It's not only for men or bodybuilders! Building muscle can help you lose weight and develop a lean, taut figure.
All about strength training
If you are looking to add a little more oomph to your daily cardio workout, why not think about strength training?
Compared with heart-pumping aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, running and swimming, strength training does not burn as many calories, but has the added benefit of helping you build fat-burning muscle. For every additional pound of muscle you gain, your body can burn an extra 50 extra calories every day. In fact, the more muscle mass you build, the higher your metabolism - that means you burn more calories doing nothing if you had more muscle mass than someone who has less!
Strength training, also known as resistance training, actually refers to a variety of exercises that use muscular contraction to build muscle mass and strength. This can be in the form of:
- Weight training (using free weights, weight machines)
- Resistance workouts (using own body weight)
- Resistance workouts (using resistance bands)
Unlike bodybuilding or weightlifting, which is about developing big muscles, muscle definition and the amount much weight a person can lift, strength training focuses on building lean, small muscle fibres that can add strength, tone, flexibility and even balance.
Benefits of strength training
Strength training brings a wide range of benefits and women in particular have a lot to gain from strength training. As women naturally have less muscle mass, they do not tend to 'bulk' up, but develop a toned and lean frame. Other benefits include:
- Increased strength and muscle mass without bulk
- Increased fitness
- Less loss of muscle mass in later life
- Reduced risk of osteoporosis
- Increased fat-burning
- Increased metabolism
- More energy, better emotional wellbeing
- Stress relief
- A lean, firm figure
- Less risk of injury
- Improved athletic performance for athletes (runners, cyclists, etc)
- Reduced risk of chronic illness
- Reduction in the severity of diabetes, heart disease, etc
Strength training for all
There are several ways to add strength training to your workout and you can even exercise in the comfort of your home! Heading to a gym for classes or to use gym equipment are also great ways to start building muscle mass and losing fat. It is ideal to do strength training for 30-minutes three times a week. Here are some tips for a whole body workout at home. You can use hand weights, filled water bottles or even unopened soup cans as weights!
To keep your joints safe, always execute movements smoothly and do not jerk, use momentum or lock your joints. The key is to focus on intensifying the 'squeeze' in the muscle you are targeting. Repeat each exercise 10 times or work out to fatigue before moving on to the next exercise. Repeat the sequence two or three times, depending on your level of fitness.
- Squats: stand with feet at hip distance several inches from a wall (adjust the distance as you workout). Hold your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height and drop your buttocks towards the ground as if you are sitting in a chair. Keep your back straight (do not over arch) and tummy tucked in; your back should skim the wall. Drop till your knees and thighs form a 90-degree angle. Your knees should not push forward past your feet. Feel the squeeze in your thighs. Rise up, squeezing your buttocks and coming back to a standing position. If you want more of a workout, hold a weight in your outstretched hands.
- Calf raises: stand facing a wall, the back of a chair or a sturdy table. Brace your hands against the firm support. Flex your toes and lift yourself up on the balls of your feet. Feel the squeeze in your calves. Hold for 5 slow breaths and release.
- Bicep curl: straighten your arms by your sides, holding a weight in each hand; your palms should face away from you. Curl your forearms towards your shoulder, pivoting from the elbow.
- French press: raise a heavy book or weight above your head using both arms; do not raise your shoulders. Drop the weight towards your back, pivoting from the elbows. Keep your elbows as close to your ears as possible and feel the squeeze in your triceps.
- Push-ups: when doing a push-up, ensure that your shoulders and elbows are in line and hands are held wide. Your upper arm and forearm should be at a 90-degree angle when you are at the bottom of the movement. Your back, buttocks and legs should also form a long straight line. To reduce the intensity, drop to your knees. With each push-up, drop your chest - not your head - towards the ground, you should feel the squeeze in your chest as you rise up. For beginners, you can do a standing push-up, using a wall for support. This helps build chest and arm strength and as you progress, you can start doing floor-based push-ups.
- Crunches: lie on the ground with your knees at a 45-degree angle, pull your heels as close to your buttocks to get a tighter squeeze. Place your fingertips on your temples or ears; do not use your arms to pull you up. You may want to cross your arms in front of your chest. Raise your shoulders off the ground, feeling the contraction in your tummy. You do need to sit-up all the way. You should already feel the squeeze in your abdomen a few inches off the ground. To increase the contraction, you can sweep your arms towards your heels with each sit-up, returning them to your head or chest as you lower yourself.