Have you been avoiding the weight room? You might be intimidated by the idea of adding strength training to your exercise routine. But it’s important for maintaining a healthy weight. This can help you lower your cancer risk.
Experts suggest you should aim for two-and-a-half hours of moderate physical activity each week or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise to reduce your cancer risk. Adding strength training to this routine can make you stronger and help maintain a healthy weight, says Whittney Thoman, MD Anderson exercise physiologist.
Despite the benefits, several common myths about strength training persist, Thoman says. Get the facts to help you stay in shape and could lower your cancer risk.
Myth: Strength training makes you bulky.
Fact: For most people, particularly women, the opposite is true. Strength training will help you burn calories, lose fat and develop muscle. This will help you look leaner. And the muscle you build will continue to boost your metabolism.
So, what about that bulky look associated with weight lifters?
“The term ‘bulky’ is subjective. Women don’t have the same hormone profile as men, so it takes a lot of effort to put on lean mass or become bulky. It all comes down to genetics,” Thoman says.
Myth: Strength training makes you less flexible.
Fact: “By using a full range of motion when performing strength training exercises you can improve flexibility,” Thoman says.
Think of the mobility it takes to do a squat, for example.
“To perform a proper, full depth, squat you must have good hip, knee and ankle flexibility,” she says.
Myth: To start strength training you have to belong to a gym or buy expensive equipment.
Fact: A gym membership or a set of weights aren’t essential for strength training. Using your own body weight for push-ups, and planks can help you build upper body strength. Squats, lunges and other simple exercises can make your lower body stronger. The American Institute for Cancer Research considers yoga and Pilates to be strength training exercises since they often rely on body weight and resistance to build strength.
Myth: Strength training is bad for your joints.
Fact. Strength training can actually help you prevent injury. According to the American Journal of Sports Medicine, there are fewer injuries in weight lifting than in other sports. That’s because weight lifting strengthens muscles and increases flexibility – factors that can keep you injury-free. This is extra important as you age and your body composition changes.
If you’re worried about injury, seek expert help. Especially if you’re going to try out new equipment for weight lifting. Meeting with a certified fitness trainer to learn the proper technique can help lower your chances of injury, Thoman says.
Myth: Cardio burns more fat than strength training.
Fact: “Strength training increases your metabolism because it takes more energy, or calories, to maintain muscle than it does to maintain fat,” Thoman says. But that doesn’t mean you should abandon aerobic exercises like running or biking. In fact, the best way to burn fat and lose weight is to combine the two methods with high intensity interval training.
Myth. It’s not for me.
Fact: “Strength training is for everyone,” Thoman says. “Exercises can be modified so anyone, no matter their fitness experience or level, can do them.”
If you’re not sure how to modify strength training exercises, talk to an expert. If you’re an MD Anderson Cancer Prevention Center patient, you can make an appointment to meet with an exercise physiologist and receive an exercise prescription.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.