Star date August 5th, 2014.
The spacecraft Velox is still out of commission after a Klingon attack destabilized the vulcanized-rubber tire inner-tube.
Enterprising captain marathonsam made two attempts at repairing the puncture, both of which proved unsuccessful and led to rapid depressurization.
Our courageous captain was forced to board a spacecraft flying under the signature of King County Metro to continue his journey commuting through the not-so-final frontier of Seattle.
Ok. That’s enough Star Trek puns out of this running Romulan. I want to use today’s post to talk about the benefits of resistance training. I hit the gym this morning, as an attempt to stay on track with my August goal of performing at least four strength training sessions before the month ends.
I struggle to maintain a consistent strength training routine. I’m not sure why it is so difficult for me to regularly incorporate resistance training into my weekly workouts: I like lifting weights, and study after study has shown that pumping iron offers long-term health benefits for both endurance athletes and average joes.
I cannot overemphasize just how beneficial strength training can be. The internet in general, and the health and fitness community in particular, tends to be an echo-chamber for pseudo-science, jumping to conclusions based on correlations, and over-interpreting the implications of poorly performed studies. We bloggers LOVE to find the latest magical micronutrient that will cure cancer, clear up troublesome acne, blast belly-fat, balance our checkbooks, and solve the crisis in Ukraine with just two servings per day.
I’m guilty of this too: just last week I waxed rhapsodic about the health-benefits of lycopene to help myself justify the fact that I drank a quart of gazpacho in a single sitting.
However, resistance training is one arena where solid science backs up all of the purported perks. I spent a few minutes on PubMed, and as far as I can tell, every single randomized, properly controlled, well-done study concludes that strength training improves performance and increases multiple markers of physical health in every population studied. Strength training increases muscle economy and muscle power leading to increased endurance performance in athletes.
Resistance training is associated with improved prognosis in cancer survivors, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, and heightened cognitive function. In other words, lifting weights makes you look good, perform better, think more clearly, and age more gracefully.
Resistance training is phenomenal, but not all resistance training is created equal. Lifting weights with improper form can render a workout ineffective or even dangerous! Additionally, there are multiple approaches to strength training: isolation exercises, full-body functional motions, low repetitions with heavy weights, drop sets, circuit-style, plyometrics…the shake weight.
The sheer VOLUME of information is overwhelming. I’m not a personal trainer, so I’m not qualified to give advice on what type of training will work best for you. I study how bacteria copy their DNA, not how humans bulk up their biceps.
I can, however, offer some advice on how to make the most of your time at the gym. It took me a while before I was able to face my fears, get over my initial intimidation, and get pumped on pumping iron. Here are a few tips I have for making the gym enjoyable and effective:
1) Go in to your workout with a plan. A well equipped gym is awesome because it offers a lot of options. Sometimes having too many options makes it difficult to know where to begin, so you don’t accomplish anything at all. Taking a moment to plan out what you want to do will let you focus your efforts, rather than just spastically jumping from one exercise to the next without reaping any real benefits.
2) Go big then small….then go home. Start your workout with complex exercises that require coordination of multiple large muscle groups, like squats and deadlifts. Finish your workout with isolation exercises like curls and crunches. The compound exercises require more concentration and muscle recruitment to perform properly. Doing these motions at the beginning of a workout before you are fatigued will protect you from injury, and facilitate good form.
3) Keep track of your progress. Write down the weight that you used, and the numbers of reps you performed of each exercise. If your set felt easy, write that down so you can plan to make it harder next time. Numbers don’t lie, and it’s highly motivating to watch yourself improve over time.
4) Re-fuel and re-hydrate immediately after working out. Your muscles need carbohydrates and protein to recover from the challenge you just put them through. Ideally you consume something with a four two one ratio of carbs and protein, to replenish glycogen stores and re-build damaged tissue. I recently have fallen in love with Picky Bars (which are DELICIOUS, whole food energy bars made by one of my favorite runners, Lauren Fleshman), but your options are endless: greek yogurt, hard boiled eggs & a banana, trail mix, even chocolate milk.
5) DONT BE SELF CONSCIOUS! I know that I initially was intimidated by the gym because I thought that people who lift weights would be scary and mean.
In reality, as long as you are courteous and wipe down your equipment after you are done using it, NO ONE WILL JUDGE YOU. Everybody is FAR too busy with their own problems and wrapped up in their own workout to watch you do crunches. Working out at the gym is something you can do to make yourself feel and look good: you might get sweaty and look funny while you’re going through the motions, but everybody ELSE is doing the same thing. The gym is a safe place to be sweaty and strange. If you spend all your time worrying about what other people think about you, you won’t ever get anything done.
I hope that my hints can be helpful!
What are your favorite strength training routines?
I try to incorporate squats, deadlifts, bench-press, some core work, and biceps curls.