Ask Stephie: Introduction to strength training: Use it or lose it

You know exercise is good for you, but do you know just how good? Strength training, more specifically, despite its reputation as a “guy” or “jock” thing, is important for everyone. With a regular strength training program, you can reduce your body fat, increase your lean muscle mass, and burn calories more efficiently. In addition, you will be doing fantastic things for your health!

As we age, our muscle mass gradually decreases, and our body fat gradually increases unless we do something about it. That something is strength training. Yes, either use your muscles, or you’ll definitely lose them!

Edward Laskowski, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., and co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center, says strength training also helps you:

Develop strong bones. By stressing your bones, strength training increases bone density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. If you already have osteoporosis, strength training can lessen its impact.

Control your body fat. As you lose muscle, your body burns calories less efficiently—which can result in weight gain. The more toned your muscles, the easier it is to control your weight.

Reduce your risk of injury. Building muscle protects your joints from injury. It also helps you maintain flexibility and balance—and remain independent as you age.

Boost your stamina. As you grow stronger, you won’t fatigue as easily.

Improve your sense of well-being. Strength training can boost your self-confidence, improve your body image and reduce the risk of depression.

Get a better night’s sleep. People who strength train regularly are less likely to struggle with insomnia.

Let’s consider some options for strength training. Before getting started, be sure to get your physician’s approval. You could join a fitness center or even invest in some inexpensive home gym equipment. Hand-held weights or dumbbells can be used for a full-body workout either in a fitness club or at your own home. Resistance bands are another inexpensive option. These elastic-like cords, tubes or bands offer weight-like resistance when you pull on them. They’re available in different tensions to fit a range of abilities. Of course, your own body weight counts, too. Try push-ups, pull-ups, leg squats, and abdominal crunches—you won’t need any special equipment for these exercises.

You certainly don’t need to spend hours a day lifting weights to reap the benefits of strength training. Just a few 20-30 minute sessions a week are sufficient for most people. You should enjoy noticeable improvements in your strength and stamina after just a few weeks of working out with weights. Keep in mind that regular strength training can lead to a 50 percent increase in your overall strength in just six months—even if you are just starting out.

Strength training can do wonders for your physical and emotional well-being. Make it part of your quest for better health!

Stephie Steele is owner of Symmetry Fitness, LLC. She has been featured in IDEA Health & Fitness Source magazine and specializes in weight loss, sports performance, total body fitness, posture alignment therapy, strength training, core conditioning, cardiovascular and flexibility training. Readers can send their questions to Stephie via e-mail to

From the Oct. 11-17, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!