I recently thought about why we exercise and what we choose to do first – and it isn’t generally strength training. Why is that? I believe it’s because we feel we CAN’T do something about becoming stronger unless we join a gym – and then we always seem to gravitate to cardio exclusively as if that is all we can do. We want to lose weight, feel better about ourselves, burn stored fat or just increase our energy level, but what if there was a better way?
It turns out that resistance (or strength training) can do all of that – and more! It can literally get you to stand straight, get out of a chair without using your arms – and walk without any physical issues whatsoever! I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on resistance training, how it might prepare you for the years to come – and why it may be the best investment you can make in your fitness programming!
Why I believe in resistance training
The debate I remember having more than 20 years ago with one of my former PT managers who believed that strength training “trumped” cardio was ongoing because I felt cardio it was more important in the scheme of training priorities (because I love running so much). Doug would always repeat his belief: “Resistance training is the paycheck – and cardio is the bonus!” I have thought about this idea for a very long time and have since arrived at a compromise: Before the age of 35 or 40 we MUST work our hearts and cardiovascular systems as much as we can in order to build a proper foundation for future exercise and training efforts in our later years.
After that age, I now believe that strength training should be our primary focus because without increasing lean muscle mass and increasing bone mass while improving stability in the joints – nothing else can be accomplished. It is interesting to me that I now see the value of my weight training program as being ABSOLUTELY essential to my future and cardio becoming somewhat of a support activity. The KEY is to “think like an athlete” and remember our bodies ARE aging whether we want them to or not. So why not embrace this solution of a two tiered approach to your exercise programming and cover all your bases?
I do not believe – nor will I ever say – that we should NEVER pick a weight when we are younger – that would be foolish! I AM saying that setting your priorities first on your heart under the age of 40 makes sense to me. Conditioning and treating your heart with thought and care will enable you and empower you to do so much more in your later years. I can do so much more consistent – and heavy – resistance training now because my heart is so strong and my endurance and strength are so accessible to me – when I need them. Here is my formula for strength training:
- Chest – bench press, incline/decline press
- Shoulders – Incline overhead press, lateral raise
- Back – Incline upright row, low back extension, cable row, lat pull
- Legs – Incline leg press, leg extension
- Abdominals – Seated machine aided crunches against light resistance (for full movement)
- Arms – Triceps extension, arm curls
- Upper body – Hanging dips (body weight exercise)
Each major body part gets worked multiple times twice a week. I manage my program through a written record of sets (numbers of reps), resistance, and type of exercise (free weights or machines). Each muscle group is worked over time to fatigue or failure. I do sets at each level of resistance if I wish to train for both strength and endurance – or power as well.
My posture is now perfect and my muscles enable me to burn more calories each day. More lean muscle mass equates to more calorie burning potential and better weight management. I weigh what I did following my senior year at Syracuse (1968) and over the past 50 plus years my weight has been within plus or minus 5 pounds because of my commitment to healthy eating and exercise. Think of what that means to my internal organs and hormonal/immune systems. I rarely – if ever – get sick and serious injury has been non-existent (I do suffer strains etc. from time to time – right now it is my right heel that hurts. I suspect inflammation from hard running.)
I believe in the notion of “planned exercise” and do everything within my power to maintain a consistent effort each day. Seven days a week of exercise IS possible if you are thoughtful and careful. Varying your program over time is essential to success. Being bored is not good but training for performance related goals is a great way to stay on track. Being PROACTIVE and FOCUSED will ALWAYS save you in the end and isn’t that what we all want? Success through results!
Weight training strengthens not only your muscles and increases their ability to do more work but also (just as importantly) increases bone density – and joint stability! I have run for over 50 years and my knees are just fine because I trained my legs in support of my running through resistance training! If I wish to keep running into my 80s – and I do – I will never stop lifting weights! Age is just a number – IF you age as well as I have. Otherwise it is more than a number – it is literally a PAIN if you have to go through operations such as spinal or joint replacement surgeries. That is NEVER going to be for me!
Take the time to review you fitness goals and get moving toward power, strength, quickness, endurance, speed, balance and flexibility – and DON’T STOP! The earlier you get going the easier it will be – the later you start – the harder it will be. So consider your options – join a gym – and get cracking. Walk, eat a salad, drink water and remember to strength train! Travel well.
Suggestions for organizations/references on learning more about strength training and exercise in general:
The American Council on Exercise (my certification body)
The International Health & Fitness Assn (IDEA – I have been a member since 1993)
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
The National Strength & Conditioning Assn (NSCA)
The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
Look up these and other sites that might interest you – such as The American Dietetic Assn., The American Heart Assn.