If you’ve been hearing about the importance of strength training but haven’t started a new lifting routine yet, take heart – you may already be engaging in more physical activities than you realize.
There are plenty of things you do each day that qualify as strength training, says Dr. Jay Shah, a family medicine and primary care sports medicine physician with Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center in Pomona, California. These include:
- Carrying groceries.
- Climbing stairs.
- Washing the car.
- Playing with your kids.
- Walking the dog.
- Doing household chores.
These activities are functional strength training. In other words, by engaging in such activities, you’re building strength and endurance to function over the long term.
This all raises questions, though: What exactly is strength training, and why should you be engaging in it?
What Is Strength Training?
Also called resistance training, strength training refers to physical activity in which your muscles contract against an outside force, such as dumbbells, hand weights or weight machines.
Strength training also contributes to a variety of health benefits, including:
- Maintaining bone density, which can help ward off osteoporosis and reduce the risk of fractures.
- Improving mobility, muscle strength and endurance.
- Stabilizing joints, which can reduce your chances of injury and lead to fewer falls, especially as you age.
- Supporting good cognitive function and enhancing your mood and self-esteem.
- Boosting your metabolism, or your basal metabolic rate, to help you burn more calories and maintain or achieve your ideal weight.
- Decreasing blood pressure and supporting good heart health.
How to Start Strength Training
To get into the strength-training groove, you should start small and build up your strength over time. Shah recommends gradually increasing the frequency, intensity and duration of your exercises to build muscle growth.
He also suggests actively looking for ways to increase daily movement, such as:
- Opting for the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Walking or biking to work if possible.
- Taking a walk during break times at work.
- Adding some pushups, situps, lunges or wall sits during break times.
In addition, Shah says you should always be intentional with your movements.
“Tighten your core while performing household chores,” he advises. “Use proper lifting techniques when lifting heavy items.”
You can also include strength training in your daily life by asking your loved ones to join you.
“By performing these activities as a group, each family member can encourage one another and provide motivational support,” Shah explains. “This could be a great way to spend time with family.”
Risks of Strength Training
While strength training is a critical part of overall health and fitness, it’s important not to overdo it. It takes time for your body to adjust to a new training regimen, even if it’s based on routine activities like gardening, cleaning your house or walking around the block.
“One of the biggest problems that I see in my clinic are people who have either started exercising after a period of inactivity or who have transitioned to a new and much more intense exercise program,” says Dr. Justin Mullner, a sports medicine physician at Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute in Florida.
The problem, explains Mullner, who also serves as team physician for the Orlando City Soccer Club and the Orlando Pride, is that jumping into a new workout doesn’t allow your muscles, tendons and bones to properly adapt to the amount of force placed on them. As a result, they become painful and inflamed, leading to muscle strains, tendonitis and stress fractures.
Instead, start out gently, and ramp up slowly. As with any exercise protocol, it’s best to check in with your health care provider before starting a new activity, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.
Don’t Forget to Add Cardio
In addition to strength training, you should also aim to engage in regular cardiovascular activity. The American College of Sports Medicine, for instance, recommends at least 150 minutes of cardiovascular activities per week, along with two days of strength training per week, Shah says.
Sydney Warpness, a strength and conditioning coach and certified CrossFit trainer based in St. Augustine, Florida, says virtually any activity that gets you breathing a little harder can qualify as cardio activity. That can include chores, such as mowing the lawn or carrying laundry upstairs. It can also include fun activities like going for a walk or just plain dancing in your living room.
“Essentially, the key to all of this is getting your heart rate up,” Warpness says.
And that key can unlock some serious fitness benefits.
“Cardio is great for your cardiovascular system because it helps you strengthen the heart and lungs,” Warpness says. “A healthy cardiovascular system will improve overall health and longevity.”
The more cardio activity you get – i.e., the longer you can sustain that elevated heart rate – the more benefit you’ll get.
“Cardio helps you build endurance and stamina, which allows you to push harder for longer bouts of time without getting tired,” Warpness explains.
Making Fitness a Lifelong Habit
The bottom line is, no matter how you get your exercise, just be sure to do it. Whether weeding the garden or walking up and down stairs, there are plenty of ways to add movement and strength training to your everyday routine.
You should also make exercise a lifelong habit to reap all of the physical and mental health benefits, Mullner says. To make fitness a little easier, he suggests looking for activities you enjoy.
“If you don’t like the exercise that you are doing, or worse, really dread it, then you will be less likely to continue with these activities and therefore lose out on the many great benefits that they bring,” he explains.
Once you’ve found a workout you like, commit to it.
“Consistency is key,” Warpness says. “You need to teach your body that (being) fit and healthy is the new norm, and the only way to make it stick is to stick with it. Once you find something that works for you, keep it.”