Fit and healthy middle age woman getting ready to run on a treadmill in a gym for a cardio workout

What gym equipment will give me the best cardio workout?

To improve cardiovascular fitness, you need to challenge your cardiovascular system. Simply put, that means moving your body in a way that increases your heart rate and makes you breath harder. Of course, you can get fit without a gym membership, but the variety of cardio machines under one roof can make your cardio workout a little more enticing. Make sure you get the best cardio workout by picking the machine that will work best for you. That mean safe and keeping you pain free, effective, and maybe even enjoyable!

Stair Climber / Stair Stepper

The rundown: The stair stepper (or stair climber) is exactly what it sounds like. Generally the “stairs” take two forms: A treadmill-type “staircase”, or a set of foot plates that moves up and down.

  • The stairs are tough! Prolonged stair climbing will quickly elevate your heart rate, especially with a faster speed. But “tough” is all relative – you have control over speed or resistance to make the workout somewhat easier or harder.  And don’t feel bad about giving yourself plenty of breaks throughout the workout. It will make it easier to get through the session and you’ll lose little or no benefit from it.
  • The stair stepper can be good for keeping your joints healthy. You need use a bigger range of motion, as each step will require more bend in the hips, knees, and ankles to lift your leg and take the “step”.  This greater range of motion can help keep joints well lubricated and mobile.
  • Provides a nice added strength boost for the lower body. Because you have to take bigger steps, the muscles in your lower body will work harder. This means you’ll develop more strength in the major muscle groups in your legs (your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves).
  • The stair stepper may not be the best choice if you have existing knee pain, though that doesn’t automatically rule it out, either.  Use a foam roller or trigger point ball on your quads (front of thigh) and glutes (butt and sides of hips) prior to taking your first step up.  Loosening tension through these areas will take a lot of pressure off of the knees.
  • Getting tired? DON’T lean on the arm railings – this takes away much of the “work” and can put your body in an awkward position, which can lead to physical stress through the joints of your spine and upper body, and can long-term set you up for injury. If you feel the need to lean, take a 1-2 minute break instead, either by slowing the machine way down, or by hopping off and walking around.

The Verdict: The stair stepper is one of the most effective cardio machines at the gym, because the movement is inherently high demand. Plus you get the added bonus of strength building through the lower body and large ranges of movement.

Elliptical Machine

The rundown: This machine guides you through low-impact movement that’s a cross between running and cross-country skiing.

  • Many machine have optional arm bars. Use them! Adding in upper body movement will lead to a larger increase in heart rate than just using the stationary handles. More muscles moving = higher heart rate and more calories burned.
  • This is generally the closest you get to running and still keep in low-impact (actually, no impact). If your elliptical machine has an incline setting, give yourself a boost here for a greater range of motion, which can help joint health.
  • Because you generally keep your feet connected to the foot plates, the gliding motion can sometimes lead to discomfort through the joints, especially if you’re already holding tension through the muscles of the hip and thigh (muscle tension can sometimes create more twist and torque through joints).

The Verdict: Excellent if you like to run but don’t feel comfortable with the impact any longer. If you choose an elliptical workout, get your upper body involved to maximize your results.

Stationary cycle / Spin bike

The rundown:  Another low-impact cardio machine, stationary cycles and spin bikes can give you a great workout with minimal joint stress, provide you set the bike up to suit your body. Because you can set the resistance,  you can somewhat turn your cycle workout into a strength builder as well.

  • These bikes can still lead to joint stress and strain, even without the impact. To prevent joint pain, make sure the bike settings are adjusted correctly for your body. Seat height should be set so that your knees are slightly bent when straight out, and the distance between the front of the seat and the “handlebars” is about the same as the distance from your elbow to your fingertips. This will minimize your risk of knee pain or lower back pain, though again, the risks are small!
  • Increase the resistance to simulate riding up a hill. This can be an excellent way to build strength in your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
  • Variable resistance and the smooth motion of the pedal stroke means that stationary cycles and spin bikes are great in almost every situation, from knee surgery rehab to cross training for high level sports.
  • Leaning too heavily on the handlebars/arm bars can result in a lot on tension buildup through the neck and shoulders. During your ride, sit up straight frequently and shake out your shoulders and arms to keep everything loose.

The verdict: Great for use in almost every situation, as the speed and resistance can guide smooth movements with minimal physical stress. Make sure you know how to set the bike up for your arm and leg length to keep yourself comfortable and pain free.

Rowing ergometer

The rundown: This machine is one of the most frequently mis-used, which is a shame. It can offer a really phenomenal workout!

  • Out of all the standard cardio equipment you find in a gym, this piece has the highest potential for a high intensity workout. Good rowing technique requires a powerful push with the legs, and a pull with the torso and arms, meaning that almost every muscle in the body is working hard.
  • This machine also allows you to set your own speed and resistance, so the workout doesn’t have to be crazy challenging. An important note though: make sure you have enough resistance to work against, especially with the leg push part of the movement – without this, there is a greater risk of losing control of the movement, which can lead to physical stress and injury.
  • One of the most common complaints with using the rowing machine is a sore lower back, and/or neck and shoulders. This happens when you lean too far back as you pull the handle, and when you pull the handle too high. At the end of the pull, you should be leaning back only slightly, and definitely not more than about 45 degrees, and the handle should be pulled in towards your bellybutton.
  • You might want to start small with this machine. Because there is a lot more upper body involvement, many people tire quite quickly. Interval training is a great option on the rower, or just start with 5 minutes’ work and combine it with another type of cardio.

The verdict: Once you’re comfortable with the technique, this is a really excellent option for a big workout in a short amount of time – big being relative, of course!

Treadmill (Walking, Jogging, or Running)

The rundown: The most well-known of the cardio equipment, you can walk, jog, or run in a controlled environment.

  • The tread can be a little bit more joint friendly than concrete, as it provides some cushion to help decrease the impact of each step. But that and the movement of the tread make it less work than walking or running outside. Get all of the benefits: Use a little incline to cancel out the “give” of the tread. A 1% incline is roughly equal to the work of walking on the ground, without the loss of cushion.
  • Don’t lean on the hand supports or arm railings. If you aren’t using your arms, your missing out on natural body movement and extra calories burned. This is especially true if you’re walking at a high incline, holding the handles and leaning backwards – you’re missing out on a lot of the benefits, and it’s not particularly safe on the off chance that your phone rings and you absentmindedly let go. THE ONE EXCEPTION: If you need some help with balance, by all means, hang on. Help maintain good body mechanics by keeping your hands somewhat in front of your torso, and away you go.
  • One of the benefits of using a treadmill is that you get your workout without going anywhere, so if you get tired, you get to just stop and get off. BUT. Please let the tread come to a complete stop before stepping off. Those videos you see off people flying off the back of the treadmill? I’ve seen that happen in real life and it’s not fun.

You’ll find most of these cardio machines in most gyms, but this isn’t a complete list of the equipment you might have available, nor is it a complete list of pros and cons. Always chat to a personal trainer or exercise physiologist about which cardio workout will be right for you and your specific situation.

 

 

HealthFit Coaching provides in-home and in-clinic personal training and exercise physiology in Brisbane’s western suburbs of Indooroopilly, Taringa, Toowong, St Lucia, Graceville, Chelmer, and Sherwood.
Find out how you can look good, feel great, move easily, and enjoy life more. Contact us now to learn how.

Middle age woman raising her eyebrows in surprise

The Secret Life Of A Health Coach

Want to know the biggest secret about my life as a health coach/exercise physiologist/personal trainer?

I’m just a normal person.

I like all types of fried potatoes, working out is sometimes more effort than it seems like it’s worth, and I definitely do not have a six-pack. I’ve been through periods of being super active and fit, and periods of being super lazy, and while I much prefer feeling and being super fit and healthy, I frequently struggle to make the time for it.

It’s called real life – as least, it is for most of us. There are great trainers out there who are able to juggle big workouts, prepping and eating routine meals, making their body their whole focus – Awesome for them. I’ll even admit that I’ve more than a little jealous. I had that for a few years and it was great, but it was also when I was in college with the luxury of plenty of time to spend on it.

In the years since, I’ve stopped beating myself up over NOT doing all those things. I’ve found my balance between eating healthy and really enjoying my meals, between being fit and being out of shape (though I often sit slightly below my ideal fitness level). These days, my ultimate goal is to strike that balance between making my entire life about my body, fitness and health, and being able to enjoy what life has to offer.

So, my big secrets?

My fitness levels fluctuate A LOT and I have to really work for what I have. My biggest challenge is balancing my time between every life demand in a way that I’m happy with (or at least can live with). Sometimes workouts lose out.

I love eating. LOVE IT. I love movie popcorn and giant salads and everything in between. Portion control is my nemesis.

I struggle to make myself a priority. I spend all day every day talking to people about taking care of themselves. I’m the worst at taking my own advice!

Stress-eating: Ugh, yes, that’s me.

I would much rather watch Netflix than go to the gym. (Though as with most people, I get a lot more satisfaction from going to the gym, once it’s all said and done.)

I may or may not read on my phone every night in bed, even though I know all the science says it’s bad for your sleep. Oops.

The point is, this is real life. We can have all the education and experience in the world – I’m not short on either and definitely know better – and making the best choices is still challenging. I live those choices day in and day out, just like everyone else. But these days I’m ok with those challenges. They are a lot easier now that I’ve learned to make life about habits and choices I enjoy, rather than choices that feel like chores that I should or have to do. I’ve found my balance between the effort I’m happy to make, and the results I’m happy to have. I’m launching this new section, The Secret Life Of A Health Coach: Food and Fitness in Real Life, to share what those choices look like for me, and to give you some ideas and support in finding your own balance.


Walking along coronation drive in Brisbane

Client Question: Can Walking Uphill Take The Place of Lower Body Resistance Training?

Thanks to one of our exercise physiology clients in Indooroopilly for a great question!

Hill climbing can be a challenge to the muscles of the lower body, whether you walk outdoors or on a treadmill. As a result, uphill walking can help improve the strength and endurance of the lower body muscles. But it will not completely replace the need for lower body resistance training.

You may feel that walking uphill is a physical challenge, and you are not wrong! The major muscle groups in your legs have to work harder to keep you moving, and that can certainly lead to greater strength development than walking only on a flat surface. Walking will only stimulate strength development up to a point though, and relying on walking for strength will mean you’ll also miss out on other important elements of fitness.

Resistance Training Develops and Maintains Joint Mobility

Most strength or resistance training exercises require larger movements than walking does. These larger movements are the key to maintaining joint mobility (the freedom to move your joints through a normal, full range of motion). This keeps you moving well and can reduce wear and tear on the joints – one of the biggest causes of joint pain.

Resistance Training Develops and Maintains Muscle Strength

Strength is important, even if you don’t see yourself entering any future strongman competitions. You need a minimum, basic level of strength to meet the demands of daily life, whether that means lugging a heavy bag or briefcase around all day, carrying the groceries, or picking up the kids. While any activity that makes you work hard will develop muscular strength to some degree, resistance training is the best for this. A dedicated strength-building workout will promote far more strength than any you might build as a by-product of other exercise.

Resistance Training Helps Maintain Movement Abiliity

The combination of strength and joint mobility will help you maintain your overall movement ability, agility, balance, and gait well into your golden years. These two components of fitness and musculoskeletal health are what give you the ability to catch yourself if you trip, reach overhead to grab things down from shelves, and generally maintain your ability to walk, jog, and run well throughout your entire life.

Resistance Training Helps to Maintain Muscle Mass

Around about your mid-30s, you’ll start to lose about 1% of your muscle mass every year. Over time, this has a huge impact on your movement ability (muscle mass is directly related to physical strength) – if you don’t take action. Your body will keep the muscle it uses. Use resistance training to maintain muscle mass and your muscle mass will keep you moving.

Over time, muscle loss can also substantially slow your metabolism, one part of why many people gain weight with age. Remember that old saying “muscle burns more calories than fat”? It’s true! Resistance training keeps your metabolism revved up, helping you more easily lose weight and keep it off.

So you can’t rely on the treadmill to build lower body strength. Do you have to join a gym? Not at all. If the rise of in-home personal training options and other at-home workouts tell us anything, it’s that you can get a great workout at home with little to no set-up. Our in-home personal training, exercise physiology, and coaching options do recommend a few different training tools, but you can start resistance training at home using just your bodyweight and branch out as you need to. You’ll probably find that you actually have a few things already lying around the house that you can use to provide resistance. Get creative and enjoy the benefits!

For more information:
Plowman, S. A., & Smith, D. L. (2017). Exercise Physiology For Health, Fitness, and Performance (5th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Franz, J. R., & Kram, R. (2013). How does age affect leg muscle activity/coactivity during uphill and downhill walking? Gait & Posture, 37(3), 378-384. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2012.08.004

Lean middle age man trying to open a jar

What is Functional Training?

The short answer: Functional training is exercise that mimics and prepares you for the movements you make in everyday life.

The longer answer: Will depend on who you talk to! Functional training can have as many definitions as there are trainers.

In exercise science, functional training refers to an exercise or training program that will keep you physically capable of meeting the demands of daily life. Programs are designed around your day to day activities and include exercises that develop strength, endurance, and mobility in the same movement patterns that your daily activities use. As an exercise physiologist, I see functional training programs as those meeting your physical needs, whatever they are, which of course leaves a lot of room for variation. For instance, the program for an avid runner might include specific exercises to increase running speed, or to help the body better absorb impact. A program for a stay-at-home parent with young kids might be focused on maintaining good hip mobility to help with getting down and up off the floor, and on building upper back strength and core strength to help balance out the changes in posture that happen when you carry kids around. In other words, true functional training is really specific to YOU.

How does this mesh with functional training programs provided by different gyms and personal trainers?

Functional has been a fitness industry buzzword for a while now, but it’s often not clear what you might get in any given functional workout. Early functional training programs were focused on neuromuscular training exercises, generally involving moving with your eyes closed or balancing on a stability ball to challenge balance or reaction times. One might think of this training as developing the finer points of physical coordination and movement.

More recently, Crossfit and other fitness and training companies like F45 have grabbed onto the “functional” term, though these workouts have moved far away from challenging the finer points of movement. I’d argue that this current crop of functional training providers actually provide cross-training, as the workouts are changed on a daily basis with an emphasis on developing a broad base in strength, power, and cardiovascular endurance. These are all elements of fitness that are needed for high quality functional movement and for good health in general.

When I compare them to the movements of daily life though, I find them somewhat lacking – from a true functional perspective. Heavy squats, battle ropes, box jumps, chin-ups, sprints, and other exercises are common components of these workouts. But when in day to day life do you find yourself needing to jump up onto something as high as your knees?

How much do the differences between functional personal training or gym programs and other functional programs really matter?

They might not matter at all. It really depends on how much you feel like you need a specific, individualized exercise plan. Some people will be fine with the generalized, cross-training style “functional” training, namely those who already have a moderate level of fitness and good movement control. True functional training provided by an exercise physiologist or a personal trainer with significant additional training in movement assessment and movement quality is the right choice for you if you:

  • Are starting physical activity or exercise for the first time, or after a long period off
  • Have a history of joint pain or injury
  • Have a long-term health condition, especially if this impacts your movement ability and physical capacity
  • Want to refine your movement technique to prevent injury and maximize progress

You will always be the best judge of what will work best for your lifestyle and your body. If you want to focus on functional training that supports your everyday activities, think about what movements are required, and look for exercises (or professional guidance) that will help you replicate those movements with just a little more intensity.

 

 

HealthFit Coaching provides in-home personal training and exercise physiology in Brisbane. HealthFit Coaches specialize in providing individualised functional training for general fitness and long-term health conditions. Contact HealthFit now for an obligation-free phone call to find out how we can help you be healthy, fit, and happy.


Fit healthy middle age man swimming in an outdoor pool in Brisbane

What Are The Most Common Types Of Exercise?

Depending on your workout or the type of physical activity you do, you can gain muscle strength, cardiovascular and aerobic endurance, improve your flexibility and joint health, or help maintain other components of good physical function like balance and coordination. The most common components of exercise programs are resistance training, cardio or aerobic exercise, and flexibility. Since they all provide different benefits, it’s essential to include a balance of these different types:

Resistance training (also known as strength training or weight training): Resistance exercises are those that train your body to produce force against some sort of resistance, whether that is your own body weight, resistance bands, traditional dumbbells and barbells, or a multitude of other training equipment.

Moving against resistance stimulates your muscles to develop size, optimal length and muscle tone, and contraction ability, as well as the coordination to be able to complete daily tasks with ease. These characteristics can promote good posture, reducing the risk of injury and poor health, improve body composition (the ratio of body fat to lean body tissue), enhance movement abilities, and generally boost self-confidence and self-esteem.

Resistance training can be further broken down into training programs that are focused on developing maximal muscular strength and power, muscle size, or muscle endurance. For most people with non-athletic goals, development of muscle size will provide the greatest all-around benefit for lifelong muscle health. It’s important to consider that the training benefits are directly related to the amount of work you put in – regardless of the training focus, if you aren’t training with enough effort, no benefit will be seen.

Cardiovascular training (also known as aerobic training or endurance training): This is exercise or activity that is made up of repeated, often rhythmic movements that use the large muscle groups of the arms and legs. These types of exercise usually don’t require much or any special training or practice, and are often done for an extended period of time – though “extended” is all relative. (If you’re just starting out with aerobic exercise, extended might only mean five minutes.) Some of the most common examples include walking and running, cycling, and swimming, though many other activities also fall into this category.

Cardio exercise helps your heart to beat more efficiently, in turn using less energy to move oxygen and nutrients, and keeps the blood vessels healthy and able to respond to the demands that movement can place on your body. This decreases wear and tear on the heart and the blood vessels, lowering the risk of heart disease and cardiovascular conditions, as well as the risk of sudden conditions like a heart attack.

Flexibility or Stretching and Joint Mobility Training:  These exercises have two specific but closely related training goals. Flexibility exercises are designed to promote optimal length in the soft tissues surrounding a joint or a series of joint, which will allow the joint to move freely within its available range of motion. Flexibility training targets the muscles and connective tissues around the joint. Joint mobility refers to the ability of the joint itself to move freely. Joints can become stiff with lack of movement, which can stiffen the connective tissues within the joint, or can lose movement ability when the flexibility of surrounding muscles and connective tissues decrease. In order for a joint to be mobile, the soft tissues surrounding it must be flexible, and in order for the soft tissues to develop or maintain flexibility, the joint must be able to move freely. Both of these components are important in maintaining good posture and movement ability – key components to an active, pain-free lifestyle with low injury risk.

Flexibility can be developed by traditional static stretching exercises, which involves moving to the point of moderate stretch and holding that stretch for at least 30 seconds (the minimal amount of time required to create a lasting change in flexibility). Dynamic stretching is a better option for joint mobility training, as it’s performed by moving into a stretching position, holding it for a few seconds, and then backing off. By combining this stretch with a greater degree of joint movement, you can develop and maintain optimal joint mobility. Spending time on both static and dynamic stretching will give you the best results.

Resistance training, cardiovascular exercise, and flexibility are the three most commonly discussed components of a balanced exercise program. But there is another component that is often overlooked, yet is perhaps the most important component of exercise and activity, especially when it comes to maintaining good functional movement throughout your entire life. Be sure to check out our upcoming post on Neuromuscular training at the end of the week!

 

Looking for the best in-home personal training and exercise physiology program? Look no further. HealthFit coaching provides exercise programs that are real-life ready – flexible enough to work with your lifestyle without sacrificing your health and fitness goals. Take the first step to lifelong health and fitness – Contact HealthFit Now.


What’s the difference between exercise, physical activity, and movement?

All refer to different ways of using your body. The differences lie primarily in intent, intensity, and duration, but other elements also impact what category your activity might fall into. And don’t worry about not working hard enough – it’s all good for you!

Movement

The broadest category of, well, body movement. For our purposes, movement means using your body in an irregular, spontaneous manner, often to complete a specific task. Movements may use all of your muscles or joints, or just some of them, depending on the action you are working to complete. We consider movement as the brief, one-off activities that move us through our daily lives.

Examples: Walking from your parked car into the office or the supermarket, making the bed, bending over to pick a pen up off the ground, knitting

Physical Activity

For our purposes, physical activity is movement that is sustained for more than a few minutes and that mildly or moderately increases your heart rate and energy expenditure, and is often a planned effort. Like the “movement” category, physical activity may use some or all of your muscles and joints, depending on what you’re doing.

Examples: Doing yardwork, gardening, walking the dog, doing housework

Exercise

Planned, sustained physical activity usually consisting of repetitive movements. All exercise is physical activity, but not all physical activity is exercise. How can you tell one from the other? Exercise is done with the specific goal of improving your health or fitness. It’s also usually done at a higher intensity – that is, it’s a little (or a lot) more physically challenging!  There are many subcategories of exercise, like resistance training or endurance training, each of which can impact different elements of health and fitness.

Examples: Going for a brisk walk or a run, doing a strength training workout, going to a yoga or group fitness class

While exercise is done specifically to get healthy or improve fitness, physical activity can also benefit your body. If you feel like jumping into regular workouts is a big ask for you right now, please remember that it’s ok to start slow! Physical activity can have huge benefits for your body, especially if you aren’t especially active when you start out. It’s generally accepted that the health benefits of both physical activity and exercise occur in proportion to the amount of activity – every little bit of physical activity can add benefit! In fact, research has shown that you can achieve health and fitness improvements with sessions of physical activity or exercise can be as short as five to ten minutes, though the level of benefit will depend greatly on your base level of fitness and the total amount of physical activity or exercise you get in a day.

But even if you’re fit and healthy, five to ten minutes of some sort of activity is still good for you. It’s often easier to find five or ten minutes a few times a day than time for a whole workout. Where do you find yours?


Fit and healthy middle age woman doing a snatch barbell exercise for stretch and power training

How To Get The Most Out Of Your Strength Training Workout

We’ve previously written about the physical benefits of strength training. Make sure you get the most from your strength training program and every single workout by following these guidelines:

Warm Up Right – While five minutes on a treadmill and some stretching is better than no warm-up, using a dynamic mobility warmup is a much better use of your time. Dynamic mobility, or dynamic stretching, combines easy movement to warm the tissues with greater ranges of motion, better preparing the muscles and joints for the movements that are included in your training program.

Choose the right resistance – Pick a weight or resistance level that allows you to do your target number of reps with good technique, and that’s challenging enough that you think you could have done maybe one or two more

Give your body a solid foundation to work from – Your body can create movement, or it can create movement well. To get the most out of every exercise, you want your joints and big muscles to have the support of your small stabilizer muscles. Keep yourself at your strongest by:

  • Keep your core tight: Brace your tummy and lower abdominals – that is, squeeze them tight without pulling them in. One way to automatically create this activation is by pretending someone is going to punch you in the stomach. Your reaction will automatically tighten the right muscles.
  • Keep your pelvic floor on: Ever needed to pee, with no restroom nearby? That squeeze is activating your pelvic floor, and is exactly what you want to be doing throughout all movements, though you shouldn’t need to keep it 100% “on”. A gentle squeeze is enough to provide support. Note that it can be difficult to maintain this activation throughout movements, so if you find that you lose the squeeze, reset and turn it back on when you get to a comfortable stopping point in the movement.
  • Keep your shoulder blades squeezed: This doesn’t mean pulling your shoulder blades together as hard as you can. A gentle squeeze towards the spine and slightly down is all you need.
  • Keep your chin tucked: The idea of this movement is to help maintain a neutral spine from top to bottom. Many people jut their chins forward when they are working hard, which creates misalignment throughout the spine and torso. Keep your chin tucked slightly by drawing your head back, like you are trying to touch the back of it towards a wall behind you. This should also be gentle. If you feel tension through the front of your neck, you’re trying too hard.

Stay controlled – Keep your movements slow enough to maintain control, especially if using external resistance (anything other than your bodyweight). This will keep you safe, and will allow all the right muscles to activate at the right times, maximizing the benefit

Pay attention to your body – One of the best ways to maximize progress is to think about the muscles that are working while you do an exercise. Paying attention to how they feel as you complete the movement can create stronger muscle contractions, and can also help keep you safe, as you’ll more likely be aware of something that might not be working or feeling great.

Follow the number one rule: No pain. If something hurts – and not the muscular burn of 1000 reps – stop doing it and take the steps to figure out why. It might be as simple as adjusting your positioning or resistance, or you may need to refine your exercise technique in order to create less stress on your body. If you find a specific exercise or type of movement consistently causes pain, it should be checked out by a physiotherapist/physical therapist, or an orthopedic doctor. Your GP or primary care doc is unlike to have as much insight into what might be causing the problem, though you may need to start with them if you need a referral.

HealthFit Coaching offers health coaching, nutrition advice, and in-home personal training and exercise physiology in Brisbane, Australia. Ready to take the first step towards feeling great? Contact us now!

Fit and healthy lean woman in a crop top standing at a barbell rack at a gym

What does strength training do for your body?

Strength training – also called weight training or resistance training – is the type of exercise that increases muscle size, strength, and power. Strength training workouts normally consist of multiple sets of up to 15-20 reps of the same exercise, broken up by periods of rest.

Big changes

Strength training is a fundamental component of a balanced exercise plan, and is crucial to maintaining good physical health as you age, since it can counterbalance the physical decline of our bodies that begins in our mid-30s. For maximal health and fitness benefits, use a strength training program targeting all the major muscles of the body. Many (but not all) strength training benefits are specific and localized to the muscles performing the movement, such as:

    • Strength training builds and maintains muscle mass. Muscle mass (the amount of muscle you have) allows you to produce good quality movement with ease, and can help minimize risk of overuse injury and promote good posture. Low levels of muscle, or imbalances in muscle mass from left to right, or front to back, can lead to poor movement abilities and painful joints. Your overall muscle mass is also one of the most important factors in long-term health. It’s easy to not think about old age when it’s a long time away, but your level of muscle mass can greatly impact the quality of your later years, again due to its influence on movement ability, balance, and posture.
    • Strength training builds and maintains muscle strength and neurological connections. The connection between muscle size and strength is strong. The contraction force of a muscle is limited by its overall size, so muscles that are relatively small will also be relatively weak. This can limit how well your body responds to the physical demands of everyday life – things like carrying bags of groceries, picking up the kids or grandkids, or climbing a set of stairs all rely on muscular strength. Strength training also helps maintain a strong neurological signal from your brain to your muscles, so that when they are needed, they’ll produce strong contractions and support good quality movement. In fact, weak muscles and poor muscle activation are some key reasons for common musculoskeletal conditions like chronic lower back pain, knee pain, and even some types of headaches.
    • Strength training can improve the visual appearance of muscle. Even if your main goal is to improve your health and physical fitness, it’s definitely nice to like how you look. Strength training exercises are an excellent way of achieving a toned muscular appearance (if that’s what you’re after). If you use a muscle frequently – whether during daily activities or frequent strength training – your nervous system prepares your muscles to work more efficiently by maintaining a very low level contraction in frequently used muscles. This shortens the time and activation needed to fully contract the muscle, and creates the look of “toned” muscles.
    • Strength training helps prevent or stop progression of osteoporosis. Each muscle and bone is covered by a fine layer of connective tissue, helping each piece of your body connect to the others. The tension and pull of muscle contraction, and the impact forces of some exercises, stimulate the bone to either increase bone density or decrease bone mineral loss, which occurs as a natural part of aging.
Hidden changes

Benefits that are localized to the working muscles also have a flow-on effect, providing an element of benefit and protection for the entire body:

  • Strength training improves body composition. Muscle mass requires energy to maintain, so more muscle will increase your resting energy expenditure. This means your body will need to use more of its fuel stores simply to exist. Provided you are taking in the same amount and quality of food and drink, strength training will shift your body composition so that your body fat percentage will decrease while your muscle mass increases.
  • Strength training can decrease risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases. This benefits stem from improvements in the way your body releases and uses stored fat and carbohydrates.
    • Long-term insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, or diabetes risks and severity can be decreased via strength training. As working muscles require more energy, the muscles become more efficient at responding to insulin levels and absorbing and using blood glucose (what you may know as blood sugar). Physical exercise and muscle contraction can also have an immediate, short-term effect on blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity.
    • High cholesterol and triglycerides levels can also be decreased via strength training. Just as working muscles become more efficient at insulin response and blood glucose use, muscles also become more efficient in using cholesterol and triglycerides for fuel. This includes and enhanced use of muscular fat stores, and an increase in use of whole body fat stores. Also of benefit, strength training has been shown to increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels, which help clear excess fats from the bloodstream.
    • Blood pressure can be improved via strength training too. It is thought that the positive impact comes from maintaining the health of blood vessels in your arms and legs. Blood vessels are naturally elastic and all exercise helps them maintain this characteristic, meaning they are better able to respond to changes in pressure and blood flow that occur with exercise or stress. Blood pressure decreases from strength training are small, but often significant enough to decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. And strength training can be safe even if you have higher levels of blood pressure, provided exercises are performed under control and with steady breathing.

    Including some type of strength training in your exercise program or daily movement is immensely helpful in maintaining good health and quality of life, no matter your age or current health status. Different sets, reps, and exercise choices can significantly impact the results you get from your training program; speak with a professional qualified in strength coaching or exercise physiology to maximize benefit. Programs can be safely done at gyms or as an in-home workout, and you can use all sorts of exercises ranging from bodyweight to resistance bands to free weights. Give it a try – your body will thank you!

    For more detailed information, read these…
    Baechle, T. R., & Earle, R. W. (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics.
    Lira, F. S., Yamashita, A. S., Uchida, M. C., Zanchi, N. E., Gualano, B., Martins, E., . . . Seelaender, M. (2010). Low and moderate, rather than high intensity strength exercise induces benefit regarding plasma lipid profile. Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome, 2(1), 31. doi:10.1186/1758-5996-2-31
    Mann, S., Beedie, C., & Jimenez, A. (2013). Differential Effects of Aerobic Exercise, Resistance Training and Combined Exercise Modalities on Cholesterol and the Lipid Profile: Review, Synthesis and Recommendations. Sports Medicine, 44(2), 211-221. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0110-5
    Nikander, R., Sievänen, H., Heinonen, A., Daly, R. M., Uusi-Rasi, K., & Kannus, P. (2010). Targeted exercise against osteoporosis: A systematic review and meta-analysis for optimising bone strength throughout life. BMC Medicine, 8(1). doi:10.1186/1741-7015-8-47
    Sillanpää, E., Laaksonen, D. E., Häkkinen, A., Karavirta, L., Jensen, B., Kraemer, W. J., . . . Häkkinen, K. (2009). Body composition, fitness, and metabolic health during strength and endurance training and their combination in middle-aged and older women. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 106(2), 285-296. doi:10.1007/s00421-009-1013-x
    If you are Brisbane based and would like to start strength training in-home with personalized guidance and accountability, HealthFit can help! Contact us now to take your first step towards better health and fitness.

Two people exercising at a gym and at home exercise equipment

Which is better, exercising at home, or exercising at a gym?

Where will you get the most out of your workout?

In the home-exercise versus gym-workout battle, there is no clear winner. Both gym-based and at-home exercise have their own pros and cons, but in the end, it’s a very individual preference. And this preference makes all the difference in how effective your workout actually is.

If you’ve struggled with getting into a workout routine or setting up another exercise habit, it may be that you’re pushing yourself in the wrong direction. Making your movement fit into your lifestyle and figuring out what you enjoy can make any exercise routine WAY easier. These pros and cons will give you a hand in figuring out where your workouts will be most effective:

Gym-Based Workouts – The Pros

You’ll have a large variety of equipment available. Gym equipment is expensive, so if you like having choices, you may save money, space, and effort with a gym membership versus setting up a home gym.

You might not pay much. There are pricey gyms out there, no doubt, but there are a lot of great gyms with reasonable membership rates. Pro tip – if you are looking to sign up for a gym membership but aren’t in a huge rush, wait until the end of the month. Most gyms have a monthly membership sales quota and you may be able to get a discounted or waived “sign up” fee if they are low on numbers. Don’t be afraid to negotiate!

You could have some fun! Classes and group fitness, if included in your membership, can be a huge bonus (especially considering that a single group fitness session can cost $15 -$20). Classes can be fun and motivational as well, especially if you have a competitive streak.

Gym-Based Workouts – The Cons

You have to share the gym. Other people will also be there. Waiting for weights or equipment can be a big turn off, especially if you are on a tight schedule.

You might get some bad advice. There are plenty of people (both trainers and other gym members) that have no problem offering unsolicited advice based on outdated knowledge. At best, this is annoying and it can be hard to know what you might need to listen to. At worst, you could follow some bad advice and end up doing yourself harm. (Key to avoiding this: only listen to people who are well trained and listen to what you have to say!)

You might not get there. My biggest issue with a gym membership is actually taking an additional half-hour out of my day to get there and get home. It’s a well-known fact in the gym industry that if you get a client who has to go out of their way to get to the gym, you won’t see them for long. It’s got to be super convenient, and even being close to work or home sometimes isn’t enough. If you don’t belong to a 24-hour gym, you might find that you’re even less likely to get there.

At-Home Workouts – The Pros

You can do it whenever you want. Working out at home means working out when it suits you. I do mostly home-based workouts now because I can squeeze in a session when I have a spare 20-30 minutes, rather than having to plan it into my day. This works best if you don’t need a plan to stick with in order to get things done.

It’s a zero-judgement zone. It’s just you – no one else to check out what you’re doing or offer unsolicited advice.

You don’t have to wait for anything. Even if you’re sharing your home gym equipment with family members, you can tell them to hurry the heck up with it! But generally, you’ll be able to move through your workout at exactly the pace you need it.

At-Home Workouts – The Cons

You may have limited equipment choices. You don’t have to have a home gym at all in order to get a good workout at home. Most movements can be done using just body-weight resistance, but you might have to get creative with your “pull” exercises – anything that targets your back. And you definitely don’t want to exclude these!

You may spend a little more money up front. Home based exercise equipment can cost a bit of money at the outset. Fortunately, by making wise choices, you can get all the equipment you need with just a few pieces of equipment – easily setting your home gym for the same cost as a few months of gym membership.

It’s easy to not do it. I went through a phase not too long ago of being too busy to get to the gym, and continually telling myself that I’d do a quick workout when I got home. Instead, I got home and sat on the couch – for the rest of the night. If working out at home isn’t part of your routine, you’ll probably need to put a little extra effort in to get this habit kickstarted. For what it’s worth, I’ve given up on evening exercise – it’s morning or nothing for me!

Of course, this is not a complete list! Everyone will have their own preferences and perks to working out at a gym or at home. The best workout is the one you enjoy doing!

HealthFit Coaching offers exercise and physical activity programs and training. If you’re in Brisbane and keen on getting a comprehensive, individual exercise program set up for your needs – whether for in-home training or gym based – contact us to start now!

Dumbbell hand weights for strength training and muscle building at home

Do I need to do weights to lose weight?

You don’t have to – it may not do much to boost your calorie burn. But there are still some excellent reasons to include strength training in your weight loss plan.

Weight loss (and maintaining your new body weight) is a complex process. Exercise doesn’t actually have a huge impact on weight loss, regardless of what type you do. Food choices and your normal diet are far more impactful, but it’s more complicated than needing to eat fewer calories than you burn. And what your body is doing when you aren’t working out or eating plays a significant role that is often overlooked.

Strength training will help you maintain muscle mass over the long term. If you lift on a regular basis, your body will recognize that it needs to keep that muscle around for something. This is to your benefit during weight loss, weight maintenance, and aging in general. Bear in mind the following when you’re deciding whether you want to add some weights to your routine:

  • Weight loss from a combination of calorie restriction (changed diet) and increased exercise or daily movement will actually decrease your metabolism and daily energy use, since this is directly linked to total body weight. Strength training will help you maintain or increase your muscle mass and therefore your metabolism, which means that you can maintain higher energy use while still losing body fat.
  • Weight training can help the appearance of fat loss in certain areas of the body by giving underlying muscle more definition or size. It’s not possible to preferentially burn fat in certain areas (often called spot toning or spot reduction) – when fat loss happens, it happens all over the body.
  • While cardio exercise will burn the most calories in a given workout, because it’s relatively low intensity, your body quickly recovers. Weight-based exercise will create more of a challenge for your body, and you’ll use more energy in recovering from this. (Bear in mind that exercise intensity rather than type will ultimately determine how much energy the body will use for physical recovery.)

Strength training is also good for your health, in a variety of ways:

  • Regular resistance training will keep the cells involved in energy production and use working smoothly and your body systems functioning well. For example, muscles that are regularly exposed to high intensity exercises will be better at absorbing and using blood glucose, requiring less insulin production and decreasing diabetes risk.
  • Maintaining or even increasing muscle mass can help prevent frailty in old age.  Muscle mass and movement ability are linked, and movement ability means good mobility, agility, balance, and catching yourself if you trip and fall.
  • Strength training can prevent and help treat osteopenia and osteoporosis, two types of decreasing bone density. Bone loss can be due to the aging process, or can be brought about by calorie restriction or dieting. Lifting weights can help stimulate bone growth, especially when you also have adequate calcium intake.

One last note about strength training and weight loss: Because weights will stimulate at least a small increase in muscle mass, using weights in your weight loss program may actually lead to less change in scale weight. For most people, this is a tradeoff they’re happy to make – looking great makes the number on the scale matter a lot less!

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References
Elia M. (1992). Organ and tissue contribution to metabolic rate. In: Kinney JM, Tucker HN, editors. Energy Metabolism: Tissue Determinants and Cellular Corollaries. New York: Raven Press.
Plowman, S. A., & Smith, D. L. (2017). Exercise physiology for health, fitness, and performance (5th ed.). Sydney: Wolters Kluwer.