as plastic soft drink bottles filled with water or sand — may work just as well.
Resistance bands are another inexpensive option. These elastic-like cords, tubes or bands offer weight-like resistance when you pull on them. They’re available in different tensions to fit a range of abilities. Of course, your own body weight counts, too. Try push-ups, pull-ups, abdominal crunches and leg squats.