You've probably heard the terms strength training and weight lifting mistakenly used interchangeably when you're at the gym. Strength training is a type of exercise that is recommended for men and women of all ages, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to use weights to engage in this type of workout. As you age, your muscle mass starts to naturally decrease. The good news is that no matter what your age, any form of strength training will help you reverse that loss.
Strength training is a broad term that is used to refer to any exercise that uses some form of resistance to strengthen and build muscle. You create that resistance and put your muscles to work by using hand-held weights, weight machines, resistance bands, resistance balls and even your own body. Strength training can be done on your own or by taking classes. Pilates and yoga classes are two examples of strength-training workouts that use just your own body weight to strengthen bones and muscles.
Weight lifting, or weight training, is a type of strength training that uses free weights or weight machines for resistance. You don't have to be a body builder to benefit from weight training. Using weights not only helps strengthen your bones and muscles, but it can also help you tone up. It doesn't take a long session in the gym to get results. Just 20 to 30 minutes of weight training two to three times a week will help you reach your goals.
Free Weights vs. Machines
There are advantages and disadvantages to using free weights and weight machines at your favorite gym. When used properly, free weights can be more effective in increasing your overall strength evenly. Your dominant side cannot take over when your muscles start to fatigue -- this can happen if you're using weight machines. Free weights give you a lot of versatility; not only are there a wider variety of exercises you can do, but you can take free weights with you anywhere. However, using free weights requires more concentration. You have to focus more on controlling the weights, and you have to work hard at not letting momentum take over. It can be hard to isolate specific muscle groups at first without proper training, and you have a slightly higher risk of injuring yourself with free weights compared to weight machines.
Whether you use weights or not, strength training is important for your overall fitness level. Choosing whether to use weights is a personal preference. If you've never done strength training before, talk to a professional at your local gym or sign up for strength-training or weight-lifting classes. Learning how to properly lift weights or strengthen without weights is important. Try a little of both and see what you enjoy the most. Start slowly and take breaks as needed. If you're using weights or weight machines, start out with a small amount of weight and take your time when it comes to increasing the amount you use.
Kris Heeter is a research scientist specializing in basic cancer and disease research. Her work has appeared in several scholarly journals and online publications. Heeter has also been a wellness professional for more than 15 years, teaching healthy cooking courses and fitness classes. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology.