While diet and nutrition are key to leading a healthy lifestyle, exercise is the other half of the coin to staying fit. It’s important to mix up your workouts to keep your body on its toes. One workout that’s especially key to incorporate is strength training. I know it can get a bad reputation among some and a lot of people get confused on where to even start a weight training regimen, but I promise you it is all good! This week we talked with Ali Gritz, a certified personal trainer in New York City with almost a decade of group fitness instruction and personal training under her belt, to get the skinny on strength training and tips on how to get the most out of it.
So Ali, break it down for us… Should we all be strength training? And what are the biggest benefits?
Yes! Everyone should be strength training, especially women. It’s a big myth that I think in 2015 we’re finally starting to overcome that weight lifting builds bulk and big muscles, which is just not the case. There’s no way you can look like a body builder with a normal weight training and nutrition program. Getting those huge muscles doesn’t just happen, you don’t just wake up with them one day! As women, we are really only capable of putting on a quarter pound of muscle per week. Body building competitors follow an extremely strict and regimented program and usually take supplements as well.
In reality, strength training is good for everyone to make us leaner, stronger and fitter overall. Think of our bodies as cars and calories as our gas. We want to turn our bodies from a smart car that reserves fuel into an SUV that burns through fuel quickly. The more muscle you have on your body, the more calories your body burns. So from a weight loss perspective, building lean muscle mass helps you lose body fat. From a health standpoint, strength training helps us keep bone density high, which is very important, especially as we age.
How do you suggest getting started with a strength training routine?
If you’ve never lifted a weight before, please don’t go over and grab a 30 pound dumbbell off the rack. But also don’t fool yourself into thinking lifting 2 pound dumbbells over your head a few times is going to get you results. I promise lifting those heavy weights doesn’t give you bulk, but you do have to work up to them. Start with body weight training. Pushing and pulling our own weight is the simplest way to start (think push-ups, lunges, planks, squats). Being consistent is key. Group fitness classes are a great way to get some guidance on form. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! If you belong to a gym, grab a personal trainer wandering by. We really do want to help! A few sessions with a personal trainer can give you an understanding of what can get the results you want and give you a personalized program good for your body and your goals.
What exactly is happening to our muscles when we strength train?
Everyone thinks when they go to the gym, that hour you are there is when you’re building muscle, but you are actually doing the exact opposite. When you work out or lift weights, you are actually breaking your body down and creating small tears in your muscle fibers. It’s during the recovery period that your muscle repairs those tears and builds back up, hopefully leaner and stronger than before, if you are feeding your body right.
Speaking of feeding our bodies…how can our diets help us get the most out of our strength training routine?
Protein is what builds our muscle fibers back up stronger and leaner and keeps our bodies satisfied and satiated for longer. While you should really have protein in every meal, eating protein post-workout is also key. You want to get protein into your body no longer than an hour after your workout. That’s what I call your metabolic window – your muscles are super-charged and your metabolism is still working overtime so your muscles can absorb the maximum nutrient potential.
Think about it like this: if you’re trying to jump as high as possible and your standing next to a trampoline, why jump from the floor when you could jump from the trampoline? It’s the same here, yes you can (and should) eat protein at any point in the day, but why not be sure to get it into your system when your body can benefit from it the most?
In terms of what form to consume protein in, I like protein powder right after a workout because it’s fast and easy. You can bring it to the gym (just add water to your shaker bottle!) and your body doesn’t have to work hard to break it down, as it’s already in liquid form. There’s nothing wrong with eating food post-workout, but by the time you get home and make a meal, you may not be in that ideal metabolic window anymore.
What are some of your favorite or most effective body-weight exercise? Can you give us a quick do-at-home workout for those days we only have 15 minutes to spare?
Functional training movements are key. It’s not about specific muscles, it’s more about natural movements that our bodies do all day long. The key is to strengthen muscles that are under-active and weak, like glutes, hamstrings and core, and stretch and lengthen muscles that are generally overactive, like hip flexors and quads.
Some of the best functional movements that you can do anywhere with no equipment are squats, single leg deadlifts (single side movements are great to improve balance!), push-ups, planks of any variation and lunges. Here’s a great 15 minute workout you can do from anywhere (your living room, hotel room, the park…nowhere is off limits!):
Rest 30-45 seconds and repeat 2 more times! Even though you are working out for a short period of time, doing a routine in circuit form like this at a high intensity will keep your body burning calories at its highest possible rate for up to 24 hours after your workout. So get that heart rate up and break a sweat!