Muscle Up: The Benefits of Adding Strength Training to your Weight Loss Plan

by Personal Trainer, Melissa Mangrelli

Weight loss and exercise are among the most common themes of New Year’s resolutions. These resolutions often go something like: “In 2021, I resolve to lose X pounds, or go to the gym Y times a week, or walk Z thousands of steps a day.”

At some point in our lives, we have all made the start of a new year a time to reflect on our health and lifestyle goals, and despite whatever may be thrown our way in 2021, the making of resolutions will likely be a constant. In fact, with some studies linking obesity to impaired immune function and increased risk arising from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is reasonable to assume 2021 might be a banner year for weight loss and health resolutions. Personally, I prefer people to use the terms “live more healthy” or “live more active” in their resolutions, as these more general terms may better set one up for sustained success in achieving their goals. Regardless of the words we use, the aim is the same: feel better in 2021. To help you feel fit in the new year, not just on the scale but in your day-to-day, I strongly encourage you to incorporate strength/resistance training (hereafter collectively “strength training”) into your 2021 plans.

Unfortunately for some people, the words “strength training” may invoke visions of bodybuilders curling and squatting super heavy weights. I am here to tell you strength training is so much more than what you might envision! You can strength train with your bodyweight or a simple resistance band. Another misconception many people have with strength training is the fear of getting big and bulky. I am sure you have heard it before, but I will reiterate: to get big and bulky requires a specific training and diet program. Genetics and testosterone levels also play a role in getting “big and bulky.” Adding bodyweight exercises, bands, cables, and dumbbells to your workouts while also eating a balanced diet will not get you big and bulky, but it might just help you get leaner and healthier.

The EPOC Phenomenon

Now that we have gotten through some of the common objections I hear when I discuss strength training with potential clients, let’s talk about some of the benefits of adding strength training to your workouts and how that will aid your health journey. Without getting too scientific, the greater the amount of lean body mass that makes up your body weight, the more calories you burn while at rest. Lean body mass is the difference between total body weight minus body fat. Your muscles are included in your lean body mass, and more energy is required to build and maintain muscle than fat. This is where the importance of adding strength training into your New Year’s resolution comes into play. Adding strength training burns more calories than steady-state cardio alone – even after your workout. This is called EPOC – Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. EPOC is the increase in metabolic activity that occurs for a period after exercise. Strength training puts more stress on the muscle tissue, which the body will need to repair after the session is over. Repairing the muscles requires energy, which results in post-exercise calorie burn.

Strength training not only increases your metabolism but also improves insulin resistance and shuts down the fat-storing enzymes in your body.1 In addition, the more strength training you perform, the easier your daily activities will become, and the better quality of life you will develop. Simple tasks like carrying groceries or playing with your kids/grandkids along with more intense activities like completing a 5k will get easier as your upper body, core, and legs become stronger over time.

Strength training has something to offer nearly everyone. For the advanced “lifter,” increasing loads over time will recruit additional muscles throughout the body to aid in successfully moving the weight, offering continued benefits to one’s muscular and skeletal systems. For seniors and those approaching senior status, strength training helps preserve lean muscle mass. As we age, we lose lean muscle mass, but by adding 2 or 3 strength sessions to your weekly workouts, you can slow the loss of or even maintain your muscle. Strength training has also been shown to help prevent osteoporosis and other degenerative diseases.

Time vs Reps: What’s the Best Way to Train?

My personal preference for completing a full-body circuit is to use time intervals in strength training, focusing on prescribed work and rest periods. This method will help keep your heart rate elevated. Interval formats are also great if you are short on time. I cannot stress this enough: if you are just beginning, you will want to take more extended rest periods until you get your body conditioned to your new workout regimen.

While incorporating prescribed timing intervals into your program can be great, it is often easier to start your strength training journey with a format of prescribed repetitions. To get started, you will want to perform 10-12 repetitions of each prescribed movement. Once you’ve completed the first movement, you will rest briefly and then begin the next move in the circuit. Continue this approach until you have completed all the requisite moves. Once the entire circuit is complete, take a more extended rest period before repeating the circuit another 2-3 times.

Variation is Key

So, you are ready to add some strength training into your 2021 get-healthy journey, but how do you do that exactly? There are numerous ways to construct strength training into your weekly workouts. I encourage you to mix up your routine as you get more comfortable working out – you could do this by changing the number of reps and sets you complete, swapping out movements, or decreasing your rest periods. I recommend starting with a total-body circuit for your strength sessions, but any exercise program that will encourage you to move an object – your body, for example – against some resistance for some time will suffice.

Put it Into Practice

Below, I have put together a total body resistance circuit workout that you can try; however, if want to put together your own workout, I recommend trying to hit each muscle group 2 or 3 times. You can do this using either isolated movements, like the bicep curl, or compound movements, like a squat with a shoulder press. Also, try to include some moments that will get your heart rate elevated for an even better calorie burn. You could add an incline walk in between sets or jump on the last rep while completing squats.

Air Squats with a Shoulder Press
Elevated Push-Ups Against a Wall or Bench
Lunges with a Bicep Curl
Standing or Sitting Cable Rows

Remember to start slow and focus on form. Proper form is essential, as improper movements can lead to injury. If you are not sure how to correctly complete a move, ask a trainer. Remember to get plenty of sleep, take a rest day between strength days, eat a balanced diet, and drink plenty of water as your exercise more regularly.

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