Running, cycling and other forms of cardio are good exercises but for holistic health and life-long fitness, you need to incorporate some form of strength training in your routine.
Right in my late twenties, I invested all my energy in one thing only, my work. My Company, LNM Auto became my top priority. Working eighty hours a week, the growth and success I achieved, gave me a kick. The more my company grew, the more I would put effort into it. I never had time for myself or my family. Never thought about taking vacations. Then suddenly, I was hit by a thunderbolt. My company wanted to do a Key Man Insurance policy for me and for that; I was required to get a full-body check-up done.
The reports were shocking. My Lipid Profile and KFT were out of range. I had High Blood Pressure. The doctor advised me to start medication immediately. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I couldn’t recognize the man looking back at me. He looked old, tired, and haggard. I had gained weight and became depressed about how I looked and felt. There was no essence to me. Something had to change and it had to start with me. I had to initiate a change, now.
My neighbor, a national-level boxer, introduced me to the gym. I joined, apprehensive that it won’t work. He paused his own training for a month and encouraged me to join him for training. In that one month, I got hooked. And as they say, the rest is history.
Eight years since that day I am at my fittest best. My health check-up reports came in last week. All parameters are normal and well within the prescribed range. I have never looked better or felt stronger.
The only thing that has been consistent these eight years has been regular exercise. If you want to stay fit, strong, and active, regular exercise is absolutely necessary – almost everything that declines physiologically as you get older will only improve with exercise. And especially Strength Training is important to your health and well-being. I feel it’s as important, if not more, as wearing your seat belt while driving or eating a balanced diet, or getting eight full hours of sleep.
Muscle mass begins to decline after thirty and most of us lose 30% of our muscles during a lifetime. Engaging in strength training or resistance training will help preserve muscle mass. Skeletal muscles are made up of individual muscle fibers. And like muscles themselves, not all muscle fibers are the same. There are two types of skeletal muscle fibers, fast-twitch, and slow-twitch. The fast ones, responsible for generating power and strength shrink twice as fast as the slow-twitch. And maintaining the fast-twitch muscle fibers is very important. We need them for our daily activities like getting up from a chair or to regain our balance quickly as we grow old. So you must do enough strength training to keep your muscle toned and ability to react quickly as you age.
Running, cycling and other forms of cardio are good exercises but for holistic health and life-long fitness, you need to incorporate some form of strength training in your routine. We see so many people in their seventies and eighties experiencing difficulty in walking or even getting out of bed. That’s because they have lost muscle and strength. Building lean muscles helps to increase metabolism which in turn, helps you to shed fat fast. No matter what your body type is, acquiring more muscle is the foundation of an ageless body that performs as well as it looks. A muscular base serves as the first block from which you build everything else. Especially as we age. Adding muscles will positively influence your quality of life.
Understand how muscle fibers work:
As you perform a physical task, muscle fibers are broken down, which is why you feel sore afterward. Your body self-repairs. Giving it proper nutrition, your body will add more muscle fibers. As you keep giving your muscles more strain, they continue to fortify themselves. They gain in strength.
Strength training helps increase bone density:
An increase in bone density will prevent osteoporosis and reduce back pain. More energy is required to maintain muscle than fat. Your resting metabolic rate will increase reducing obesity and help in faster weight loss. Your quality of life will improve tremendously in your old age with regular resistance training. There are studies that show it can reduce insulin resistance and body fat, improve glucose and blood pressure. This will keep you away from heart diseases, diabetes, and cancer.
There are various ways to start resistance training – Bodyweight, Free weights like dumbbells or barbells, Machines, Suspension trainers like TRX, and Resistance bands. Whatever you start with, start slow. Don’t hit the gym and start lifting heavy. You will feel horrible and start avoiding the gym in the future. Increase effort gradually.
New to the gym- Few Pointers:
So you started going to the gym recently or plan to. Confused? Overwhelmed with all machines and old-timers grunting and lifting big weights?
Here are a few things you should do
- First Know your MHR. The best formula is 211 – 0.64* age. So for me its 211- 0.64*54 = 176. MHR is the max heart rate beyond which you red-line your heart. Don’t do anything to cross that.
- Next question – how long? Some experts say 45 mins is overkill. I don’t agree as I believe there is no answer to this. Note down exercises you will do and reps. Don’t pick up your phone. Don’t gossip in between your sets. Don’t let your heart rate fall below 50% MHR (which means you are taking too much rest). Thereafter, do as long as it takes to finish your plan. Typically as a beginner to an intermediate state, it will generally take 60 mins to tire out whatever body part exercise you are doing. Thumb rule – Do at least 5 different exercises, 4 sets each. Start with 5-10 mins of warm-up and stretching. Add core workouts for a couple of days to that. To beginners, I suggest three days of strength training – full body. Then graduate to four days – with two upper body and two lower body and core days.
- If you plan to do cardio also with weight training – end with cardio. If getting lean and losing weight is your goal then you should do cardio after weight training. Always lift more when you are strongest. I can write many reasons for this but that’s for another blog. A lot of people do cardio to warm up for weights. If your cardio feels like ‘warm-up’ then it’s meaningless. Warm-up doing dynamic stretches.
- Higher Reps or more weights? This is another irrelevant question. It’s about volume. The first condition to be satisfied, to get any output, is muscle fiber rapture. Which happens when you load the muscles to a higher degree than last time? Now how to define load. The load is basically the number of reps multiplied by the weight. So if you are doing some workout – 3 sets of 10 reps each with 5 kgs then your load is 10*5 + 10*5 + 10*5 = 150. Next time when you do if you do 3 sets of 8 reps with 6 Kgs, you will feel I have increased weight but that’s not effective as your load is less than 8*6 + 8*6 + 8*6 = 144. So to load higher we need to exceed a total of 150.
- How much rest between sets? First, need to know why rest? It’s not for muscle recovery. It’s to stabilize your cardiovascular system. To bring the heart rate down. Keep your MHR between 45- 80% of your MHR. As you become fitter your heart will become larger and it will become more efficient at pumping blood.
- What to eat pre, post, and during a workout? Before a workout you need energy, during a workout you need hydration and after the workout you need repair. 90 mins before a workout eat energy giving foods like apple, whole wheat toast, or sweet potato. During workout sip enough water. Post-workout, take a protein-rich diet. Your body needs protein to repair.
Losing those Fats, especially for women
Every day at the gym I see so many women who just get on the treadmill or elliptical for an hour and leave. They believe that cardio is the best way to lose unwanted fat. A week’s absence from the gym and they’re back to adding those kilos which they lost doing these cardio exercises. For some reason, whenever women decide to lose fat, cardio is the way forwards and weight training is not preferred.
We have this false belief that weight training is for adding muscles and not for losing fat. The true fact is, muscles help lose Fat. Fat in your body does not increase your resting metabolic rate, whereas muscles require energy to maintain itself. Each Kg of muscle in your body needs 60-100 calories per day to survive which eventually means that you are burning calories 24 X7. More calories are burnt when you have more muscles. So the fat loss will be faster.
On average, a woman doing strength training and with a good nutritious diet will add 3-4 kgs of muscle every year. And with each Kg of muscle burning an average of 75 calories per day, you end up burning 82000 calories extra in a year. Theoretically, you need to burn 7500 calories extra to lose 1 kg weight. So in a year, you may end up losing 10 Kgs by doing strength exercises instead of cardio.
Most women feel that they will bulk up if they lift weights, which is not true. They do not have enough testosterone to get the physique of a bodybuilder. Muscles are much more dense than fat. So the volume of 1 kg of fat is more than 1 kg of muscle. One hour of cardio is great to burn fat in that one hour whereas, strength training will keep your metabolism at an elevated level throughout the day burning more calories and eventually fat. So go and lift those weights next time in the gym.
Why Lifting Weights Can Be So Potent for Aging Well
Weight training by older people will build not only strength and muscle mass, but also increase motivation and confidence. A study conducted recently shows the emotional impact of resistance training. There are hundreds of studies that show strength training can help us age well. It helps you live a life of agility and non-dependence. Older people who lift weights can slow or reverse their descent. Older people who start to lift weights typically gain muscle mass and strength as well as better mobility, mental sharpness, and metabolic health.
No matter how old or athletically challenged you are, you can change your body shape, your weight, your energy level by adding muscle to your body. Your overall quality of life will improve tremendously. A recent study was done by Mayo Clinic in Rochester on people aged 64 and above shows that the cellular health of muscles associated with aging was corrected with intense exercises. In fact, in older people, the cells responded more than the cells of younger people. So it’s never too late to start and benefit from strength training. In one of the future blogs, I will write about the best exercises for seniors.
To delay death, to live with confidence, to not be dependent, for better mental health, and to look toned and robust, go lift. Lift Heavy. Just make sure you have a good trainer. This is about you. Listen to your body. Train, don’t strain.