How Much Weight Should You Be Lifting at the Gym?

Here we go. Today’s the day you’ve decided to venture beyond the treadmills and elliptical machines to, yes, the weights!

Weight lifting might make you think of protein powder shakes and bulging muscles, but that’s just the stereotype. Weight training has its benefits, and can help you reach your fit-body goals. Here’s a look at how to get started and how much weight you should be lifting.

How much weight should I lift?

If you’re in good health, Cris Dobrosielski, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise and owner of Monumental Results, suggests beginning with a light to moderate weight. If you’re nervous, brand new, or have other orthopedic concerns, Dobrosielski advises to start with a very light weight.

Once you have a proper technique, Dobrosielski says that you should feel a “significant sense of exertion as you’re completing a set of exercises.” For example, if you’re doing three sets of 10, you should feel a little challenge to complete that set around repetition seven. Be careful that you aren’t just going through the motions, but that you actually feel this sense of exertion.

Can I lift weights without bulking up?

Yes! Contrary to popular belief, resistance training doesn’t mean you’re on the road to becoming the female version of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Resistance training can serve multiple goals. There are four main areas of focus.

Four categories of weight lifting

Name What is it?
muscular hypertrophy growth of muscle size, including lean muscle mass (aka no big bulk)
muscular endurance repeated muscle exertion at submaximal force
muscular strength muscle exertion at maximal external force
muscular power muscle exertion at maximal force as quickly as possible within a certain movement

Depending on your goals, you want to ideally build a routine using the above categories. Dobrosielski says when building a routine, “you typically don’t train all of those systems as a rule in the gym,” but instead work through a sequence of phases best suited for your goals. You may start with a strength phase, followed by an endurance phase, onto hypertrophy, and ending with power.

How do I start?

Before starting a new exercise routine, it’s important to talk to your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to do the activity, and that you’re not at risk for injury.

Seek professional help

If you’ve never tried resistance training before or have strong health limitations, Dobrosielski suggests seeing a certified professional who has the education to give you safe guidelines and help you meet your needs.

Gradual progression

Dobrosielski says, “The number one thing to realize is that this is a commitment over time. The best way to have success in any athletic endeavor, resistance training included, is to gradually increase the difficulty and the scope of what you’re doing.”

So while some goals have a shorter timeline, reshaping and improving your body isn’t one of them. Trying to reach your goals within the first couple months can do more harm than good. It can lead to overtraining, injury, or loss of interest.

Consider movement patterns

While we’ve all probably heard of bicep curls, this might not be the best exercise for starting your resistance training. Dobrosielski says to think in terms of major movement patterns in order to work your body’s major muscle groups. He says, “You really do want to take a three-dimensional approach. But by focusing on those primary movements or major muscle groups, both upper and lower, you’re assuring that you’re getting a more balanced routine.”

Remember to rest

Your type of training affects how much you can do it every week. If you’re doing a whole body workout, Dobrosielski advises a minimum of 48 hours between sessions. “So if you lift on a Monday, you wouldn’t want to hit those same muscle groups again until Wednesday,” he says.

You also want to rest between sets. For a moderate-intensity routine, Dobrosielski says your range of rest may be 30 to 90 seconds, whereas for high intensity it could be 90 seconds to three minutes.

Machine weights vs. free weights

Which type of weights should you use? For a beginner who may not know proper form or have professional guidance, Dobrosielski says a good option is using a preset circuit of machines at a reputable gym. These circuits usually target the major muscle groups as well as some smaller ones, according to Dobrosielski.

But if you know proper form and have the resources to perform safe lifts, Dobrosielski says that using free weights can have advantages, such as:

  • recruiting your core
  • engaging certain stabilizing muscles
  • requiring neurological coordination
  • burning more calories

These advantages come from performing what Dobrosielski calls “closed chained exercises,” where you stand with your feet planted firmly into the ground instead of sitting.

When do I bump up the weight?

If you’re a beginner, Dobrosielski says that you should be attaining your repetition goals and feel a moderate to significant challenge at the tail end of your repetitions before bumping up the weight. For example, “If you’re doing sets of 10 or 12 and those last several are pretty moderate, then you know that’s a good indicator that you need to bump up the weight on your next round.”

If you’re intermediate and have good form, Dobrosielski say your goal should be to reach your repetition goals as an indicator to bump up weight. For example, if you wanted to complete three sets of 10, “you’d use actually arriving at your desired number of repetitions as your goal,” says Dobrosielski. “When you get that, you bump up some small increment, so that it’s still in the neighborhood, but the next time around you probably won’t your get three sets of 10. You might get three sets of eight.”

But when you decide to bump up the weight, Dobrosielski reminds us that it’s a “trial by error” process. To avoid putting on too much weight, Dobrosielski says to begin light to moderate, and then build from there on your next sets if necessary.

Injury prevention

Injury prevention is key for successful resistance training and to maintain a healthy body. Here are Dobrosielski’s tips.

What to do to prevent injury:

  • Avoid overuse. Don’t do too much at one time, and get enough of rest outside of the gym
  • Properly warmup. Dobrosielski recommends two to eight minutes of aerobic exercise followed by two to eight minutes of dynamic stretching or mobility training.
  • Properly cool down. Dobrosielski suggests five to 10 minutes of low-level aerobic exercise followed by five to 10 minutes of static stretching or self-massage to help lengthen your muscles and return your body to its “pre-exercise state.”
  • Try myofascial release self-massage tools for restoring muscle comfort. These include foam rollers or tennis balls.
  • Use ice and heat. Ice can help reduce inflammation and swelling. Dobrosielski says that cold showers are another great natural anti-inflammatory tool. Heat is good for loosening up muscle stiffness and tightness.
  • Cross-train on your non-lifting days. Dobrosielski says cross-training can help your body recover while also burning calories and stimulating your metabolism.

Routines to try

To get you started, Dobrosielski has shared three routines. There’s one for each level: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. For best results, Dobrosielski suggests resistance training two to three times a week. But he says even resistance training for one session per week can change your body.

The following routines are designed for an injury-free female between the ages of 25 and 50 with the goal of improving muscle tone and overall strength.

Note: If you’re unclear about the technique for these exercises, Dobrosielski strongly suggests seeing a certified personal trainer for guidance.


Option 1:

  1. Go through the entire list, do each exercise for one set of reps, and take 15 to 30 seconds between each exercise.
  2. Repeat the lifting list two to three times and then move on to the core exercises.
Lifting exercise Number of reps Number of sets
step-ups holding dumbbells using 6- or 12-inch steps 15 2-3
chest flys (with cable machine) 15 2-3
leg press (using machine) 15 2-3
Mid row (using cable machine) 15 2-3
hip hinge (using kettle bell) 15 2-3
lat pull downs (using machine) 15 2-3
lateral raise dumbbells 15 2-3
Core exercises Number of reps Number of sets
pelvic tilts 10 3
bird dogs 10 3
plank 10-15 seconds 3
bridges (on the ground) 10 3

Option 2:

  1. Do two to three sets of each exercise and then lightly stretch for 45-60 seconds before moving on to the next exercise.
  2. Complete the lifting list once and then move on to the core exercises.
Lifting exercise Number of reps Number of sets
step-ups holding dumbbells (using 6- or 12-inch steps) 15 2-3
chest flys (using cable machine) 15 2-3
leg press (using machine) 15 2-3
mid row (with cable machine) 15 2-3
hip hinge (using kettle bell) 15 2-3
lat pull downs (using machine) 15 2-3
lateral raise dumbbells 15 2-3
Core exercises Number of reps Number of sets
pelvic tilts 10 3
bird dogs 10 3
plank 10-15 seconds 3
bridges (on the ground) 10 3


  1. The exercises below are categorized in groups and should be done together.
  2. Go through each group, doing each exercise for one set of reps, and taking 15 to 30 seconds between each exercise. This first set should feel moderate.
  3. One you finish the group, rest for 60 to 90 seconds and then repeat that same group until you reach three to four sets. On these subsequent sets, your intensity should increase.
  4. Move on to the next group.
  5. Once all groups are complete, move on to the core exercises.
Lifting exercise Number of reps Number of sets
Group 1
moving lunges (holding dumbbells) 8 3-4
wood chops (using cable machine to twist high to low) 8 3-4
Group 2
bench press (using Olympic barbell) 8 3-4
glute-ham raises or back extensions (using physioball) 8 3-4
Group 3
back squats 8 3-4
hay balers in kneeling position holding one dumbbell in both hands 8 3-4
Group 4
combo high-rows with one arm using a cable machine and the other arm using a dumbbell for bicep curl 8 3-4
hip-hinge (one leg at time with light dumbbells in both hands) 8 3-4
Group 5
overhead press (using dumbbells in parallel stance) 8 3-4
low rows (using cable machine in split stance) 8 3-4
Core exercises Number of reps Number of sets
side plank raises 12 3
modified crunches (using physioball and feet into the ground) 12 3
bridges (using physioball with legs on the ground, heels and calves into the ball) 12 3
push-ups via toes or knees 12 3


  1. These exercises are categorized in groups and should be done together.
  2. Do the exercises in the following order.
  3. Go through each group, doing each exercise for one set of reps, and taking 15 seconds between each exercise. This first set should feel moderate.
  4. Once you finish the group, take 90 seconds to two minutes of rest, and repeat that same group until you’ve done the prescribed amount of sets. On these subsequent sets, intensity level should be high but safe.
  5. Then move on to the next group.
  6. Once all groups are complete, move on to the core exercises.
Lifting exercise Number of reps Number of sets
Group 1
box jumps (using 6-, 12-, or 18-inch box) 4 4
kettle bell swings 20 seconds each 4
Group 2
bench press dumbbells 6 3
skaters with uppercut punches for each side 20 seconds each 3
rotational push-ups 16 3
Group 3
pull-ups (machine assisted if necessary) 6 3
single leg squats with overhead static hold of weight plate 6 3
medicine ball slams 3 3
Group 4
step-ups with overhead press (using a 12- or 18 inch-box) press with opposite arm of leg that is stepping.) 6 3
single leg hip hinge (with dumbbell in opposite hand from lifting leg) 6 3
Group 5
bar dips (assisted if necessary) 6 3
glute-ham raise with rotation on physioball (one hand behind the back and other hand behind the head) 15 3
Group 6
low rows dumbbells “saws” 6 3
jump lunges (on a soft surface if possible) 10 3
chopping (using cable machine to twist torso high to low) 6 3
Core exercises Number of reps Number of sets
single leg bridges with foot on foam roller 15 2
weighted bird dogs using light ankle and wrist weights 20 2
side plank raise with rotation 15 2


Resistance training can be beneficial if you build a plan to safely help you attain your goals. We’re all different people with different health goals, so resistance training should be customized to your needs. There’s no one answer for what routine you should do or how you should train.

But however you train, understand that it will not change your body overnight. Working out consistently over time will help you see results. So take that first step to figure out your goals and the right training plan for you. We know you can do it!

The Science Behind Strength Training to Burn Fat

Most people who are trying to lose weight will combine dieting and cardio to reach their goals. That is a good start, but there’s more that can be done to really crank up the weight loss. Strength training is usually not considered to be part of a program to lose weight, but actually it can cause you to burn as much fat, or more, than cardio. Plus, it tones your muscles, leading to a tighter physique. But what is resistance training, and just how does that work?

The Science of Weight Training for Weight Loss

Penn State conducted a study of dieters to find out what works best: dieting only, cardio only, and cardio with weight training. At the end of the study, all the participants lost an average of 21 pounds. However, the people who were in the group that combined cardio and weight training lost an average of 6 more pounds than those in the other groups. The real kicker to this is that the group that used weight training experienced loss that was almost all fat. The ones in the other groups lost both muscle and fat.

If you still aren’t convinced, other research supports the addition of weight training to your weight loss efforts. Dieters who don’t lift weights lost both muscle and fat. On the average, they lost around 75 percent fat and 25 percent muscle. While your scale may say you weigh less, you won’t have the toned body you want. Additionally, you won’t have the extra burning power of all that muscle.

Create a Bigger Engine to Burn More Fuel

When you build muscle you are, in effect, building a bigger engine – and what does a big engine do? It burns more fuel. Even when you aren’t working out your “engine,” it is running – meaning that you are burning fat and calories even at rest. When you do high reps or intense weight training it boosts your metabolism, which remains elevated even after you stop working out. This is called “Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption,” or EPOC.

Several studies have been conducted to explore this phenomenon and what researchers have found is very interesting. When you incorporate a strong weight program into your weight loss efforts you can experience an elevation in your metabolism, or EPOC, for as long as 38 hours after your workout ends. This means that even when you stop weight training, your body is still burning calories. On the other hand, when you stop your cardio, your calorie burning power stops as well.

Cardio Burns Faster, But Weight Training Burns Longer

There is a popular study that is often cited in support of cardio over weight training. It was published in the “Journal of Applied Physiology” in 2012. The study explored weight training and cardio and their effects on fat and body mass in adults who were obese or overweight. At the conclusion, the study determined that cardio and weight training did not have an impact that was significantly greater than cardio alone, when it came to losing fat or body mass. The media has had a field day with this, paraphrasing it to make claims that cardio is better than weight training when it comes to losing weight.

We are now going to set the record straight.

People do experience faster weight loss when they do cardio as opposed to weight training; that much is true. But there are some details to consider. This study was short. In terms of weight loss programs, cardio is the sprinter while weight training is the long distance runner.

You burn more calories when you do cardio, but this stops when your workout ends. Weight training isn’t like that. When you stop training, your body keeps burning. This makes your body a powerful fat burning machine over the long term. Not only do you get a body that looks tight, toned, and fit, you have the added advantage of a body that burns calories while you are resting.

Weight training gives you a lean, fit look. Your body becomes a fat burning machine that still works even while you are resting. Your clothing fits better and you feel stronger. It also helps fight osteoporosis in women. Additionally, because you are strengthening the muscles that support your joints, you will be less prone to injuries. With all those benefits you’d have to be crazy to not add strength training to your fitness routine!

Strength Training For Fat Loss: Building A Bigger Engine!

When it comes to fat loss, most people embark on a program of cardio and dieting. Strength training is just an afterthought. Strength training, however, can burn just as much, if not more, fat than cardio. Why is it that people focus on cardio as their primary fat burner?

For one thing cardio does shrink you down. But it does just that: it shrinks down both your fat and muscle. You end skinny and soft. Bodybuilders, however, want to retain or even build muscle while burning off fat. Why? A larger engine burns more fuel. Larger muscles burn more calories and more fat.

While cardio burns calories and fat when you’re performing it, high rep strength training has what is known as high EPOC or “Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption.” This is a fancy term for saying how long your metabolism is elevated after exercise.

Studies show that a well-designed strength program can elevate your EPOC or metabolism for up to 38 hours after the workout. In other words, you continue to burn calories long after strength training. Whereas once you stop cardio, the calorie burning stops as well.

Strength training coupled with diet and cardio burns fat far more than cardio and diet alone. In bodybuilding terms, we call this “cutting up.”

Bodybuilders bulk up in the off-season, gaining as much weight and muscle as possible. During pre-contest season, they strip away the fat through diet and training, which consists of weight training at higher reps with shorter rest periods. This sort of training induces a large dump of growth hormone (GH) in your body. GH is a potent fat loss hormone and a very mild anabolic.

Generations of bodybuilders have figured out through trial and error that high rep strength training coupled with cardio and low carb dieting gets them cut up.

Here’s what a conventional pre-contest bodybuilding program might look like:

  • Bench press
  • Incline dumbbell press
  • Cable crossovers
  • Lat pulldowns
  • Dumbbell rows
  • Seated cable rows
  • Hyperextensions
  • Dumbbell military press
  • Side Laterals
  • Bent over laterals
  • Cable laterals
  • Machine Hack squats
  • Lunges
  • Leg extensions
  • Leg curls
  • Standing calf raises
  • Donkey calf raises
  • Seated calf raises
  • Preacher curls
  • Incline curls
  • Concentration curls
  • Skullcrushers
  • Triceps pressdowns
  • Dumbbell kickbacks

As you can see a typical pre-contest routine involves more machines, dumbbells and isolation movements. Rest periods would start out at 1 minute and decrease by ten seconds from week to week until you hit 20 seconds of rest. Each body part would be trained 3 times a week.

Although bodybuilders have followed this type of training for decades, this doesn’t mean it’s the optimal cutting program. Unless you bulked up to gigantic proportions during the off-season or are on a cycle of steroids, you would most likely overtrain from the high volume of sets and exercises on the above program. This type of training coupled with dieting would make you lose muscle rather than retain it.

Rather than rely on high volume and drugs to burn fat, the natural bodybuilder should add some modern refinements to his or her strength training/fat loss strategy:

  • Superset between upper and lower body movements through “mini-circuits”

  • Focus on free weights, compound and multiple compound lifts, and use isolation movements only to bring up lagging parts

  • Train each body part 3 times a week, but lower the overall volume by spreading the sets and exercises throughout the week


Although circuit training is a great strength training routine for fat loss, logistically, it is not always feasible. Anyone who has tried circuit training in the gym knows how pissed off people can be when you hog up multiple machines and stations. Plus people will jump in on a machine, thinking that you’re done because you moved on to the next exercise in the circuit.

To get around this, however, one can simply employ a “mini-circuit.” This is where you alternate between an upper and lower body exercise. Rather than hog up multiple machine and stations and be interrupted by interlopers, you can stay at one or two stations and use one or two pieces of equipment.

Using mini-circuits gives you the powerful fat loss effect of circuit training without the logistical nightmare of procuring and securing multiple exercise stations and equipment. A typical exercise combination I use with my clients is a lower body exercise, such as the squat, coupled with pushups.

Focus On Higher Reps On The Big Lifts

Old-time bodybuilders relied heavily on machines, cables and isolation movements in their pre-season programs. Compound movements (such as the power lifts) and multiple compound movements (such as the Olympic lifts), however, burn more calories. The very fact that you have to use more muscles to stabilize the weight means that you stress and develop more muscle and burn more calories and fat as a result.

Machines and isolation movements just don’t stress as much muscle and don’t burn as many calories or fat as a result. You should, however, include machine and isolation movements to bring up any lagging body parts. For example, if you were lagging in rear deltoid hypertrophy, then you would include lying rear lateral raises in your program.

The Modern Strength Training/Fat Loss Program

Below is a strength training/fat loss program that (coupled with diet and high intensity interval training) will get you big, lean and powerful. Perform this program 3 times a week.

Modern Strength Training/Fat Loss Program 1 1 set, 20 Reps+ 9 more exercises

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The above program is very tough, but if you build a bigger engine, then you’ll burn more fuel. Build bigger muscles: burn more fat.

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When it comes to losing belly fat, your mind may immediately think of doing dozens of crunches or spending hours on a cardio machine. And while these moves may help you burn calories, they’re not the most effective method of burning body fat. In fact, you’ll want to hit the weight room and grab some dumbbells or a barbell. Eric Bowling, an NASM-certified personal trainer at Ultimate Performance in Los Angeles, explained why.

© Getty / Mireya Acierto A Trainer Explains Why Weightlifting Is the Most Important Type of Exercise For Losing Belly Fat

How to Lose Belly Fat

We can’t talk about belly fat without first debunking the myth of spot-targeting fat loss. If you are looking to get rid of fat, specifically on your midsection, we have some news for you: you can’t control where your body loses fat. When you lose weight, it’s up to your genetics (thanks, Mom and Dad!) to determine where on your body you lose fat. So to lose belly fat, you have to lose body fat overall.

To do this, Eric has what he calls the five cornerstones to any successful fat-loss program: increasing nonexercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT (the activity you do outside of the gym), weightlifting three days a week, implementing HIIT one to two days a week, getting enough sleep (seven to eight hours a night), and eating in a healthy calorie deficit. If you’re curious why hours of cardio aren’t on the list, that’s no accident.

© Getty Why You Should Lift Weights to Lose Belly Fat

You may not think barbell squats or deadlifts will have any impact on your midsection, but you’d be wrong. “Lifting weights has been shown to do a few phenomenal things to improve body composition,” Eric said. Weightlifting helps increase your muscle mass, and more muscle mass is one of the only proven ways to boost your metabolism. This is because muscle burns more calories at rest than fat does, so more muscle mass means a higher resting metabolic rate. A higher resting metabolic rate means burning more calories, and therefore more fat, at rest.

Plus, lifting weights in and of itself burns calories. So while you’re pumping through your reps and breaking a sweat, your body is burning calories. You just need to make sure you are lifting weights that are heavy enough to be a challenge but doable to make it through full sets; if you’re not sure where to start, check out this guide. After a weight starts to become too easy, it’s time to lift heavier or increase reps to continue to see progress; this is known as progressive overload.

Eric recommends lifting weights three times a week, especially if you’re starting out. It’s also best to focus on compound exercises, which are exercises that target groups of large muscles, such as barbell squats, deadlifts, and leg presses. “Compound movements concentrating on larger muscle groups will burn the most calories,” Rachel Gerson, an NASM-certified personal trainer, told POPSUGAR. “If you think about it, you’ll feel a lot more tired after doing a barbell squat than doing a bicep curl.”

Sure, cardio and HIIT have a place in a weight-loss program; we’re not saying to give up your favorite Spin class completely. But if you’re looking for an effective workout plan to lose fat long-term, you must incorporate strength training. It won’t make you too bulky; it will help you carve lean muscle that burns more calories at rest. Not sure where to begin? Start with this four-week strength-training program for beginners.

Video: The best fast-food items for people on Weight Watchers (Courtesy: Buzz60)

Weightlifting is good for your heart and it doesn’t take much

“People may think they need to spend a lot of time lifting weights, but just two sets of bench presses that take less than 5 minutes could be effective,” said DC (Duck-chul) Lee, associate professor of kinesiology.

The results — some of the first to look at resistance exercise and cardiovascular disease — show benefits of strength training are independent of running, walking or other aerobic activity. In other words, you do not have to meet the recommended guidelines for aerobic physical activity to lower your risk; weight training alone is enough. The study is published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

Lee and his colleagues analyzed data of nearly 13,000 adults in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study. They measured three health outcomes: cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke that did not result in death, all cardiovascular events including death and any type of death. Lee says resistance exercise reduced the risk for all three.

“The results are encouraging, but will people make weightlifting part of their lifestyle? Will they do it and stick with it? That’s the million-dollar question,” Lee said.

Barriers to resistance training

The researchers recognize that unlike aerobic activity, resistance exercise is not as easy to incorporate into our daily routine. Lee says people can move more by walking or biking to the office or taking the steps, but there are few natural activities associated with lifting. And while people may have a treadmill or stationary bike at home, they likely do not have access to a variety of weight machines.


For these reasons, Lee says a gym membership may be beneficial. Not only does it offer more options for resistance exercise, but in a previous study Lee found people with a gym membership exercised more. While this latest study looked specifically at use of free weights and weight machines, Lee says people will still benefit from other resistance exercises or any muscle-strengthening activities.

“Lifting any weight that increases resistance on your muscles is the key,” Lee said. “My muscle doesn’t know the difference if I’m digging in the yard, carrying heavy shopping bags or lifting a dumbbell.”

Other benefits of strength training

Much of the research on strength training has focused on bone health, physical function and quality of life in older adults. When it comes to reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease, most people think of running or other cardio activity. Lee says weight lifting is just as good for your heart, and there are other benefits.

Using the same dataset, Lee and his colleagues looked at the relationship between resistance exercise and diabetes as well as hypercholesterolemia, or high cholesterol. The two studies, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found resistance exercise lowered the risk for both.

Less than an hour of weekly resistance exercise (compared with no resistance exercise) was associated with a 29 percent lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which increases risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The risk of hypercholesterolemia was 32 percent lower. The results for both studies also were independent of aerobic exercise.

“Muscle is the power plant to burn calories. Building muscle helps move your joints and bones, but also there are metabolic benefits. I don’t think this is well appreciated,” Lee said. “If you build muscle, even if you’re not aerobically active, you burn more energy because you have more muscle. This also helps prevent obesity and provide long-term benefits on various health outcomes.”

The premise: When it comes to exercise, aerobic activity is traditionally recommended for heart health, while resistance training is prescribed for muscle gain. Many understand the importance of an exercise routine that combines both aerobic and resistance circuits, but a new study from Appalachian State University finds that resistance exercise (such as lifting weights) also packs some cardiovascular health benefits.

The set-up: A group of researchers looked at changes that occurred to arteries and blood flow following 45 minutes of two different types of moderate-intensity exercise: a set of eight resistance exercises, three sets of 10 repetitions; and 30 minutes of aerobic cycling. Responses measured included blood vessel widening in response to increased blood flow (flow-mediated dilation) and arterial stiffness (versus distensibility). Greater flow-mediated dilation and lower arterial stiffness are key contributors to cardiovascular health.

The results: “Resistance training is more beneficial than many believe,” says lead researcher, Dr. Scott R. Collier. The resistance exercises produced a different pattern of blood vessel responses than the aerobic exercise, suggesting that the former may have important and unique benefits for cardiovascular health. The resistance exercise produced greater increases in blood flow to the limbs—even though it also caused small increases in central arterial stiffness. In contrast, aerobic exercise decreased arterial stiffness—but without an increase in blood flow.

Resistance exercise also led to a longer-lasting drop in blood pressure (as much as 20 percent) after exercise, compared to aerobic exercise. “The key is to educate cardio-only individuals to become aware that they will not look like Arnold Schwarzenegger when they wake up!” Collier adds that resistance training may also improve running, swimming and cycling times.

The takeaway: “We have shown that using typical resistance machines—such as LifeFitness equipment found in most fitness centers—three days a week at a moderate intensity (65 percent of your 10-repetition maximum) for three sets and 10 repetitions can lead to heart benefits,” says Collier. He also adds that one should complete reps at a slow rate to get the most effective workout from the equipment.

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Weightlifting better at reducing heart fat than aerobic exercise

Obese people who engaged in resistance training were more likely to see reductions in a type of heart fat that has been linked to cardiovascular disease, a new study finds.

FILE PHOTO: An athlete of Bulgaria’s national weightlifting team takes part in practice session in Sofia, Bulgaria, October 16, 2018. Picture taken October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

In the small study, researchers determined that a certain type of heart fat, pericardial adipose tissue, was reduced in patients who did weight lifting, but not in those who worked on increasing their endurance with aerobic exercise, according to a report published in JAMA Cardiology. Both forms of exercise resulted in the reduction of a second type of heart fat, epicardial adipose tissue, which has also been linked with heart disease.

“We were surprised by this finding,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Regitse Hojgaard Christensen, a researcher at the Center of Inflammation and Metabolism and the Center for Physical Activity Research at the Copenhagen University Hospital.

While the study doesn’t explain why weight training would have a different effect from endurance training, “we know from other studies that resistance training is a stronger stimulus for increased muscle mass and increased basal metabolism compared to endurance training and we therefore speculate that participants doing resistance training burn more calories during the day – also in inactive periods-compared to those engaged in endurance training,” Christensen said in an email.

To explore the impact of different types of exercise on heart fat, Christensen and her colleagues recruited 32 adults who were obese and sedentary but did not yet have heart disease, diabetes, or atrial fibrillation.

The participants were randomly assigned to a three-month program of aerobic exercise, weight training or no change in activity (the control group). Each person had an MRI scan of the heart done at the beginning of the study and at the end.

Both types of exercise training reduced epicardial adipose tissue mass compared to no exercise: endurance training, by 32% and weight training, by 24%. However, only weight training had an impact on pericardial adipose tissue, which was reduced by 31% compared to no exercise.

“The resistance exercise training in this study was designed as a 45-minute interval type, medium load, high-repetition, time-based training,” Christensen said. “Participants performed three to five sets of 10 exercises and the sessions were supervised. This specific exercise intervention alone was effective in reducing both fat depots of the heart. We did not combine resistance and endurance training, which would have been interesting to reveal their potential additive effects.”

While there are plenty of studies looking at the impact of reducing abdominal obesity, the new study is interesting because it looks specifically at the relation between exercise and fat (around the heart),” said Dr. Chadi Alraeis, a staff interventional cardiologist and director of Interventional Cardiology at Detroit Medical Center’s Heart Hospital.

Alraeis suspects, based on the new study, that the best way to combat heart fat is to do both endurance and weight training. “Along with the time you spend on the treadmill, you might want to add some work with dumbbells, or some lunges, sit-ups or pushups,” Alraeis said. “It might even be enough to bring some weights to the office so you can use them there. “

While the findings are interesting, “we don’t know what the implication of this is 10 years later,” Alraeis said. “We don’t know if outcomes are really being changed. We need some long-term studies to look at that.”

SOURCE: JAMA Cardiology, online July 3, 2019.

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