It’s a new year and you just dropped a mint on a cool new gym membership to help reach your fitness goals. Now what? Cardio or strength? Or, both? Sigh. It can be hard figure out the best workout program and incorporate it into a busy lifestyle. As a former “cardio bunny” who swore by cardio kickboxing and treadmills, I rarely stepped into the weight room unless I was peering in to admire a beefed-up gym crush.
When conducting research for my group fitness certification, I learned about the myriad benefits of strength training. For example, for every three pounds of muscle I gain, I could expect to burn roughly an hundred calories a day without moving a single one of those muscles. Another benefit? Being able to transform the composition of my apple-shaped body to something more proportionate by building up the muscles in my lower half. In essence, gaining muscle translates to not only eating more dark chocolate while still fitting into my jeans, but looking even better in those jeans. What could top that?
I recommend adding a strength training component into your regular workout program to feel strong, fit, and empowered. Too complicated? Think again. Here are some quick personal tips to add it in without much sacrifice.
Ease into it. If you’re new to the strength game, incorporate about 15-20 minutes of strength training into your fitness routine three times per week. Use a weight that is challenging enough to do about 8 repetitions, and work your way up to 12 reps. Give yourself a rest day in between each training session so that your body can recover. After about a month when your body has gotten used to this routine, consider adding in an extra five minutes to each session, or an extra day each week.
Get creative. Strength training isn’t limited to the big iron dumbbells and clunky contraptions in a cramped weight room. Weighted medicine balls, kettlebells, weight plates, and sandbags will also do the trick. Even simpler? Body weight training like push-ups, squats, and tricep dips to tone up with minimal space and zero equipment.
Gym alternatives. Not quite a gym-goer, but still want to incorporate strength training? No worries. Websites like health.com, nerdfitness.com, and stronglifts.com offer video tutorials, step-by-step programs, and online communities to inform and enhance your strength training routine, and some require little to no equipment. Care to exercise in the beautiful outdoors? Check out boot camp-style classes - such as my G MOVES boot camp - that offer a combination of cardio and strength training.
Measure progress. Keeping on the metrics is a good thing. Tracking your gains with simple mechanisms like a phone app or small notebook will give you the satisfaction and motivation to continue your strength training program. What should you be writing down? For starters, note the body part you work, the exercise, the weight you use, and the number of reps you can do. One caveat: Don’t just look at numbers. Pay attention to how your clothes fit and feel as you proceed to “carve” out your body by replacing muscle with fat.
Strength training isn’t just a means to whip into shape before that mid-March spring break cruise. It’s a critical part of your workout routine and will help you get the most “bang” for your fitness buck when you have limited time to exercise. Remember, cardio plus strength training equals a complete and balanced workout. I’ll lift to that!