The Benefits of Strength Training and 7 Exercises You Can Do at Home
Updated: Jan 23, 2020
I'll be honest, being consistent with exercise is something I struggle with. I'll do it for a while, maybe weeks or even a couple months, but then it'll taper off. I make the same excuses as everyone else of being too busy, too tired or pushing it off until tomorrow. However, I know regular exercise improves my mood, makes me feel strong and confident and improves my sleep so I'm making the same resolution as you all to make physical activity a consistent part of my life.
Two things that have helped me stick with it this month have been starting small and finding something that I enjoy. I've started with 2-3 days per week of exercising in the morning so I get it done first thing. I like to recommend online videos because they're free and you're bound to find something that suits your interests. I recently found a YouTube channel called The Fitness Marshall, run by an instructor named Caleb Marshall, and have been loving his dance workout videos. Dancing is a great way to exercise because it gets your heart rate up and improves coordination, balance and memory. If you like to dance I'd highly recommend his channel.
I've also added strength training to my routine with an app called "The 7 Minute Workout." Many of us say we don't have time to exercise but we all have seven minutes. This has been a good introduction to strength training exercises, doesn't take much time and works the entire body.
In today's blog I want to discuss what strength training is, why it's important for your health and what exercises you can do right now in your home to get moving.
What is strength training?
Strength training involves exercises that work your muscles against resistance so they become stronger and larger. Muscles are made up of many fibers that are grouped into bundles and attached to bones through tendons. When you work your muscles with your own bodyweight or additional weight like a dumbbell, you are increasing the size and strength of the fibers.
Why is strength training important for health?
The health benefits of strength training apply to men and women of all ages. Benefits include strong bones, increased resting metabolism, and cardiovascular and mood benefits.
Stronger bones - Muscles, tendons and ligaments stabilize your bone structure. When you workout you're putting stress on your bones, which makes them build up stronger too. Healthy bone density is especially important for women because lower estrogen levels in menopause reduce bone density leading to osteopenia and osteoporosis. Building up bone strength throughout your life can keep your bones strong later on and slow bone density loss. Strength training also improves balance and coordination, making injuries and falls less likely.
Increased metabolism - Muscle requires more calories to maintain than fat. You not only burn calories during exercise, but also as your body is repairing itself afterwards. It varies from person to person but this effect can last up to 48 hours post-workout. Strength training can help with weight loss because you'll have more muscle using calories even when you're resting.
Improved heart health - Fat around the abdomen, called visceral fat, is detrimental to health because it surrounds the organs and increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Strength training can help to decrease visceral fat, improve cholesterol and triglycerides, reduce blood pressure, and keep blood sugar in a healthy range.
Better blood sugar control - Exercise requires energy from blood sugar and your muscles need a lot of it when they're working hard. Strength training increases insulin sensitivity and the muscle's ability to take glucose out of the blood and into the cells, keeping it in a healthy range. If you have high blood sugar, regular activity can be a part of naturopathic management.
Better mood and body image - You've heard of a "runner's high" but strength training can also increase endorphins and brain chemicals that make us feel better and happier. Exercise can physically and mentally challenge us but when we push through and overcome the challenge we develop a sense of confidence in our abilities, which can translate into other areas of our lives.
What are strength training exercises?
Using body weight is a great way to start out without needing extra equipment. If you are adding weight or have past injuries, I'd recommend hiring a personal trainer to help you do the exercises safely and prevent injury. A good amount to do would be 3 rounds of 10-15 reps of each exercise. Aim for 2 sessions per week.
Squats - This works legs, abdominals, and back. Start with your feet hip distance apart and chest up. Sit back as if you are lowering yourself into a chair with your weight in your heels. Don't let your knees go past your toes or your back round. Push down through your heels as you come up to standing. See how to do a squat.
Push-ups - These work chest, arms, back and abdominals. A good way to start with proper form is to lay on your stomach and position your hands underneath your shoulders. Engage your core and push yourself up but don't lock your elbows. Keep your body in a straight line and don't let your hips sag or go too high. Slowly lower down. You can modify by placing your knees on the floor and having them be the pivot point or do the push-up against a wall or with your hands on a chair. See an example of how to do a push-up.
Plank - This is a great exercise because it works many areas of the body simultaneously including arms, chest, back, core and legs. There are a lot of variations but start with the basics of either high plank on your hands or low plank on your elbows. Aim for 30 seconds and work your way up to a minute or more. Watch how to do a plank.
Bridge - This one is great for working the glutes and legs. Lay on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your arms by your sides with palms facing down. Push through your feet to bring your hips up until they are in line with your knees. Careful not to let your knees drift outwards. Slowly lower to the floor. Watch how to do bridge.
Bicycle - These are like crunches but involve more of the abdominals by using your legs and rotating from side to side. Lay on your back with your hands behind your head. Bring one knee up towards your body and extend the other leg outwards. Twist and bring the opposite shoulder to the knee then switch sides and bring the other knee in and the opposite shoulder to the knee. To make it easier you can bring your legs higher overhead or to make it harder you can bring your legs down towards the floor. Watch how to do the bicycle.
Lunges - Another lower body exercise, the lunge works your legs and glutes. This one can take some getting used to so start simply with a stationary lunge. Start with one foot in front of the other and bend both knees as you lower down towards the floor and then come back up to standing. Make sure to keep your front knee behind your toes to prevent straining the knee. Watch how to do a lunge.
Yoga - This is a great way to increase strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination. The series of movements in a yoga workout can target all the major muscle groups using your body weight. This can be a fun way to get strength training into your routine and relieve stress at the same time.
Strength training is a great way to build muscle, and improve flexibility, coordination and balance. It helps prevent bone loss, increases metabolism, reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes and improves mood. It doesn't have to be complicated. You can start with the above exercises at home using your own body weight. I hope you start soon and be sure to let me know how it goes!
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Cadman, B. (2018, February 15). Visceral fat: What it is, why it is dangerous, and how to get rid of it. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320929.php
Dellitt, J. (2018, November 01). Strength Training For Beginners: The 5 Best Exercises. Retrieved from https://aaptiv.com/magazine/best-strength-training-exercises-beginners
Fetters, K. (2018, March 23). 11 Benefits Of Strength Training. Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/wellness/fitness/articles/2018-03-23/11-benefits-of-strength-training-that-have-nothing-to-do-with-muscle-size