Hit a Weight Loss Plateau? Strength Train!
By Robert Reames, CSCS, *D, RTS1, CPT
All right. You made the commitment months ago to lose the weight. Everything is going very well. You've taken action. The pounds are coming off; you are losing the inches and feeling good. You've really got the momentum going, are eating well and making conscious food choices. Exercise has become part of the deal and you are taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to lunch, sweating on the treadmill and the elliptical four times per week. You've even taken up kickboxing and yoga. You're doing all the right things and the flow is amazing. The realistic goals that you have set for yourself are right around the corner. It's now just a matter of keeping focused and staying on track.
Then you hit a plateau. That last 10-20 pounds just doesn't want to come off and you are wondering what your next move is going to be. You're a little frustrated. The number on the scale hasn't budged in a while and you are beginning to wonder: Is there something missing? Could you be doing more? You're on a mission to find that missing link that will kick your metabolism into high mode.
One very important thing to remember is that if you are committed to an active way of life that includes exercise, eating right and taking responsibility for your good health, you are most definitely doing the right thing. This commitment will always keep you on track. A healthy lifestyle is a lifestyle. It's not the "12 weeks to a new you" or the "30-day miracle plan." Temporary efforts yield temporary results. This is a process. Plateaus can happen. However, if you've established exercise and healthy food choices as an integral part of your life, then all realistic goals can and will be attained.
The missing component in your fitness regimen is strength training. You need to lift weights. This is a surefire way of truly changing your body composition (lowering your body fat percentage) and maintaining ultimate control of your weight for a lifetime. Lifting weights and doing resistance work is the key factor in promoting fat loss as well as weight loss. A comprehensive, full body weight training program will increase the amount of lean mass in your body, which in turn will increase your metabolism, and as a result, allow you to burn more calories and more fat all of the time, even at rest. Increasing your lean muscle mass will cause your body to mobilize and burn more fat as an energy source. Each additional pound of muscle gained from weight training can amount to as much as 50 to 100 calories per day by doing absolutely nothing. All of your activities of daily living and especially your workouts will yield a much higher calorie burn, a much higher loss of fat with weight training as a mainstay in your fitness program.
So, for your next scheduled workout, call ahead and get an appointment with the manager for a tour of the weight room at your exercise facility. You may want to get a few appointments with a qualified trainer that works on site. Ask the manager whom he or she recommends as a trainer there, and get your initial training appointments with that person. Safety is key, and you want the very best instruction as to the operation of the strength units at the facility from the get go. A qualified trainer will give you insight as to correct form for a given exercise as well as appropriate range of motion. Speak to your doctor regarding any limitations or pre-existing joint issues you may have prior to a resistance training program.
Here are some suggestions of exercises to get you started:
Chest, Shoulders, Triceps: Seated chest press, wall push-ups
Back, Biceps (elbow flexors): Seated mid row, lat pull-down
Lower Body: Leg Press, squat
These are "multi-joint" exercises that incorporate several muscle groups in one exercise. Remember, you want to work all major muscle groups. By drawing your navel toward your spine and keeping in mind excellent posture during the execution all of these exercises, you will be activating your core stabilization mechanism as well.
Begin by doing one to two sets of 10 to 12 repetitions for each exercise at a resistance level that is comfortable for you. Work specific muscle groups on opposite days. In other words, if you work legs on Monday, then you'll want to work your legs again no earlier than Wednesday, giving adequate time for rest and recovery. You may want to add more or less exercises, sets or repetitions per workout depending on your body's reaction to the work. Physiological response to weight lifting as well as all fitness activity is very individual. Listen to your body. If an exercise doesn't "feel" right, it's probably not. If you experience any pain at a joint site during any part of your resistance workout, stop immediately and seek medical attention. Pain is your body's method of communication.
Finally, keep the focus on your progress. Strength training will add an entirely new dimension to your program. You can and will move through this plateau and on to the next level of your fitness process.
Approach your weight-training program in terms of a full body workout. The only muscle fibers that respond to weight training are those that are stimulated. With this in mind, work all of the major muscle groups: chest, shoulders, triceps, back and biceps (elbow flexors) of the upper body. Make sure that you work your legs, abdominals and core as well. Some muscle groups will respond better than others. This is due to many factors including genetic predisposition, muscle fiber type as well as your overall strength and fitness level at any given time. Stay consistent with your resistance-training program. You will be amazed at the results.