Take a guess. What does Usain Bolt’s training routine look like? What does he do to run at such blistering speeds on the track? One obvious guess is running and lots of it; running on a treadmill, running on a track, running in the mountains and so on.
But I was surprised to discover that his routine actually involves plenty of strength equipment training. There are barbell lunges, sled pushes, Romanian deadlifts and a variety of other insane looking weight workouts.
All too often, people are focused on cardio as the only way to become fit. That’s a big misconception and you may never achieve your fitness goals if your daily routines involve fat-shredding cardio only.
Weight training has an indispensable place in fitness. For Bolt, it helps him push his body to astounding speeds while still maintaining stability. For you, it will build up your strength, help you burn fat, boost metabolism and a host of other benefits.
Assess Your Home Gym
Look around at what you have in your home gym. You most likely have a treadmill, an elliptical or an exercise bike for cardio. You may even have a couple of dumbbells.
Like most people however, you have likely not stocked up on some serious strength equipment. A single dumbbell or barbell will not cover all your strength training needs. Even worse is if you have no weight equipment at all. You are seriously undercutting your fitness efforts.
Benefits of Strength Training
Strength training does not just enhance your pecs, it has many other benefits too even for your health. Here are the biggest ones.
1. It strengthens your core
Almost every physical activity involves your core muscles. Walking, running, bending, jumping and even sex depends on having adequate core strength.
Strengthening your core muscles is one of the most crucial steps towards fitness. Otherwise, your entire body will feel weak, you will perform poorly at sports and you will be more vulnerable to serious injury.
The core consists of several major muscle groups including back, abdominal and pelvic muscles. A combination of barbells, dumbbells and other strength training equipment can target each of these muscles.
Usain Bolt and other pro athletes focus a lot on core muscles when training. They know that a strong core boosts speed, increases endurance and develops overall body strength.
2. It strengthens various muscles and improves athleticism
Away from the core, there are many other muscles that play an important role in your fitness. For instance, arm and leg muscles are essential in many fitness activities such as running and swimming.
Strong quadriceps (thigh muscles) will give your legs an extra boost of speed and power while pectoral muscles (pecs) make your upper body stronger.
There are also smaller muscles that many people ignore but which you cannot function without. For instance, the Rotator cuff stabilizes your shoulders and gives them their flexible range of movement. Your Erector spinae is found in the back and plays a major role in maintaining your body in an upright position.
A weight training routine that combines a variety of equipment with various calisthenics can help build all these muscles. Note that having a single barbell won’t cut it when it comes to building muscle strength. To target all muscles, you’ll need a variety of equipment including free weights, exercise benches, bars and so on.
3. It boosts metabolism and burns calories
There has been a lot of debate in recent years over whether weight training has any effect on resting metabolic rate, what many people simply refer to as metabolism.
This is what most researchers say on the subject: while the increase in metabolism is not as high as some fitness enthusiasts have claimed, it is enough to make a difference in the number of calories burned.
Many people have claimed that building your muscle mass can help you burn up to 100 extra calories per day. Research has shown that the actual number is around 50 calories. But this is enough to create a net negative in terms of the amount of calories you take in and calories you expend.
A net negative, where more calories are used up than taken in, is the main principle behind maintaining a healthy weight. When combined with a robust cardio routine, weight exercises become even more effective in increasing metabolic rate.
4. It maintains muscle mass and metabolism as you age
This metabolism-boosting effect is especially beneficial as the years go by. Aging brings with it a dip in metabolism. This increases the risk of weight gain and other lifestyle health problems.
One reason metabolism decreases is because your muscles mass decreases too. Without as much muscle tissue to maintain the resting metabolic rate, you stop burning as many calories as before. It also becomes harder to remain active and engage in other exercises.
Your metabolism starts falling as early as 25 years of age, dipping around 2-4% per year. The rate of decrease accelerates as you hit your 30s, 40s and 50s. So don’t wait until grey hair starts popping out to take muscle training seriously. Start now.
While a decrease in metabolism and amount of muscle tissue is inevitable, weight training can help slow it down. Integrating weights in your exercise routine maintains your muscles, which then keeps your metabolism from falling too far too fast. You’ll also find that you have the energy and strength to keep up with an active lifestyle.
The first step is to draw up a new exercise menu consisting of both cardio and strength training. Makes sure you follow best practices such as leaving enough downtime after a weight training session to let your muscles heal and grow.
There are many ways to integrate both cardio and weight conditioning in a weekly workout routine. Most people prefer alternating with one day focused on intensive cardio and the other on resistance muscle training.
Most importantly, start small. Do not rush to bench press the heaviest weights or do acrobatic moves that could leave you injured.
Remember you are conditioning your body. You will not get results overnight. Start small, take it slow and build it up with consistency.