While many people understand the importance of staying active, they often don’t realize that strength training is also a key part of maintaining their health. It’s not just about getting toned, but strength training slows the muscle loss and bone loss that accompany aging. It also helps you improve your joint flexibility, improves your balance, and decreases your blood pressure.
Strength training is also an important part of any weight loss regimen. While you can lose weight by simply creating a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you take in), you burn more calories when you have stronger muscles. Your muscles need energy to work, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn during the course of the day. For every pound of muscle you have – even if you do nothing else all day – you burn an extra 35 to 50 calories each day.
Some women are hesitant to start weight training because they are concerned they will end up building big, bulky muscles. Don’t worry, though. Women typically don’t have the hormones needed (testosterone and others) to bulk up. When women build muscle, they look toned, not built.
If you’re interested in starting strength training, there are a few different ways to begin. Read about them below and think about what would fit you, your personality, and your lifestyle best.
Do you need to be accountable? I recently read a story about a woman who pays for a gym membership, even though she has all the gym equipment she needs at home. Why? She needs to be held accountable, and she knows with the gear in her basement, she can always put it off another day. But when she pays for a gym membership, she refuses to let that money go to waste!
If that’s you, you have a few different options. Your local Y probably has lower prices than the fancy gym in your neighborhood, and they have plenty of equipment to get you started. The Y also has family memberships, and many provide child care.
Some people prefer the camaraderie of like-minded people at a big gym. At the Y there will be kids groups and (maybe) crowds, and it’s certainly a no-frills approach to working out. At a gym, though, you will find people who are mostly strength training or working on their cardio on treadmills and ellipticals. Your local gym probably has later hours than the Y also, and many are open 24 hours.
Do you want to work out with your own gear? Many people are more comfortable working at home, which also affords them plenty of flexibility in terms of fitting a workout into their schedule. For some, as I wrote in a previous article about sticking to a new exercise plan, part of the process is gearing up for the big change. It gets them excited about the new change when they buy the equipment, get shoes, and move toward a new goal.
If that’s you, don’t worry – you don’t have to buy a home gym! Start small with dumbbells and DVDs. A good starter set for dumbbells if you haven’t worked out with weights much before is the Altus Athletic 32-Pound Dumbbell Set which you can find at a heavily discounted price on amazon. It has a pair of 3, 5, and 8 pound weights, which is a good place to start. If you know you’re ready for heavier weights, check out the Cap Barbell 40-Pound Dumbbell Set, which goes up to 35 pounds on a single bar and is also very reasonably priced on amazon.
You can also get DVDs that will guide you in your workouts if you aren’t sure where to begin. Some libraries carry these, and you can borrow them for free. Just be sure to look for ones that aren’t more than a few years old and make sure they target all three areas: upper body, lower body and core.
There are a couple of good beginner strength training DVDs that I would recommend, and they’re fairly inexpensive. One is called Step By Step Strength Training. It covers upper body, lower body, and core, and although it’s set up as a 30-minute program, you can do as few or as many as you have time for. Another one, called The Great Dumbbell DVD not only has a great workout routine, but also is very specific in teaching form for those of you who are new and want to make sure you’re doing it right!
If you have some experience with weight training and want something a bit more advanced, check out Tracey Staehle’s Sculpt Sweatfest DVD This one not only covers more advanced strength training with dumbbells, but it also incorporates moves with an exercise ball and BOSU.
Do you just want to get started without buying any equipment? If you think you want to start strength training, but you’re not ready to spend money on any weights or other gear, that’s okay. There are countless exercises you can do using your own body weight as resistance, and you can even use items from around your house (books, canned foods, etc.) to add weight.
Pickthebrain.com has a good outline of simple and effective exercises you can do at home without weights. That’s a good place to start, but if it gets too repetitive, just search the web for bodyweight exercises, and you’ll find more options. There’s an excellent book called You Are Your Own Gym: The Bible of Bodyweight Exercises that does an excellent job of teaching exercises that use your body as resistance. Exercises are divided into four groups (push, pull, core, and legs & glutes), and you workout just four times per week (one group per day). One thing I really like about this book is that there are different programs for different levels, so you don’t need to figure out which ones to do or in what combination. It really is a great place to start if you don’t want to buy equipment, you don’t want to have to figure out any workout routines, and you just want to get started!
Regardless of your age, weight, or fitness level, it is never too late to get started with strength training. Your body will burn more calories, even when you are at rest, you’ll increase your metabolism, and you’ll make your physical body more resistant to injury.
I hope you decide to get started on weight training if you don’t already do it! And if you know someone who is thinking about getting started, I would love it if you would share this post with them too! If you’ve come across some good workout DVDs or have other recommendations to share, let us know in the comments!