Weight training isn’t just for muscleheads anymore.
There’s a stretch of Venice Beach in Santa Monica, CA, known as Muscle Beach. It’s where Gold’s Gym decided years ago to put a gym outside so that passers-by could gawk at huge, rippling, muscled men lifting ridiculously heavy weights.
I am not a huge, rippling, muscled man and I will never work out on Muscle Beach. I have recently, however, begun to sneak into my apartment’s fitness center in the middle of the night, slide the weight bar down to its lowest level and do a few reps before my muscles ache with exhaustion.
I’ve always concentrated on the cardiovascular aspect of fitness and ignored the weight lifting. After all, activities like running, cycling and swimming burn calories — and help you lose weight. Strength training, on the other hand, can actually make you gain pounds on the scale.
Surprised? Don’t be. The reason you can gain weight while lifting is because you’re building muscle, and muscle weighs more than fat. The good news is muscle takes up less space than fat so you may weigh more, but find yourself dropping clothing sizes. It also jiggles less than fat so you’ll look fit and firm.
Another benefit is that muscle needs more calories to survive than fat does. A pound of muscle burns at least 35 calories a day while a pound of fat burns only two. Increasing muscle is a surefire way to increase your metabolism — meaning you burn more calories when you’re sitting around doing nothing.
Building muscle can be simpler than you might think. You don’t need a fancy gym membership — you can start with a pair of dumbbells. Save money by going to a second-hand sports shop like Play it Again Sports or hunting through classifieds and garage sales. If your budget is really tight, you can improvise with five-pound bags of sugar or flour or plastic gallon milk jugs. A one-gallon jug weighs about 8 pounds.
Women and Weight Lifting
I know what all the ladies reading this might be thinking right about now. It’s great for a guy to develop all these rippling muscles, but you certainly don’t want to come out looking like Hercules.
Well, relax. There’s no way with our bodies’ hormones you’ll develop the kind of muscles a guy would. Instead, you’ll find after a few weeks of working out that you have a new definition in your arms and legs — and it looks well-toned, not bulked up.
If you’re ready to try it, take note of these basic weight-training tips from the American Council on Exercise:
* Repeat to exhaustion: For each exercise, do one set of 8 to 12 repetitions in which you use enough weight that at the 12th repetition you feel you can’t possibly do one more. Lift the weight on the count of two and lower it to a count of three or four.
* Don’t workout every day: Unlike cardiovascular exercise, weight training shouldn’t be an everyday event. Your muscles need to heal between strength training workouts. So give yourself a day or two of rest between workouts — or train different body parts on consecutive days. Otherwise you put yourself at risk for injury.
* Vary your workout: Many colleges have gyms with a variety of weight training equipment. If yours does, try to vary your free weight workouts with machine workouts. It’s good for your muscles to work in different ways and it will also keep you from becoming bored.
Now that I’ve been strength training for about four months, I can lift a respectable amount of weight. Even better, I no longer fear embarrassment working out with weights in front of the guys in my apartment complex’s fitness center. Now I wait to see if they can impress me.
Melissa Hicks has really nice biceps, even if she doesn’t like to show them off.
Image courtesy: jasonsroom