Strength training is an effective, high-yield and convenient
way to achieve fitness. Unlike aerobics, which burns calories
only during and immediately after a workout, strength training
burns calories at all times. This occurs due to an increase in muscle mass, which increases the basal metabolism, burning additional calories even at rest. It’s like a bank account which earns interest on your
money while you sit back and relax. In short, strength training is a time-saving ‘backdoor’ to
effective weight control.
During strength training, the muscle burns calories anaerobically (without oxygen). Through this process glucose is broken down to lactic acid (or more precisely, lactate), which accumulates in
the muscle in sizable amounts. It is unclear whether this is responsible for the muscle soreness
which follows exercise. After the completion of exercise, lactic acid is converted to pyruvic acid
in the presence of oxygen. Pyruvic acid is then broken down to generate additional energy, or
enters other metabolic pathways.
Strength training typically consists of short bursts of muscle activity (e.g., lifting dumbbells), which exceed the muscle’s ability to generate energy aerobically. In order to be effective,
strength training must be intense enough to exceed the muscle’s aerobic capability and muscle
contractions must succeed each other in quick sequence, before the muscle had time to recover
from the previous contraction.
I initially started doing abdominal floor routines with the intention to improve my midsection. This was my first exposure to strength training. After about a month, the results were evident: My abs were toned, my waistline defined, and I perceived certain weight control benefits as well. In other words, I could
cut back on my aerobic exercise routine and still maintain the same weight.
I was never a great fan of aerobic workouts, especially the ones done indoors, with all the
sweating, huffing and puffing. Strength training struck me as being much more ‘elegant’ and controlled. It
was a type of workout that allowed me to maintain form and composure.
So gradually, I picked up other muscle toning workouts, mainly lifting weights. It proved to be a wonderful and time-efficient way of toning my entire upper body. For the lower body, I used
squats, lunges, or step-ups. At one time when I sustained a knee injury, I used floor routines
where the leg is lifted against resistance (dumbbells placed on the thigh and/or ankle weights).
This allowed me to continue my workout regimen in spite of a rather serious injury, which
required walking on crutches for about 2 months.
Initially, I used to combine aerobics with strength training for optimum weight control. In fact, I would still recommend this course of action if the goal is active weight loss (i.e., burning large
amounts of fat). However, in time I found that for weight maintenance, strength training alone was largely sufficient. That is to say, I managed to maintain my weight for the past 8 years simply by doing 10 minutes of strength training 3-4 times a week, combined with a sensible diet and normal outdoor activities (i.e., walking my dogs for 30 minutes a day). During my strength training workouts, I target a different muscle group each time, such that over the course of one week I cover all the
major muscles of the body.
- Time-saving and efficient tool for weight control
- Can be used by itself for weight maintenance (without necessarily adding aerobics)
- Effective tool for active weight loss, especially in combination with aerobics
- Esthetic benefits: Builds shapely, sculpted muscles
- Metabolic benefits: Increases the basal metabolism due to increased muscle mass. (Muscle burns a sizable amount of calories, even at rest.)
- Can be done in the comfort of your own home, using dumbbells, barbells, strength training machines, etc.
- Unlike aerobics, which requires at least 20 minutes of continuous exercise, strength training workouts can be broken up into 2-3 short intervals performed at different times of the day, requiring no more than 10 minutes at a time.
- Strength training is fairly inexpensive if using equipment such as dumbbells, barbell, etc. On the other hand, strength training machines such as Bowflex or Total Gym can be rather costly, ranging in the hundreds to thousands of dollars.
- Strength training can be combined with aerobics as part of the same workout, achieving additional cardiovascular and fat-burning benefits.
- After building up muscle mass via strength training, benefits continue for about 6
months, even if workouts are stopped. It takes about that amount of time for the muscles to
return to their previous state. During this time, basal metabolism remains increased,
which means the body burns additional calories just to stay alive. As muscle mass
diminishes over time, basal metabolism gradually tapers down to its pre-workout levels.
- The intensity of strength training workouts can be increased by increasing the resistance
in your workout (i.e., the weight of your dumbbells, or the resistance of your strength
training machine). This results in a more effective workout without increasing workout
- Strength training workouts can be modified to burn more calories without increasing the
intensity or the time of the workout, simply by changing the groups of muscles being
worked, or the type of moves, or the sequence of moves. Any such change in a routine is
likely to elicit the phenomenon of muscle confusion. And whenever muscle confusion
occurs, more calories are burned for the same degree of effort.
- Finally, strength training can be performed without any equipment whatsoever, simply by
using one’s own body weight. Certain types of moves lend themselves to this type of
workout, including pushups, squats, abdominal routines, leg lifts, torso lifts, gluteal
squeezes, pullies, etc.
By and large, strength training routines can be either:
- free form
- relying on strength training machines
Below is an analysis of each category, including advantages and drawbacks.
- Routines using equipment such as free weights (dumbbells, barbells, etc).
- Routines using one’s own body weight (pushups, squats, abdominal routines, pullies, etc)
Advantages of Free Form Strength Training:
- versatility (allows more degrees of freedom while executing the moves)
- low cost (limited to the cost of free weights, which are notably inexpensive)
- good results for relatively short workout times (20-30 minutes)
Drawbacks of Free Form Strength Training:
- less control as compared to strength training machines (more difficult to maintain proper form)
- possibly slightly higher risk of injury than with strength training machines
Follow this link to see my favorite strength training video picks.
Exercise routines relying on strength training machines may be appealing particularly for body sculpting purposes, when a higher degree of resistance is required.
Follow this link for an in-depth discussion and comparison of various Strength Training Machines.
Advantages of Strength Training Machines:
- somewhat more controlled workout
- capability of maintaining better form
- better isolation of certain muscle groups
- if done properly, slightly lower risk of injury than free weight routines
- certain advantages for isolating and protecting injured joints
- advantageous for obese individuals who need support during a workout
- advantageous for body builders, who may want to work against higher resistance in a controlled fashion
- advantageous for working certain muscle groups (especially leg muscles such as the hamstrings and calf muscles) which are difficult to work otherwise.
Drawbacks of Strength Training Machines:
- fairly expensive – in the hundreds to thousands of dollars
- take up a significant amount of space in your home
- require an even larger exercise area during active usage
- most require assembly
- many require equipment to be moved and manipulated during the workout (e.g., cables, rods, weight discs, etc)
- may be rather boring to use (tedious repetitive motions)
- may require instruction from a qualified trainer for proper usage
Most of the disadvantages above can be circumvented by working out at the gym rather
than at home. This may indeed be the smartest course of action, at least in the beginning.
It is also a good way of telling whether a particular machine is right for you, before
embarking on a rather costly purchase.
When contemplating a purchase, be sure to shop around for the best price. You will find
there is a large price differential between various models of the same machine, and this
price differential is not always justified. In fact, as far as performance is concerned, some of the less expensive models are often comparable to the pricier models costing hundreds of dollars more. The difference between these may only reside in a few glitzy but non-essential features. Therefore, prior to buying, make sure to research it and try it out!
Note: It is prudent to consult with your doctor prior to starting an exercise program, especially if you are new to exercise, suffer from any medical conditions, or are a woman over the age of 50 or a man over the age of 40.