Friday, February 11, 2011

Strength Training

I always thought that if I were to add strength training to my workout, that I would get bulky and too muscular for being female. Not only was I wrong in that sense, but strength training improves althletic performance, fat loss, muscle growth (not as dramatic for women as it is for men) and improves overall body mobility.

If you are a woman, and are hesitant to start strength training, don't be. Women's bodies are different than men and we do not have the hormones that men do that enable them to become so muscular. Without a supplement, such as creatine, women will not be able to build the muscles that men can. There are some great benefits to strength training for both women and men, such as:
  • Improving overall fitness, athletic performance, body composition, and metabolism
  • Reducing injuries
  • Control blood sugar and reducing the risk for diabetes
  • Reducing blood pressure and heart rate which improves the efficiency of completing everyday activies
  • Increasing muscle mass, and reducing fat mass
Strength training also improves join stability which reduces stress put on the joints during high intensity workouts. It also strengthens tendons and ligaments, which greatly reduces your chance for injury.

There are many different ways you can participate in strength training exercises. Some are more advanced than others, and you should determine which method is right for you.

Weight Machines
These are a great option for people who do not have much stability or core strength, such as elderly folks, or people with certain disabilities. Using a machine is convenient and provides enough support that a spotter is not needed. Machines are expensive, however, and unless you have one already or have a gym membership, they may not be practical for some individuals. Another downside to weight machines is that you can only do exercises in one plane of motion, which does not improve stability or core strength.

Free Weights
Dumbbells and barbells are examples of free weights. Unlike weight machines, these greatly improve stability and core strength, in addition to muscle size and power, but may require a spotter for certain exercises. These are not generally recommended for beginners who are just starting a strength training program. Correct technique is imperative to avoid injury. Free weights are much more inexpensive than a weight machine, but without proper technique individuals are prone to injury.

Cable Machines
Cable machines are basically a mix between weight machines and free weights. This type of machine can be used in multiple planes of motion, increasing stability and core strength, but do not require a spotter. Proper technique is also important with this machine, so that muscles are not stressed and injured. Cable machines are also fairly expensive.

Elastic Resistance
Resistance bands are a great option for beginners and for rehabilitative clients. While these will not improve strength as much as weights, they are ideal for improving muscular endurance and joint stabilization. There are different elasticity levels available, for a very inexpensive cost, for different exercises. They are versatile and can be easily transported for those individuals who travel frequently. These are also ideal for people who have high blood pressure or who are pregnant, as most of the exercises can be done in a standing position.

Body Weight
Body weight is the most inexpensive option, as it only requires your body! Pushups, lunges and crunches are some examples of body weight exercises. The downside is that you will hit a plateau fairly quickly, as you cannot (or should not) increase your body weight to account for the improvements to your muscle strength. Body weight exercises are great for people who do not have machines, or free weights to use, or who are on a tight budget.

Preventing Injury
The most important things to remember when doing strength training are to breathe and to use proper posture. Without proper posture, the muscles you are working out will put excessive stress on your joints, and your muscles will not be worked out in the correct way. Make sure your feet are straight, your knees are not "knocking" into each other, your back is not arched, your shoulders are not rounded, and your head is not forward. If you find yourself doing any of these, make sure you fix them quickly, and if necessary, reduce the amount of weight you are lifting or reduce the amount of reps.

Breathing is just as important as having good posture. People with high blood pressure should especially take note. Make sure you are exhaling during the most strenuous part of the exercise. For example, when doing a push up, inhale on your way down, exhale on your way up. Make sure you do not hold your breath at any time!

Another important tip is to start out slow, and with lighter weights. If you find that certain weights are a bit too light, increase them slightly, but don't go too heavy. Work your way up slowly to avoid stressing joints and muscles.

Tip of the day - Don't be afraid to change your weight if you find that you are using one that is too light or too heavy. If you are in the middle of an exercise and are struggling with your current weight, take a break and pick up a lighter weight. And have fun!

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