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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Why Weight Training is the Only Way to Fitness

Somewhere in America, there is a woman emphatically proclaiming “…no, I don’t want to lift weights…I’ll just bulk up.”  Putting aside the fact that in order for that to happen, sufficient amounts of the hormone testosterone must be present in amounts which the female body doesn’t produce-this fallacy, somehow still prevails, (in spite of our knowledge of basic endocrinology.)  While there are women body builders who use performance enhancing drugs to  create the muscular physique that most women (and men for that matter), find unattractive, this is not the norm for most women who lift weights. 
The irony is, the body that most women covet-the flat stomach, the long, lean limbs, and the tight butt you could bounce a quarter off of, that body, must be stimulated to actually build muscle tissue.  That body, lifts weights.

Since ancient Greece…picking up a weight and lifting it, carrying it or throwing it, has been the standard method of improving strength, stamina, and even mental health.  Cicero himself said “It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor.”  Pilates had yet to be invented-weight lifting was the only option. It has remained a constant in the world of health, physical training and military preparedness and remains effective in ways that other, more “trendy” forms of exercise fall short. 

According to the CDC, “physical fitness includes a number of components, mainly cardiorespiratory endurance (aerobic power), skeletal muscle strength and power, speed of movement, and other elements.”  Working with weights is one of the few activities that incorporates these key elements of fitness." 

Given that muscle tissue directly affects the body’s ability to burn fat, its preservation is critical to metabolic stimulation.  Muscle is also the body’s “metabolic girdle” meaning, it holds everything in tight. It in fact, dictates your metabolic rate or, the number of calories burned at rest.  Each pound of muscle you add burns 40-50 more calories per day.
An increase in strength, accompanied by an increase in muscle mass, is based on what is known in exercise science as a physiological adaptation to an imposed demand.  Meaning that over time, the body adapts to stresses placed on the musculoskeletal system by getting stronger through a process called muscle hypertrophy (the growth and increase in the size of muscle cells.) Working against a resistance, be it one’s own body weight or one created by a pair of dumbbells, provides a stimulus that forces the body to adapt with an increase in strength.  The heavier the resistance, the more profound the adaptation and eventually, the more metabolically active (muscle) tissue is developed.

Although weight training is not often thought of as “cardio,” there is a cardiovascular element associated with it. New training techniques now encourage a more calorically demanding type of cardiorespiratory work: anaerobic training. One such technique is called metabolic acceleration training.  Alwyn Cosgrove, co-author of The New Rules of Lifting for Abs and one of the premier strength coaches in the field, explains: “metabolic acceleration training is a lighter version of traditional strength training that utilizes metabolic circuits. A 12-minute circuit pattern punctuated with 15-30 second rests can prove to be a very challenging cardiovascular event.”

Techniques like metabolic acceleration training help build stronger, leaner bodies by creating a caloric after burn effect brought on by an elevated, post-workout, metabolic rate which can last for days.  In contrast, traditional aerobic cardiovascular activities such as jogging and “the Elliptical,” burn calories during the activity-only.  Furthermore, some researchers believe prolonged moderate intensity exercise raises stress hormones such as cortisol; responsible in part for the storage of fat about the mid-section.

Other benefits of weight training include improved bone density, improved body composition, and stimulation of connective tissue (which helps prevent injury and pulls the muscles and even the skin, tighter.)  Perhaps the greatest benefits of all are psychological.  Strength creates confidence and power which experts agree, can extend to every part of one’s personal and professional life.

Many people are drawn to Pilates or Yoga for their excellent restorative and rehabilitative benefits.  Either form of exercise will help with recovery from injury and/or increase flexibility (another key component of fitness.)  But will they get you fit?  A sedentary person who has not exercised in years will respond to any form of exercise with an initial adaptation. But once a basic fitness level is established, a lesser adaptation will result.  The nature of these activities lend themselves to being less intense or demanding than many weight training programs, particularly those that end with some metabolic work.  Over time, this will lead to a fitness plateau.  Ultimately, the average person that becomes a devotee of Pilates and/or Yoga does so because they are often a less demanding form of exercise compared to weight training and human nature tends toward choosing the path of least resistance.

One of the most rapidly changing areas of science, exercise physiology-is continually honing and refining the best approaches to safety, effectiveness and efficiency. What was considered beneficial exercise only five years ago, can now easily be dismissed as either harmful, and/or ineffective. The upshot of all this research has been largely, to revamp old training principles and provide newer, more innovative ways of making the age-old practice of lifting heavy objects, (weight training), the most effective path to rapid physical transformation and thus, the holy grail of fitness.


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Fitness expert and Athletic Development Specialist Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at

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