Big, bad to the muscle? Prepare for compliments.
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Lean, taut muscles. That's attractive, right? Not only a sign of strength and power, toned muscles are also a source of confidence. According to the American Council on Exercise, every well-rounded fitness program should incorporate strength training. Aim for each muscle-building session to target different major muscle groups -- from arms to back to chest, hips, legs and stomach -- in a rotation to develop each. Remember to always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen. Try to fit at least one set -- eight to 12 reps -- twice weekly into your schedule.
When we regularly work out to build muscle, we reap many health benefits. "Lean muscle mass burns significantly more calories than other types of tissue," says Tony Wanich, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at New York-based Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center. "And muscle also promotes and maintains metabolism, especially as we age." Countless additional health advantages are associated with strength training, including reduced risk of heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol and osteoporosis. What's more, one Archives of Internal Medicine study found that completing 2.5-hours-plus of weight training weekly may substantially lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
The two most important types of exercise for building bone density are weight bearing (tennis, dancing, brisk walking, stair-climbing, and using elliptical machines) and muscle strengthening (lifting weights or doing push-ups or sit-ups), according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. So you're not a senior citizen? Bone density should be an important consideration for everyone. You may be surprised to learn that after the ripe old age of 30, bone mass begins to decline. That's why regular resistance exercise, such as weight lifting, is crucial to the prevention of osteoporosis, which affects some 10 million adults, with an additional 18 million at risk of developing the disease.
Muscle Building and Maintenance
There are different ways to strength train that have unique effects on the muscles. For example, doing a small number of reps with heavier weights builds muscles, creating larger and stronger muscles over time. Eccentric exercises, where the muscle lengthens as it contracts as with lowering weight to the chest in a bench press, is also effective for building muscle. Doing a large number of reps with lighter weights, however, maintains muscles. Do this when you're happy with your level of fitness and want to keep it there -- and to keep the compliments rolling in.
Keep in mind that you want to take a two-to-three minute break between sets, and do not work the same muscle groups back-to-back. Aim to alternative between upper- and lower-body strength training. Remember that the resistance training required to build muscle leads to significant inflammation and trauma to the muscle, so it's imperative to rest for 48 to 72 hours between workouts. Always warm up before resistance training, such as spending five minutes on a stationary bike, elliptical training machine or treadmill to warm and loosen muscles. Then spend a few additional minutes stretching. Injuries tend to occur as a result of decreased muscle flexibility.