Many years ago, is seems that only bodybuilders and power lifters lifted weights, and health clubs were cardio havens, where people got their heart rate up and worked up a sweat. Much has changed in the past few decades, with an abundance of research on the value of and multiple benefits of resistance. As this information has become more broadly understood, strength training has grown significantly, and now, it seems like everyone is doing it – including women, seniors and youth.
Health clubs are dedicating more space to free weights and weight machines, and the industry has promoted different ways to engage in this increasingly popular activity. Today, there are more ways than ever to work with weights, which encourages participation, motivation, adherence and results. Check out some of the current weight training trends, and give them a try!
Benefits of Strength Training
If you’re still a cardio junkie, you may wonder why you should pick up some dumbbells. There’s a wealth of evidence that exercising with weights can lead to several important health benefits, including:
- Weight management – Strength training builds muscle, which is responsible for the bulk of your metabolism, or the rate at which you burn calories. With a higher metabolism, you burn more calories and are better able to manage, or lose, weight.
- Fitter appearance – Cardio is great for burning calories, but strength training helps shape the body by developing muscles, resulting in a more toned, defined shape.
- Stronger bones and muscles – Working with weights increases bone density and can reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis. Plus, it combats the natural decline in muscle as you age, making it easier to stay active.
- Better posture – Correcting muscular imbalances and increasing awareness of how you move can lead to a healthier posture.
- Reduced risk of injury – By improving strength in muscles, tendons and ligaments, as well as enhancing balance, weight training can decrease risk of falls and other common acute injuries.
- Chronic condition control – Strength training can reduce the symptoms of many conditions, such as back pain, arthritis, obesity, diabetes, depression and anxiety.
- Improved sleep – Exercise in general helps enhance quality of sleep, and hitting the weight room is a contributor.
- Enhanced self-esteem – An improved body image, greater confidence and a more positive outlook are proven results of regularly hoisting some iron.
Strength training can be performed with a variety of tools, including:
- Selectorized machines – weight stacks, cables and pulleys
- Plate-loaded equipment – uses free weight plates on machines
- Free weights – dumbbells, barbells, weight plates, benches and racks
- Body weight – suspension trainers or exercises like push-ups, planks and pull-ups
- Elastic tubing/bands – available in different resistance levels
- Alternative accessories – sand or water-filled bags/disks, medicine balls, kettlebells, barbells with moving ball bearings, sleds, gliding disks and more
None of these methods is inherently better than the others, but all are effective. A well-rounded strength training program incorporates a variety of tools to maintain interest and challenge, and to continue to produce results.
Popular Training Modalities
With so many ways to work with resistance, there’s no excuse for not taking advantage of the variety to get fit and stay fit. You can work with a trainer, take a class, check out streaming workouts, find online regimens or use apps or magazine articles to get routines. Consider:
- Functional training – These workouts are based more on movements that you use in real life, such as a squat or twist, that work several muscles at the same time – versus single-muscle isolation exercises, like a biceps curl. You won’t use selectorized equipment for functional training because it typically has a seat or external means of support, along with a fixed path of motion.
Functional training typically uses a variety of tools, such as free weights, body weight exercises, suspension trainers, sleds, and more. It’s all about improving execution of movement fundamentals, such as pushing, pulling, hinging, rotating and more – and less about how much you can bench press or what your one-rep max is for a squat.
- HIIT – Short for high-intensity interval training, HIIT is all the rage the past few years, with no signs of slowing down. By design, it isn’t necessarily an exclusive weight training method, but incorporates both cardio and strength exercises. The concept is to work at a tough intensity for a set interval (typically 20-60 seconds) and then recover for a specified period (10 seconds-2 minutes). Specific protocols vary for interval duration and suggested intensity (such as 85-90% of maximum heart rate), but the pattern of rigorous sessions followed by recovery constitutes interval training.
Tabata is a popular form of HIIT where your work period is 20 seconds in which you sprint or do high knee lifts, for instance; followed by 10 seconds of recovery (walk or step-touch). Then you repeat the intervals with the same or different exercises 8 times for a 4-minute Tabata set. Subsequent Tabata blocks include various other moves and exercises, which can include strength work like lunges, push-ups and plank jacks.
Interval training is very popular because it burns a lot of calories, both during and after workouts, and is time-efficient, particularly if it combines cardio and strength. You can find HIIT at virtually every health club or fitness facility with trainers and classes, or do some quick research online to create your own sessions.
- Circuit training – Here, you perform a set pattern, or circuit, of different exercises, typically spending a specified time or completing a certain number of repetitions at each station. For instance, you may start with one minute of forward lunges with a barbell; then immediately move to the next station, which could be one minute of chest flies with dumbbells on a stability ball; followed by alternating wood chops using a medicine ball, and so forth.
A circuit can have any number of stations, but generally is repeated more than once. Strength exercises can alternate among lower body, upper body, functional and core work; and use machines, free weights, body weight, elastic bands and various accessories. Like HIIT, circuit training can blend cardio and strength stations, such as using a rower, elliptical or jump rope between resistance exercises. The options are virtually unlimited, depending on equipment and space available. Also similar to HIIT, circuits are popular because of their variety and the fact that workouts seem to fly by when you’re constantly performing different exercises.
- CrossFit – CrossFit really is one of the influences in igniting greater participation in weight training. Considered a blend of functional training and HIIT, this unique regimen was developed by Gregg Glassman, and is said to “reflect the core movements of life.” It emphasizes high intensity, power and speed in workouts of the day (WOD), which include specific instructions for exercises, reps and resistance levels, and which are conducted only in CrossFit affiliates, known as “boxes”. The emphasis is mostly strength work, with some cardio at times, such as rowing or running – but all executed at a vigorous intensity.
Some common exercises include overhead squats, pull-ups, deadlifts and thrusters, although you can flip tires, do box jumps and undulate battle ropes as well. Generally, the format is three WODS, followed by a rest day. Stay Fueled!