More myths surround weight training than perhaps any other exercise. It is accused of turning ordinary people into muscle-bound freaks, and many feel it is likely to make them look bigger rather than slimmer.
As a result, pumping iron is often dismissed as a fitness option in favour of aerobics or sports. Yet weight training, for both men and women, is not just about building bulk. It is one of the fastest, most efficient ways to get fit, with a host of new health benefits being discovered.
Most people take up exercise primarily to lose weight, but women, in particular, worry that working out in a gym will simply replace flab with muscle, adding inches to the waist. While aerobic activity can be a highly effective way of burning fat, weight training has recently been found to have excellent long- term metabolic benefits of its own. The increased strength and density that is achieved through weights work helps the body to burn calories, not just in the gym, but more efficiently throughout the day.
New research from America also claims that regular weight training makes digestion more efficient too -- a key factor in the prevention of colon cancer.
Weight-bearing exercise is also claimed to be vital for preventing osteoporosis, the crippling brittle bone disease. According to the experts, women's bones reach peak mass around the age of 35. Weight-bearing exercise, such as weight training, combined with 1,000mg of calcium daily (half a pint of milk, 1oz of cheese and a small yogurt) will ensure that the bones grow to be as strong as possible.
It is never too late to start. There are substantial benefits to be gained from weight training whatever age you are.
It is also a good choice if you want to protect yourself from common painful injuries such as back problems and twisted ankles. According to the experts working with weights doesn't simply build strength; it also improves posture, co-ordination and balance, which are essential for preventing stress injuries of all types.
Weights are an important addition to everyone's fitness routine, regardless of age and sex. It's all very well playing the odd game of tennis to stay in shape, but rather than playing sports to get fit people should think about getting fit to play sport, if they want to avoid injury.
Fitness experts agree that three sessions of weight training a week, combined with some cardiovascular exercise such as running, swimming or cycling, is the ideal for health and appearance benefits. But, says Professor Bob Smith, lecturer in physical education and sport sciences at Loughborough University, UK, this figure is not set in stone.
"Within the fitness industry, the general attitude to exercise is that less can actually be more. It is better to do 20 minutes of high-quality exercise whenever you can fit it in, than one hour-long session once a week," he says.
If you don't have a lot of time or patience for exercise, weight training is ideal. Most gyms will set up an individual programme to meet your needs and timetable. You don't have to be fit, thin and strong to do weight training, but you will benefit from good coaching to get the best from your workout.
The Training Effect:
Your workout frequency, intensity and duration must reach a certain level before you notice the 'training effect'. Only then will you begin to feel like you are getting in better shape. In general, you will notice the 'training effect' when you are burning more than 2,000 calories per week by exercising.
This chart gives you a good idea of the approximate number of calories you are burning during some popular aerobic exercises.
Here are the average calories burnt per hour by an 11 stone person (a lighter person burns fewer calories; a heavier person burns more) according to the American Heart Association.