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Muscle Strengthening


Besides regular aerobic activity, good health and wellness comes from doing muscle strengthening exercises to strengthen your muscles at least two days a week. These activities should work all the major muscle groups of your body. That means your legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms.

Muscle Strengthening

You can do muscles strengthening activities on the same or different days that you do aerobic activity. Do whatever works best for you and your schedule. But do keep in mind that muscle strengthening activities don't count toward your aerobic activity total.

There are many ways you can strengthen your muscles, whether you prefer to do so at home or at the gym. You may want to try the following:

  • Lifting weights.
  • Working with resistance bands.
  • Doing exercises that use your body weight for resistance (i.e., push ups, sit ups).
  • Heavy gardening (i.e., digging, shoveling).
  • Yoga.

To gain health benefits, muscle strengthening activities need to be done to the point where you find it difficult to do another repetition with your weight(s) without help. A repetition - commonly known as a "rep" among weight lifters - is one complete movement of an activity, like lifting a weight in an bicep curl, or doing a sit-up. Try to do 8 to 12 repetitions per activity that count as 1 set. When you're new at muscle strengthening, try to do at least one full set of muscle strengthening activities. As you grow your strength, you can continue to gain even more benefits by doing two or three sets of each exercise.

What if I have a disability?
If you are an adult with a disability, regular physical activity can provide you with important health benefits, like a stronger heart, lungs, and muscles, improved mental health, and a better ability to do everyday tasks. It's best to talk with your health care provider before you begin a physical activity routine. Try to get advice from a professional with experience in physical activity and disability. They can tell you more about the amounts and types of physical activity that are appropriate for you and your abilities.

Note: Please see the listings of exercises for individual illustrations and instructions.

Muscle Strengthening to Lose Weight

Our metabolism slows down as we age, increasing our belt size and the resulting weight can lead to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and several forms of cancer that are associated with obesity. But, you can do something about it before it's too late!

Most of us have been told that muscle strengthening does not burn as many calories as aerobic exercise (running, step-benching, treadmill, walking, biking, swimming, etc.). Therefore, many who want to lose weight will focus on aerobics for cardiovascular exercise, while missing out on the many benefits of muscle strengthening.

Don't misunderstand; cardiovascular exercise is essential to long-term health but it is important to understand that it does little to offset our slowing metabolism as we age.

Weight Lifter

Past age 30 or so, most people start losing muscle mass. Because muscle is so metabolically active (which means it requires a lot of calories to do its thing), a drop in muscle weight means your body needs fewer calories. Cardiovascular exercise, although good for burning calories, does not beef up muscles the way weight training can.

To implement a consistent strength training program, do the following.

  1. Do some muscle strengthening exercises 2 or 3 days a week, and be sure to work your entire body.
  2. Be patient. It may take several months to see the desired effect but remember that benefits begin within 2 weeks...working they way outward.
  3. Challenge yourself. Use a bit more weight than you think you can handle, to make muscle tissue stronger and denser over time. Most beginners go too easy.
  4. Have a qualified personal trainer evaluate your regime. You do not have to join a gym. Trainers are widely available and can set up a home program for you.

Women and Muscle Strengthening

Resistance exercises involving weight lifting may prove as important as aerobic exercise for women in fighting weight loss. Health scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Arizona State University in Tempe found that resistance exercises push the body to burn calories for up to two hours after the workout.

Aerobic exercise or jogging typically burn more calories during the workout than weight training but increase energy expenditure for less than an hour afterward.

Resistance training could have a more lasting effect on metabolism than aerobic exercise. It burns fat and increases muscle mass.

Researchers studied a dozen women ages 24 to 34. On one day, the women did weightlifting exercises such as chest presses, leg presses, and bicep curls, while on another day, they sat still and watched a movie. On average, the exercisers burned more than three times as many calories that were burned while watching the movie.

We studied regular women, not super fitness enthusiasts, so these results may apply to most moderately active women," researcher Binzen says.

For maximum workout, the researchers suggest a combination of both aerobic exercises and resistance training.

The researchers reported these findings in The Journal of Medicine, Science Sports and Exercise.

Caution: Over-Exercising

Would you believe that you can over-exercise and if you do, you can actually make your muscles smaller? It's true! When you exercise your muscles, you create micro-tears in your muscles which build back even stronger while you're at rest. If you don't give your muscles rest, they won't repair themselves and get stronger. It is true that maintaining or developing lean muscle will increase your metabolism, so you don't want to give it up, but you don't want to over-do it, either. Listen to your body when it's tired and sore and give it rest. Tearing down more muscle tissue will only slow down your metabolism and slow down your fat loss!

How Much Exercise is Too Much?

  1. Do you feel guilty if a day goes by when you don't work out?
  2. Are you depressed if you are unable to exercise?
  3. Do you feel tired and lethargic, yet still have trouble sleeping?
  4. Do you have injuries that don't seem to heal?
  5. Are you reluctant to take time off to heal injuries?
  6. Are you ignoring aspects of your work, social life or family life?
  7. Do you increase or decrease your exercise, based on your weight or what you have eaten?
  8. Do you feel compelled to work out even if you are tired?
  9. Do you suffer from insomnia, undesired weight loss, fatigue, lethargy, irritability, loss of menstrual periods, multiple chronic injuries, or stress fractures?

If you answered "Yes" to several of the above questions, you are probably exercising too much. The American College of Sports Medicine has issued the following guidelines for physical activity:

Frequency - 2-3 days per week.
Intensity/Duration - 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions; 10 to 12 total exercises, one for each major muscle group (chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, calves and core - abs and low back)

Frequency - 3-5 days per week.
Intensity - 50-85 percent estimated maximum heart rate, or exercise perceived to be "somewhat hard" or "hard"
Duration - 20-60 minutes of continuous exercise

How to Stop Over-Exercising

  • Focus on health and fitness versus appearance.
  • Trust your body cues. Listen when your body says "I'm tired," or "I ache."
  • Take rest days.
  • Avoid linking eating and exercise.
  • Don't let exercise determine your self-worth.
  • Vary the intensity of your workout.

Stuck in an Exercise Rut?

Just because you have a regimen, it doesn't have to be routine. The more different kinds of activity you do, the greater the odds you'll find a way to exercise and not get bored. Switching between exercises may also reduce the risk of injuries from repeated stress on the same parts of the body. And, variety means that regardless of changing seasons, locales, availability of exercise buddies, etc., you're more likely always to find a way to keep exercising.

Freebie: Simple Muscle Chart (PDF)

Download a Simple MUscle Chart you can print or keep on your computer to reference the different muscle groups in your body.

Back to Exercise!

Disclaimer: The material on this Web site is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or fitness professional. Please consult with your physician before beginning any fitness program or fat or weight reduction program. FitnessandFreebies.com takes no responsibility for individual results, or any claim made by a third party.