Resistance or weight training is important to improve strength, to counteract age-related muscle loss, improve bone health, and improve body composition (increase muscle mass and lose body fat). Interestingly, your body will respond to different resistance training types, depending on your gender, age, genetic make-up, nutrition, and recovery. Even while at home during this pandemic, you can still perform strength workouts safely and effectively, by making use of your own body weight as resistance or using light dumbbells and still enjoy the benefits of the traditional strength training.
Working out in a gym, using machines and heavier weights has been part of my workout routine since my college days. When the pandemic started last year, I had no choice but to stop going to the gym in our building. Since then, the Zoom workout classes I started to conduct with my clients became my primary workout routine. Because to effectively teach online group classes, as a coach, I needed to move almost the whole class since my clients rely on my workout demonstration. A few months after, I noticed better results with my core, overall strength, and muscle definition by combining bodyweight exercises with light weights, between 2-5 pound pairs of dumbbells and resistance bands.
What is lightweight training?
Lightweight training is a form of resistance training that can help build muscles and improve your exercise endurance by using lighter weights (like your own body weight, band, dumbbells, medicine ball, stability ball) that you can do for more than 12 repetitions until up to the point of fatigue.
Benefits of light to moderate-load resistance training
Improved strength, muscular endurance, and muscle definition
Several studies for the past decade, such as the 2016 study published in the Journal Applied Physiology, show that using light weights with a higher number of repetitions up to the point of fatigue is as effective as lifting heavier weights with less number of repetitions when it comes to developing muscles. Aside from muscular strength, lifting lighter loads with higher reps can improve ones muscular endurance or having the ability to perform resisted or weighted movements over an extended period of time without getting tired.
After 1.5 years, I can say that lifting light to moderate weights repetitively for an hour of exercise session definitely improved my strength, muscular endurance, and muscle definition. I had a harder time getting more muscle definition pre-pandemic when I used heavier weights in the gym.
More functional training moves
You can safely do more functional movements (bending, pulling, pushing, rotating and walking) that involves more than one muscle group per move. Functional training strengthens your body to do daily activities like playing your sports, doing household chores (moving your furniture and cleaning your house) climbing up and down the stairs and getting in out of the chair safely and effectively. For example, a squat with biceps curl and shoulder press can mimic a movement of grabbing and lifting a weighted object from the ground.
More core-focused workout
Core-training is important for a good posture, better sports performance, injury prevention and management. Aside from doing planks and sit-ups, the best way to train the core (muscles in your abdomen, back, hips, and pelvis) is to move your body in different positions (standing, kneeling, side-lying, facing down, and lying down) and using different planes of movement (moving front and back or up and down, moving sideways and rotating) while keeping your torso stable.
You can safely do the core-focused moves longer by using your body weight or using lighter exercise props like light pair of dumbbells, resistance band or stability ball. For example, I find the use of resistance bands more challenging for the core especially while doing balancing exercise like balancing on one leg and you lift the leg to the side while pulling the band apart in a slow and controlled pace.
More calorie burn plus the “after-burn” effect
Using lighter weights can give you more opportunity to do multiple moves, using your whole body in a full range of motion. This makes you burn more calories because you can do more repetitions, with more effort from the lower body, core and the upper body that can increase your heart rate, resulting in a higher calorie burn. Using a pair of two to three-pound of dumbbells while doing moderate to high repetitions of controlled punches, squats and kicks can surely make you burn and sweat more.
Studies show that weight training can still make you burn more calories even after the workout and building muscles long-term can increase your metabolism, which is important for effective weight management.
Simpler and a more sustainable approach to healthy living
In the end, the most important thing that you need to consider right now is how to sustain your motivation to be active and make your exercise habits consistent. Focus on exercises that you can enjoy and sustain long-term. Explore workouts that you will always look forward to and that can give you right type and amount of challenge. Incorporate a well-balanced and doable exercise program in your weekly routine like bodyweight training, lifting light to moderate weights/using various exercise props. Choose physical activities that you can really enjoy, either alone or with your friends and family. Older people should focus on simple resistance exercise programs that they can do on most days of the week like Pilates or yoga-based strength exercises that are also focused on balance, body awareness and flexibility.
To get the most out of your strength workouts, it is still best to combine your light to moderate resistance training with cardio and flexibility training. You can also include heavy weight training days on some days of the week if you really want to bulk up more while improving power and strength. And of course, an adequate amount of rest and sleep and a well-balanced nutrition should be given importance as well for muscle growth and recovery so you can achieve your current health and fitness goals.