If you think the elliptical machine is enough to keep you in shape, think again. Cardiovascular exercise is an important component to fitness, but strength training is key to getting — and staying — in shape.
Strength training, also known as resistance training, builds muscle tone, increases your metabolism and, according to the CDC, can reduce the signs and symptoms of certain diseases and chronic conditions including osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes, back pain and depression.
Yet many women consider strength training a “guy thing.” Here we put to rest some common myths about strength training.
Myth #1: Cardiovascular exercise alone is enough to stay in shape.
False. Cardiovascular exercise is good for your heart, of course. But strength training helps you develop muscle mass, and muscle mass burns more calories even after you’re done working out.
And with regard to that stationary bike? “If you can read a book or a magazine while doing anything, you’re not working out hard enough,” says Joe Rojas, a personal trainer in New York City with over 13 years of experience.
Of course, the most efficient work-out is one that combines cardiovascular fitness and strength training. Boot camp classes — where participants do a mix of cardio exercises like jumping jacks and strength training exercises like squats — are a great option, and they are gaining popularity among the “mommy” crowd, too.
Myth #2: Strength training is all about lifting heavy weights, which results in big, unattractive man-muscles.
False and false! First, the definition of resistance training is “moving a load through space.” That load (weight) can be artificial (i.e., dumbbells) or your own body against gravity. Holding a plank (high push-up) position is a great example of core-strengthening resistance training without weights. Squats and lunges — with or without weights — are two other examples.
Second, men develop big muscles because they naturally produce a lot of testosterone, whose “anabolic effects promote muscle building,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Lifting weights — even heavy ones — will not make a woman look like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger (or even an older one for that matter). Strength training will help you build muscle, so you can tone it. You can’t tone something that doesn’t exist.
Myth #3: To get flat abs, just do 500 crunches a night.
False. Doing 500 crunches a night will strengthen your abs, but it won’t get rid of the fat hiding those muscles, according to Rojas.
To get flat abs, you have to lose the layer of fat and do abdominal exercises. While losing weight is — despite all advertising to the contrary — still simply a matter of expending more calories than you take in, having more muscle helps you burn more calories during your workout and afterwards, too.
Myth #4: The Nautilus machines are enough to tone your muscles.
False. Machines with weights attached to cables take every muscle out of the equation but one. To that end, they are good for true beginners who are just learning how to engage their muscles or body builders who simply want to over-emphasize one specific muscle for aesthetic purposes, Rojas explains.
For every day strength and fitness, you need to engage the smaller muscles that support the larger muscles with which we are familiar. Because strength training uses free weights, kettle bells, elastic bands or your body weight, the exercises automatically strengthen those stabilizing muscles.
“Your baby is not attached to a cable,” Rojas notes, so using the Nautilus machines is not going to help with every day New York City tasks like carrying a toddler-filled stroller up and down subway stairs.
Myth #5: What you see is what you get.
False. According to Rojas, one of the biggest problems with working out is “mirror syndrome”: people tend to work out what they can see, i.e., chest, quads and abs. But the key to fitness is balance. “There’s no chest without a back,” says Rojas.
As a result (and because they think working out their butt will make it “bigger”) most women have under-developed gluteus (butt) muscles. Moms often squat to pick up their babies and toddlers without bending through the hip and engaging their big posterior muscles. That’s the fastest way to injure your knees, your back or both. Learning to engage your gluteus muscles correctly is one of the biggest favors you can do yourself as a mom.
Now that you know, what can you do about it? Find a personal trainer to teach you some core and strength training exercises. Or find a boot camp or similar class with a good instructor who takes the time to teach the exercises and lets people go at their own pace. If money is an issue, Rojas recommends buying instructional DVDs (search for “strength training DVD” on Amazon.com). They aren’t as flashy and exciting as the PX90 or Insanity workouts, but you are less likely to get hurt if you are a beginner.
First two images courtesy of Ambro and David Castillo Dominci / FreeDigitalPhotos.net