Most people think you have to spend hours on the treadmill to lose weight, but more research is showing that building muscle through strength training is the way to go. “It’s a really well ingrained myth that running at a low intensity for long periods of time is the way to lose weight,” explains Amber Ellison Walker, a NASM certified personal trainer at I Think I Can Fitness in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “I used to work at a gym and that’s exactly what we were supposed to tell people, but now there’s research that shows that burning fat is about using energy and the most efficient way to use energy is to strength train,” Walker notes.
Some of the research she’s talking about is Bill Evans’ work. A professor in the Department of Medicine at Duke University and the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology at UC Berkeley, Evans explains that strength training is key to losing weight because it builds muscle mass. “As our muscles get bigger, they trigger protein synthesis, which requires calories. The result is a sustained burning of calories and an increased metabolic rate,” Evans explains. “During aerobic exercise, we use more calories while exercising, but quickly return to our base metabolic rates afterwards,” he adds.
Even if you haven’t been a weightlifter before, Evans’ work on sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass associated with aging) proves it’s never too late to start. “Our research demonstrates how resilient muscle is even in 50- and 60-year-olds and beyond, and that muscle is astonishingly responsive to exercise,” he notes.
It turns out that strength training is ideal for people with busy schedules or people who aren’t inspired to work out more than a couple of times a week, because that’s all you need. Many of Evans’ studies have participants strength training just three days per week because “muscles need time to recover — you don’t need to exercise them every day,” he explains. This study, focusing on women, required just two days per week, concluding that the routine is “behaviorally feasible for busy midlife women.”
“Another thing we’ve seen is that previously weak people become more active when they get stronger because they’re able to do things like climb stairs more easily,” Evans adds.
STRENGTH TRAIN AT HOME
As amazing as strength training is, there’s one problem that stands in a lot of people’s way: Getting to the weights. “I’m a big fan of figuring out how to do workouts at home. I go to people’s homes [to train them] because I believe that exercise should be integrated into your life,” Walker says.
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While she stresses the importance of working with a trainer, at least initially, Walker says it’s necessary “if you have anything going on with your body like injuries, chronic pain or muscular imbalances that will affect your ability to perform.” Here, she offers suggestions for ways to add strength training at home:
INSTALL A PULLUP BAR
“Put a pullup bar somewhere in your place. Pullups are easy to start with, even if you’re just hanging there. Eventually you’ll do half of a pullup, then a full pullup and so on. Just do one every time you walk past it and eventually you’ll progress, and that’s what weight training is about — progression,” Walker says.
DEVISE WORKOUT “SNACKS”
Workout snacks is a term Walker uses to refer to quick-and-easy mini workouts you can do throughout your day. “Pushups are a great example. Start at the counter if you can’t do one on the floor. Move to a table, then to a chair and eventually to the floor — again, it’s all about progression,” she notes, adding that squats and stair steps are also great workout snacks.
INVEST IN SIMPLE EQUIPMENT
“Kettlebells are really easily hidden and so are most dumbbells and [both are] super effective for at-home strength training. Strength bands and suspension kits are other pieces of equipment that work well at home and take up very little space,” she concludes.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT WORKOUT