CrossFit, HIIT training, spin class, swimming, strength training – what exactly is the best way to get fit? For National Fitness Day Healthista Editor Olivia Hartland-Robbins discusses why strength training is the best way to ‘get fit’
What is the best way to get fit? It’s a question I have asked and been asked countless times.
Annoyingly, the answer to this question seems to change every other month or whenever there’s a new fitness trend in town – which isn’t exactly helpful.
What I have come to learn is, if you talk to ten people, you’ll get ten different opinions on the best way to get ‘fit’.
if you talk to ten people, you’ll get ten different opinions
One will tell you to attend aerobics class, another will swear by jogging, one will tell you to live and breath CrossFit and others will tell you that dancing and spin class worked best for them.
I myself have tried the lot in an attempt to be fitter and get stronger. But I have to say, I don’t think I have ever left a spin class feeling fitter or stronger – #justsaying. Ariana Grande in spin class I am not…
What does it mean to be fit?
Before we get into the details, it’s important that we agree on the definition of ‘fit’.
Just because someone is slim doesn’t mean they’re fit, and just because someone is heavier doesn’t mean they aren’t fit.
See, fitness is about health and wellness and being your healthiest possible self – whatever you feel that may be.
Can you walk up the stairs without being out of breath? Are you able lift things easily and without causing injury? Do you easily run for the bus? Can you tie your shoe laces without wincing in pain? Do you have enough energy throughout the day? Do you find it easy to fall asleep and sleep well?
What I am trying to say is fitness is about more than what you look like or how far you can run, it’s about how you feel on a daily basis. Do you feel confident? Full of energy? Strong?
fitness is about more than what you look like or how far you can run
Over the years I honestly have tried every diet and fitness trend out there in a bid to look my best. Juice diets, the Maple Syrup diet, the Dukan diet, spin class, endless 5k runs, repetitive HIIT sessions, low carb, no carb, high protein, low fat – I could go on but I won’t bore you.
Now, this article isn’t me telling you what the best way to get fit is – I am not a personal trainer, nutritionist, dietitian or fitness professional in any sense.
But I do write about diet and fitness regularly, and I have spoken to plenty of impressive fitness and diet professionals out there.
If you are a regular Healthista reader then you’ll remember the 12-week weight loss transformation I did last year with Transition Zone.
I lost 11 inches and almost a whole stone by strength training three times a week and making sure I was in a calorie deficit, while eating wholesome and fulfilling foods.
I am proud to say that since then, I have managed to keep the majority of the weight off. If I have gained weight, I have been fully aware of what to do in order to get back on track.
What I learnt on my transformation is that you don’t have to exhaust yourself with daily HIIT classes and little to no food.
Instead, I have learnt that strength training just three times a week, and watching your calorie intake is more than enough to stay fit and healthy. Plus, I have more energy, more confidence, I sleep well and I have rarely been ill.
there needs to be more emphasis on the benefits of improving muscle mass
Like I said, I am not a fitness professional but I think I have finally learnt what the best way to get and stay fit is – and that is strength training.
Which is why I believe there needs to be more emphasis on the benefits of improving muscle mass. Not only for fitness reasons but because strength training can also help you live longer.
In fact, research published in the American Journal of Medicine found that the more muscle women who are 65 or older have, the less likely they were to die prematurely.
Yes, HIIT classes and spin classes are great for your fitness levels, but what I’m saying is, you don’t have to do them day in, day out.
Plus without sufficient muscle mass which is gained through strength training, your body may not be functionally strong, which can lead to injuries, weaknesses and frustrations.
What is strength training?
Strength training is when resistance is used to challenge your muscles in order to gain strength and endurance.
You could do this with traditional dumbbell weights, exercise bands, medicine balls, cable machines, sandbags, kettlebells or even just using your own body weight.
exercises like push ups and pull ups can burn up to ten calories a minute
Regular strength training can help strengthen and tone the muscles, increase your cardiovascular capacity, increase your speed agility and flexibility as well as improve your resistance to injury and disease.
Indeed, a study from Arizona State University found that strength training is a bigger calorie burner than has previously been thought, finding that exercises like push ups and pull ups can burn up to ten calories a minute.
As I mentioned, there are many benefits of strength training aside from burning calories and building muscle mass. Here are 9 benefits of strength training and why it’s the best way to get fit…
#1 To build muscle and gain strength
Don’t worry, ladies. This does NOT mean that you’re going to ‘bulk up’ or look too masculine.
What will happen is that your arms, tummy and legs will become tighter, leaner and more defined. Strength training has a direct effect on, you guessed it, increasing your strength and your muscle mass.
A study recorded over the course of ten weeks found that participants could increase their lean weight by 1.4kg when doing resistance/strength training, which increased their resting metabolic rate by 7 per cent.
#2 To lose fat
When it comes to losing size, what you want to see go is your fat, not your muscle. Strength training ensures that you maintain and grow those muscles while also losing fat.
Indeed, researchers at the University of Alabama found that women who had recently lost weight and performed weight-training exercises burned more calories throughout the day than those who were on an aerobic exercise program.
#3 To build strong bones
The older we get, the more important our bone density is. A good strength training program is one of your best defences when it comes to osteoporosis.
Research has found that athletes competing in strength and power events, such as weight-lifting and jumping, have superior bone mass and structure compared with their untrained counterparts in all age groups.
#4 To alleviate anxiety, stress and depression
Sure there are plenty of pills out there that claim to give these benefits, but strength training is a more wholesome and effective way. And besides, who really wants pharmaceutical side effects?
Numerous studies have revealed the beneficial effects of regular exercise across a variety of mental health measures. A 2014 meta analysis study in particular supports the use of strength and resistance exercise in the clinical management of anxiety.
Yoga and meditation are also good ways to reduce anxiety and stress.
#5 To sleep better
Study after study has proven that strength training improves sleep and quality of sleep.
Research has shown that people suffering from sleep disorders such as imsomina, as a result of depression, show a 30 per cent improvement in sleep, when performing regular resistance training.
These results appear to become most effective after around eight to ten weeks of consistent resistance training.
#6 To improve chronic back pain
If you are one of the millions who suffers from back pain then you’ll love the benefit strength training has on lowering back pain.
free-weight based exercise resulted in a significant improvement of pain
Improved mobility through exercises that use our back muscles can help to prevent the connective fibres in our backs from tearing under stress, which in turn, prevents injury and pain.
One study found that a 16-week program of free-weight based exercise resulted in a significant improvement of pain, disability, and quality of life for participants with lower back pain.
#7 To improve insulin sensitivity
Diabetes is a huge threat. More people than ever before have diabetes and if nothing changes, more than five million people will have diabetes in the UK by 2025.
In fact, there are currently 4.7 million people in the UK who have diabetes and someone is diagnosed every two minutes.
During exercise, your body burns glycogen, a form of glucose that is stored in your muscles. After a workout, our muscles replenish their glycogen stores with glucose from the bloodstream.
The more glycogen that is burned during a bout of activity, the longer the body’s insulin sensitivity is improved.
Minimise your risk of diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity through regular, challenging strength training.
#8 To improve good to bad cholesterol ratio
Having unhealthy cholestrol levels can put you at a risk of a heart attack and other heart diseases.
In addition to eating foods like oats, nuts and beans which will all help to lower your cholesterol, you could also help improve your cholesterol levels with strength training.
According to a 1987 study both good and bad cholesterol levels can benefit from weight training. The study was on 25 men who weight trained for eight weeks, three times per week.
At the end of the weight-training program, they showed a significant decrease in blood bad cholesterol levels.
#9 To raise your metabolism
Increasing your muscle mass through strength training will give your metabolism a boost which is great news if you want to burn a significant amount of calories.
Burning lots of calories and raising your metabolism will help to reduce body fat and keep itoff, even on the days that you aren’t able to exercise – which is awesome.
According to one study, in the space of ten weeks, strength training could increase your metabolic rate by seven percent.
A solid strength training routine will tone your legs, lift your buns, strengthen your core, and will result in inches and pounds lost.