Why You Want Muscles—and How to Get Them

By Martin Brown

pic1Michelle Rivera never thought she would have muscles.

I wanted to get healthier and stronger,” she explains, “the muscles just came as part of the package, I wasn’t going for them, but I’m happy to have them now.”

Two years ago Michelle was distressed about her weight, and her general lack of fitness and energy. “I had just turned 35 and already I was looking more like my mom than my old self at 28,” she explains. “I love my mom, but she’s 64 and has been married for forty years. I’m still hoping to find my Mr. Right and looking tired, old, and overweight was just not going to help.”

So Michelle gathered her courage and joined a local gym. “I took a free session from one of the gym’s personal trainers and started coming four to five times a week,” she says. “Something about working hard on the treadmill and Stairmaster got me thinking about how much easier all my workouts would be if I got serious about losing some weight.”

Weighing in at 154 pounds, Michelle set a goal to lose twenty pounds—but she took her time doing it.

As she says, “I’d been through enough yo-yo diets that I knew that losing weight real fast is almost a sure sign that the weight will come right back on. Besides, working out put my mind in a better place about losing weight. I started feeling better and stronger even not having met my weight goal quickly. So I ate sensibly, watched the size of my portions, and I cut out junk food. Slowly and steadily I dropped to 127, which, for me at 5-6, is a good healthy weight.”

At first Michelle avoided any type of weight training. But, as she says, after six months of watching men and women using free weights, machines, and resistance bands, she thought it was time to give it a try.  “I couldn’t afford a trainer. But I had a girlfriend who took me through a couple of workouts. Before long, strength training became a regular part of my workout routine.”

People often confuse strength training with bodybuilding. While both contain similar elements, there ultimate goals are quite different. Bodybuilding is not an exercise, but actually a competitive sport. Today bodybuilding, particularly for men 18 to 34, is more about creating what fitness trainers call “mirror muscles.” These are mostly, arms, chest, back, and abs. But strength training, as Michelle Rivera and thousands like her, have discovered, can be an essential part of overall fitness.

When done properly, strength training provides a variety of benefits that enhance your overall health. All of us start at different weight amounts, and where you start is not important. Be it a three-pound or a fifteen-pound weight, the object is to be able to do between ten and twelve reps comfortably, take a minute, pause, and do another set. You should start out doing three sets and eventually build to five or six sets keeping the same number of reps per set. Never add weight to quickly that you’re not comfortable lifting. This can lead to injury and an unnecessary setback to your training program.

The results of slow and steady progress will be increased bone, muscle, tendon and ligament strength, along with improvement in your overall joint function. Other important benefits, but not as obvious, are reduced potential for injury, improved cardiac function and elevated levels of good cholesterol in your blood.

If, like Michelle, you don’t have a pal who can show you some strength training routines, there are a variety of books that can help. Even the Dummies and Complete Idiots Guide publishing houses have produced comprehensive and easy to follow books that will get you started on the path to fitness success.

Michelle’s muscles—biceps, triceps, calves, hamstrings, gluts, and abs—are not bulging, but are all become nicely toned and shaped. “I’ve been at it for over a year now,” she says, “and I don’t think I’ll ever give it up.”

One other unexpected bonus for Michelle: “I met Mr. Right last year, right here in the gym. I was trying to adjust the setting on a leg press machine that’s great for your butt and thighs, and he came over and did it for me. We got to talking, and wow, I found out he was a great guy who had just moved to the area just a few months earlier.”

Okay, so make that one more benefit for strength training.


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