There’s new evidence that suggests strength, resistance training can have many health benefits
Variations on strength training have new names but center on the same main principle: Whether you yank on suspension bands, pull stretchy rubber tubes, heft a bulbous low-tech kettlebell or pump traditional free weights, you’re moving your muscles against resistance.
That’s what burns calories while building healthy, attractive lean muscle tissue. Both lead to weight loss, a firm physique and a raft of other benefits.
Strength training is a growing trend, according to the annual survey by the American College of Sports Medicine. It ranks No. 2 – up from No. 6 in 2007 – among the most popular trends for 2012, according to the poll of 2,620 fitness professionals, including certified trainers and exercise physiologists.
And there’s new evidence that strength and resistance training can have other benefits as well.
“In the last decade, research has shown that resistance exercise can help numerous disease states,” including depression, says Jeffrey Potteiger, dean of graduate studies at Grand Valley State University near Grand Rapids, Mich.
“You can improve your overall health just by watching your weight and taking walks in the neighborhood. But if you want to improve your fitness – look better, maximize health, have more energy, prevent injuries – you need to do more,” said Potteiger, who has spent 24 years doing research on strength training.
In recent years, emphasis has shifted to a type of resistance training that builds muscles used in day-to-day tasks, helping avoid injury or re-injury. Called functional strength training, it helps with such chores as hefting infants in and out of car seats or lifting garage doors.
Another goal is to reduce the risk factors in patients with chronic diseases such as osteoporosis, heart disease and diabetes.
“Part of my job is trying to convince that 85-year-old woman that she really should start weight lifting,” says Dr. Dennis Kerrigan, senior exercise physiologist at Henry Ford Health System’s Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit.
The bone-strengthening effect of strength training is widely known. Others who need persuading are women recently treated for breast cancer, Kerrigan says.
“Friends and family tell them, ‘Take it easy,’ ” but chemotherapy can reduce muscle mass, leaving body fat that’s linked to cancer returning, he says.
The prescription? Strength training.
“It’s taken a long time for women to realize how important strength training is,” says YMCA trainer Sandy Gossett at the South Oakland Family Y in Royal Oak, Mich.
“It’s always been cardio, cardio, cardio – aerobics. But once they try it, they’re hooked.”
The first time she tried strength training in one of Gossett’s classes a year ago, Catherine Goddard says, she needed courage.
“I didn’t think I could lift 5 pounds,” says Goddard, 57, of Royal Oak. She soon learned that the more weightlifting she did, the stronger she felt in her treadmill workouts. One success led to another until last month she finished a half marathon.
“For women in particular, they feel empowered from just a couple of weeks of strength training,” says Irene Lewis-McCormick, author of “A Woman’s Guide to Muscle and Fitness,” set to be published in February by Human Kinetics.
“When you become stronger, you feel more confident in everything you do.”
Functional Integrated Training is the favorite of Kelly Lawson, 49, of Rochester Hills, Mich. She’s been doing core exercise for two decades.
“I’ve got a degenerated disk in my back, but I haven’t needed any surgery and the doctors attribute that to all the core exercise I do,” says Lawson, who teaches online math classes for University of Phoenix.
One of Detroit’s early hubs of strength training was the Powerhouse Gym on Woodward in Highland Park, founded in 1975.
Now a global brand, it still has plenty of traditionalists pumping iron, says personal trainer Tarrance Alfred. But in his session last week with client Ron Victor, there were no free weights in sight.
“I used to have pain in my wrist” after a workout with free weights, says Victor, 31, a Birmingham, Mich., attorney. But he says his wrists are fine after Alfred had him switch to yanking on heavy giant rubber bands – cast off bike inner tubes – and doing core exercises that are intense variations of push-ups and other traditional exercises.
So Victor will never need to put a dumbbell in a suitcase.
“He can do these things anywhere, even a hotel room,” Alfred says.
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