Sometimes clients ask me, “If I only have time for one type of exercise, what should I do?” Truth be told, all three components of fitness – aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility training - are essential for different reasons, but getting your heart rate up is likely the most effective for weight and fat loss. At least that’s the conclusion of newly released research, funded by the National Institutes of Health.
In the study, over 230 previously inactive overweight or obese men and women between the ages of 18 and 70 were randomly assigned to one of three eight-month fitness regimes. The first exercised aerobically at about 70-85% of their maximum heart rate for 45 minutes three days a week. The second performed resistance training three days a week, which included three sets of 8-12 repetitions on eight machines, to target major muscle groups. The third performed both workout routines.
Scientists found that the volunteers who exercised aerobically, and those who performed both aerobic and strength training, lost greater amounts of weight and body fat, and whittled their waistlines more than those who simply completed resistance training. In fact, the resistance only group actually gained weight, due to an increase in muscle mass.
Based on this study, if your number one goal is weight loss, grab your walking shoes and get outside, or jump on the treadmill. But for but optimal health, carve out some time for strength training, which you can accomplish without going to the gym (check out my previous post about the worthwhile benefits and a simple home-based program) and end each session by stretching, for all the reasons outlined here. If you’re having trouble getting started, check out my post about readiness. And if you have a personal success story, or you’ve found a new favorite way to be active, please share it with me via Twitter or Facebook.
Once you’ve comfortably settled into a cardio program, when it feels like a normal part of your lifestyle, I highly recommend adding a strength training component to your fitness routine.
In a nutshell, strength training involves using a muscle, or more than one muscle, to resist or overcome a force of some kind. To create resistance, you can use a number of things, including: free weights (dumbbells or barbells); resistance bands or balls, or your own body weight (push ups, crunches, etc.).
The benefits of strength training are numerous. This important piece of the fitness puzzle:
- Reduces your risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Helps control your blood sugar levels
- Prevents or manages arthritis
- Helps control weight by preserving calorie-burning muscle
- Keeps your bones strong and healthy
- Reduces low back pain
- Cuts your chances of falling by improving your strength, balance and coordination
- Reduces stress
- Improves sleep better quality
- Helps you stay strong and active as you age
A effective strength training program has six key elements. It should:
- Be comfortable to perform and in no way painful.
- Include 8 to 10 separate exercises that work each of your major muscle groups: hips; thighs; legs; back; chest; shoulders; arms; and abdomen
- Involve safe movements with proper posture and body form.
- Allow you to reach muscle fatigue (feeling as if you can’t complete another repetition) within 12 repetitions.
- Allow enough rest between sets, so you can perform the next exercise with proper form in a slow, controlled manner.
- Involve proper breathing techniques – breathing out as you perform a repetition, and breathing in as you return to the starting position.
Ready to get started? Check out this great resource from the American College of Sports Medicine - a basic strength training program you can perform a few times a week in the comfort of your own home.