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Understanding Muscle and Resistance Training

What is the one activity that can help you burn fat, strengthen your bones and shape your body?  It’s called resistance training, such as lifting weights, using resistance bands, or punching bags.  

Resistance training is based on the knowledge of how muscles work.  Muscle is metabolically active, that means it burns fat even when you’re at rest. The more lean muscle mass you carry around, the more your resting metabolic rate increases and the more fat you burn at rest. 

Muscle also gives shape to your body. You can sculpt how you want to your body to look by working your muscles a certain way. Want more definition in your arms? Lift weights for your arms. Want more definition in your calves? Lift weights for your legs.  This is the principle of specificity which states that you can target a specific activity to a specific muscle group and see results.

Body fat, as it sits on your body, is stored energy.  When you do resistance training, you use up the energy that is already stored in your muscles, and you break down some muscle fibers. When you’re done working, your body goes into high gear to repair your muscle tissue and to replace the energy stores. This is what triggers fat to be taken out of storage for fat metabolism, or burning body fat when you’re at rest.

Muscle also improves bone density. Because muscle is attached to bone, the positive stress of resistance training that you put on your muscles is also put on your bones. Over time, your bones adapt to the stress and grow stronger. Weight-bearing exercise is recommended for maintaining good bone density. 

Swimming, while it works your muscles, is not technically considered a weight-bearing activity because you are weight-less relative to gravity. Swimming is considered an aerobic excercise and that’s great for your heart muscle. 

Don’t belong to a gym? No problem. There are plenty of resistance exercise options at home including yard work, and the resistance tubing available in most sporting goods stores in the exercise equipment section. You don’t technically need any more resistance than your own body weight, such as push-ups.

Here are the guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM):

  • How often should you do resistance trainging? At least 2 times/week.
  • How long? Do eight to 10 exercises for eight to 12 repetitions each. That would take about 20 minutes at a minimum to work your major muscle groups. Most trainers suggest you move no faster than two seconds to tighten the muscles, two seconds to release. Slower is always better for recruiting more muscles and avoiding injury.
  • How intense? Most trainers would help you find a resistance with which you can perform eight to 12 repetitions of an exercise. If you can do 13 reps, the resistance is too light.

Strength training and endurance training are muscle activities. Strength is measured by your ability to do one thing (push or pull).  Endurance is measured by how long you can keep doing something (pushing or pulling). You might hear that to get big muscles you need to lift heavy weights, however to increase strenght and muscle mass you need to do more than what your body normally does.  That’s where a personal trainer can help. A good trainer gives you the tools, sets you on a path, and gets out of the way.

Muscle strength protects the organs, improves circulation, and supports the spine for proper alignment and good posture. 

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