There's a stretch of Venice Beach in Santa
Monica, CA, known as Muscle Beach. It's where
Gold's Gym decided years ago to put a gym outside
so that passers-by could gawk at huge, rippling,
muscled men lifting ridiculously heavy weights.
I am not a huge, rippling, muscled man and I will
never work out on Muscle Beach. I have recently,
however, begun to sneak into my apartment's
fitness center in the middle of the night, slide
the weight bar down to its lowest level and do a
few reps before my muscles ache with exhaustion.
I've always concentrated on the cardiovascular
aspect of fitness and ignored the weight lifting.
After all, activities like running, cycling and
swimming burn calories ?and help you lose
weight. Strength training, on the other hand, can
actually make you gain pounds on the scale.
Surprised? Don't be. The reason you can gain
weight while lifting is because you're building
muscle, and muscle weighs more than fat. The good
news is muscle takes up less space than fat so
you may weigh more, but find yourself dropping
clothing sizes. It also jiggles less than fat so
you'll look fit and firm.
Another benefit is that muscle needs more
calories to survive than fat does. A pound of
muscle burns at least 35 calories a day while a
pound of fat burns only two. Increasing muscle is
a surefire way to increase your metabolism ?
meaning you burn more calories when you're
sitting around doing nothing.
Building muscle can be simpler than you might
think. You don't need a fancy gym membership ?
you can start with a pair of dumbbells. Save
money by going to a second-hand sports shop like
Play it Again Sports or hunting through
classifieds and garage sales. If your budget is
really tight, you can improvise with five-pound
bags of sugar or flour or plastic gallon milk
jugs. A one-gallon jug weighs about 8 ?pounds.
If you're ready to try it, take note of these
basic weight-training tips from the American
Council on Exercise:
Repeat to exhaustion: For each exercise, do
one set of 8 to 12 repetitions in which you use
enough weight that at the 12th repetition you
feel you can't possibly do one more. Lift the
weight on the count of two and lower it to a
count of three or four.
Don't workout every day: Unlike
cardiovascular exercise, weight training
shouldn't be an everyday event. Your muscles need
to heal between strength training workouts. So
give yourself a day or two of rest between
workouts ?or train different body parts on
consecutive days. Otherwise you put yourself at
risk for injury.
Vary your workout: Many colleges have gyms
with a variety of weight training equipment. If
yours does, try to vary your free weight workouts
with machine workouts. It's good for your muscles
to work in different ways and it will also keep
you from becoming bored.
Now that I've been strength training for about
four months, I can lift a respectable amount of
weight. Even better, I no longer fear
embarrassment working out with weights in front
of the cute guys in my apartment complex's
fitness center. Now I wait to see if they can