Strong Is The New Black
By: Amy Chang Radosevich, MA, ACSM, ACE, AFAA
If you already love lifting weights, this article will give you more reasons to pump to your heart’s content. If you are a cardio junkie, read up as you may be missing out on a huge piece of the optimal health puzzle.
Traditionally, we associate lifting weights with building big muscles for men and getting “toned” along with osteoporosis prevention for women. More recent research has shown that the physiological benefits of resistance training well surpass common perceptions. It changes our metabolism in a way that can prevent or reverse chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and obesity.
About 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes with majority of them having Type 2. For adults 65 and older, 1 in 4 is diabetic, and 1 in 3 American adults are considered pre-diabetic. People suffering from Type 2 diabetes do not respond well to insulin or have poor insulin sensitivity. Researchers suggest that resistance training improves insulin sensitivity by increasing the concentration or activity of proteins (GLUT4, insulin receptors, protein kinase B) that help transport blood glucose to muscle cells for energy. Lifting weights also boost the activity of glycogen synthase, which help convert blood glucose into stored glycogen in our muscles for future energy needs.
One 10-week study compared the effects resistance training versus aerobic training have on 2 crucial biomarkers for diabetes - blood glucose and A1c. The resistance training group showed a much more significant decrease in A1c (-18%) than the aerobic group (-8%). But not everything needs to be a competition. In fact, one study demonstrated that by combining resistance and aerobic training, we could benefit from an additive effect with A1c values decreasing the most in the combination training group, compared to resistance training or aerobic training alone.
It’s estimated that 80 million adults 20 and over have hypertension, and over 40 percent of adults are expected to be hypertensive by 2030! Recent research on weight training and blood pressure found improved endothelial function (cells that controls blood vessel contraction, relaxation, clotting and immune function), which ultimately reduces both our systolic and diastolic pressure.
A word of caution for those who are prehypertensive and hypertensive - do NOT push to concentric failure.
Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) & Excess Postexercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC)
RMR refers to the amount of calories we burn at rest, and it accounts for 50 to 75% of our total daily expenditure. Believe it or not, our bodies spend a ton of energy just to stay alive! Our brain, heart and lungs have pretty big appetites when it comes to calorie consumption, which is all good news to those of us who love to eat.
If weight and fat loss is one of your goals, and you’re working out regularly to burn those extra calories, you may also want to get familiar with the term EPOC, which represents the extra calories your body needs to bring you back to your pre-exercise state. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving.
Many of you may be familiar with the term HIIT, or high intensity interval training. The amazing news is that both HIIT and resistance training showed similar EPOC values in a study that compared resistance training, steady state aerobic training and HIIT. The study concluded that both the resistance training and the HIIT group burned an extra 300 calories in 24 hours after the training session compared to the steady state aerobic group. That’s equivalent to a pound’s worth of calories every couple of weeks!
Obesity affects almost 40 percent of the American population and visceral fat, or fat stores in the abdominal cavity that surrounds important organs are associated with hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Resistance training has been shown to effectively reduce visceral fat, thereby reducing the risks of aforementioned conditions.
Also, as muscle cells get damaged from the stress of a challenging weight training program, our bodies respond by increasing muscle protein synthesis. The gain in lean muscle mass from repeated bouts of weight training boosts our RMR and aids in weight loss and maintenance.
About 30 percent of U.S. adults aged 20 or older have total cholesterol greater than the recommended level of 200 mg/dl.
One 10-week study that compared the effects of aerobic versus weight training on cholesterol profiles and found that the resistance training group resulted in a much more notable improvement than the aerobic training group. The resistance training group reduced their LDL, aka “bad” cholesterol by 18.3 units, and raised their HDL, or “good” cholesterol, by 10.3, along with a decrease in triglycerides by 29 units.
For the iron pumping addicts out there, you may wonder if lifting weights can replace slaving on the treadmill or elliptical. We have some good news for you. Researchers found that circuit-based resistance training can improve VO2Max (standard measure of cardiorespiratory fitness) by 9.7 percent, a remarkable result! To maximize the impact of circuit training, you must be efficient about transitioning from one exercise to the next to keep your heart rate elevated. Each circuit training session should last at least 20 to 30 minutes.
How Much And How Often
To reap all the benefits resistance training have to offer, now it’s time to put in the work. While the recommendations may differ slightly depending on which biological marker you are trying to optimize, the general principle is to increase training volume (i.e. sets x reps x load) over time. For example, you can start with 1 to 2 sets of 8 to 10 exercises at a load that allows you to perform 12 to 15 reps each set 2 days a week. From here, progress to 3 sets of the same and increase from 2 to 3 days per week. Then, you can add load so you can only complete 6 to 8 reps each set. Basically, you can either increase the number of exercises per muscle group, number of sets per exercise, the weight you use for each exercise, as well as number of days you train to continuously challenge your body to get stronger.
Incorporating a variety of exercises to work each muscle group differently will also help your body become more adaptable to everyday active living. So hit those free weights, TRX, resistance bands, battle ropes, kettle bells etc.. If you need new ideas on programming, our knowledgeable BMI trainers will certainly be happy to create a plan for you and make sure you are getting the most out of each exercise safely while having fun.
As amazing as resistance training is, it doesn’t mean you should stop running, riding the bike or taking your favorite group fitness classes. It just means you really should start lifting weights if you have been avoiding or contemplating it. It WILL change your life, as science has backed it up 100 percent. See you in the weight room!
- Mang, Z., Logan, A., Amorim, F., Kravitz, L., Metabolic Effects Of Resistance Training, IDEA Fitness Journal, May, 2019.