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The Case for Strength Training

If you were to ask the average gym-goer what their goals were, most come back saying the same thing: to tone-up and lose weight.  Cardio training is usually perceived as the best way to achieve this goal.  While this may be good for respiratory reasons, people tend to put more emphasis on aesthetics when they workout, especially younger populations.  Truth be told that building lean muscle and losing weight are the by-product of elevating our metabolic rates during exercise.  The results we’re looking for are best achieved through strength training.

Let’s look at the facts: 1 pound of lean muscle mass burns 35-50 calories per day at rest while 1 pound of fat only burns 2-3 calories.  This comparison speaks volumes.  Lean body mass requires more calories to maintain and repair those tissues on a daily basis.  Therefore, the stronger we are, the more efficient we’ll be at burning calories throughout the day – at work, watching TV, sleeping, etc. and NOT just when we’re in the gym.  This makes either maintaining or losing weight much more achievable.

Cardio routines consisting of steady-state jogging or walking do not create the same physiological change to our muscle fibers.   Outside of the immediate calories burned during the actual activity, there is no long-term effect on our metabolic rates.  Such a phenomenon does exist when we use weights, bands, kettle bells or other forms of resistance.  Scientists refer to it as EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.  After intense strength training, our bodies are in an accelerated state of burning calories, sometimes as long as 24-36 hours thereafter.

What exactly defines an intense session of strength training?   First, if must be compound, multi-joint movements that recruit many muscle groups at once – pull-ups, push-ups, squats, bench  press, lunges, etc.  Bicep curls and triceps kickbacks don’t apply here.  These single-joint movements are effective, but won’t burn nearly as many calories as full-body exercises do.  Think ‘bang for your buck’ in the gym.  Your gains and the time spent achieving them will be much more effective in the long run if you do.

Second, you can’t expect to get stronger using 5lb dumbbells for 12-15 repetitions per set.  It must be a challenging weight for a low number of reps (5-8) to elicit strength gains.  Please be advised: IT WON’T MAKE YOU BIG EITHER, so don’t be afraid to use heavier weights.  People talk about toning using light weights and doing tons of reps.  Remember, there must be a base of strength present to create the toning and definition most people want.  It won’t happen with 5lb dumbbells.

Indeed, strength training will boost the metabolism.  More importantly, it will program the body to be more efficient at burning calories when we’re not working out.  We must think in terms of choosing exercises that make us the most calorically efficient when we’re outside the gym.  Just remember, strength training requires ‘strength’ so we must load our exercises accordingly.  Otherwise you won’t challenge the body to build lean muscle, lose fat and look better in clothes.  After all, this is what we’re all looking for, right?