The Word On Fitness

Like a Balanced Meal, Consider a Balanced Movement Regimen: Don’t Stop Resistance Training

By Angeli Ryan-Lim

Springtime is around the corner and the weather is starting to get nice. You may be tempted to forgo your resistance training and head outdoors for some aerobic exercise in the fresh air. A word of caution: If you give up your resistance training, you will be giving up more than you intended. 

Why Resistance Train?

Resistance training is crucial for true fitness. Without it, your muscles will atrophy. If you aren’t building muscle, you are likely losing it. 

If you are 30 years old or older, you are definitely losing muscle, unless you are actively working hard to build it. Beginning at age 30, we begin naturally losing muscle mass every decade, an occurrence that is scientifically named sarcopenia.

The old cliche holds true for muscle mass: If you don’t use it, you lose it.

Have you ever broken your arm or leg in the past and had to wear a cast for a few weeks? Do you remember what happened when the cast was removed? Your arm or leg was a lot smaller than the other and perhaps felt weak. That is because just a few weeks of disuse caused the muscle to begin atrophying, simply defined as shrink or waste away. 

Why should you care? There are many benefits to resistance training, some of which include:

  • Prevents muscle loss and helps begin the rebuilding process.
  • Increases ease of daily activities, such as carrying groceries, rearranging your furniture, or simply passing a plate to someone across the dinner table.
  • Increases bone density, giving you a strong, stable skeleton.
  • Improves balance and coordination.
  • Prevents decay of the ligaments, the pads connecting your bones to each other, therefore preventing pain while moving about your life.
  • Causes the tendons, the connection between your muscles and bones, to grow deeper into your bones, reducing the chance of tearing.
  • Builds muscles which will burn more calories in the long run, even while resting.
  • Reduces blood pressure by making your heart stronger.
  • Increases metabolism.
  • Decreases blood sugar, which helps prevent insulin resistance (the precursor to diabetes). 
  • Improves your aerobic capacity: The stronger your muscles, the better your endurance.
  • Gives you a general feeling of wellness and strength. If you are strong, you feel strong! If you feel strong, you feel empowered!
  • Makes you a better athlete: There is no substitute for strength!
  • Raises your energy level. The more muscle you have, the less effort you must exert and the more energy you have available. 
  • Secures future protection against falls and fractures. If you age with dense bones, strong muscles and good balance, your risk of injury plummets.
  • Creates 22% more afterburn than aerobic exercise does. Afterburn refers to the fat and calories that your body burns in the hours after you have finished your workout.

And from the vainer prospective:

  • Muscles give you a more sculpted look. 
  • Prevents the (in my opinion) poorly named, “skinny fat” phenomenon. More on this later.

Why Aerobic Exercise is Not Enough

“But can’t I just go for a run and build muscle? I’m using muscles when I run!”

The short answer is NO! The long answer: Running or other aerobic exercise is not a replacement for resistance training. They are different exercises and provide different benefits. Aerobic exercise does not deliver the needed stress to your bones, muscles, and tendons.

In order to build strength, you must pull hard on tendons, do microscopic damage to your muscles and literally bend your bones. Going out for a run or putting in an hour on the elliptical will not do this sufficiently.

This is not to say that aerobic exercise is not important, it is! But it is not equivalent to resistance training, nor can you simply substitute one for the other and expect to see the same benefits. You need a good balance of both. If you omit one, you do your body a disservice.

Avoid the “Skinny-Fat” Syndrome.

Another danger of focusing on cardio or aerobic exercise to the exclusion of resistance training is becoming what is known as “Skinny-Fat” (again, I really hate the name, but it’s an important phenomenon to note). Skinny-Fat is a condition in which a person appears thin on the outside, but inside they have a higher body fat percentage and lower muscle mass.

If you are losing weight through diet and exercise but not simultaneously doing resistance training, you are not only losing fat, but you are also losing muscle as well. Your body needs fuel to burn to simply function, whether it be during exercise or daily movement, and it takes this fuel in the form of calories, fat, and muscle. Aerobic only exercise is effective at burning energy from fat during the actual session, but past a certain point, once the body becomes familiar with the intensity, fat loss can slow down. When focusing only on aerobic activity, a lack of focus to resistance training your muscles can occur, therefore resulting in the loss of muscle. As you lose muscle, you lose a major source of energy, and you lose tone and definition. Not to mention you will plateau in your progress because you no longer have the muscle mass to metabolize fat effectively.

Hidden fat is also a risk for the “Skinny-Fat” person. Visceral fat is the most dangerous fat to have, because it accumulates around organs such as the pancreas, heart, and liver and then begins releasing hormones and other secretions that lead to disease. Resistance training can reduce visceral fat and help prevent the additional formation around the organs.

Don’t give up your resistance training just because spring is here, and you are eager to get outside. There is no substitute for lifting heavy weights 2 to 3 times each week. Your health is on the line. Get after it!

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