By Stephenie Karony

Thursday, June 14, 2001

Added strength just
a bonus to pumping iron

Question: I'm 55 years old and since menopause I've gained a lot of weight. Someone told me I need to start lifting weights. Will lifting weights actually help me lose weight? I thought that's what aerobic exercise was for.

Answer: You do have to do aerobic exercise to burn off body fat. But weight lifting builds muscle faster and better than aerobic exercise, and the more muscle a person has, the more calories they burn -- not only during exercise, but all the time, even at rest. Remember, muscle cells are metabolically active, so they utilize more calories than metabolically inactive fat cells.

One of the hallmarks of aging is a decline in metabolism. This slowdown is attributed to the loss of muscle tissue as an individual grows older. Unfortunately it doesn't take much muscle loss for the metabolism to slow down, and, as we all know, it doesn't take much for the weight to creep up.

That's the bad news. The good news is you can offset this loss and rebuild lost muscle by lifting weights. Weightlifting is the most effective and quickest way to build muscle. No other form of exercise even comes close.

So stop blaming your hormones for middle-age weight gain, and get out there and start pumping iron.

Q: I'm a 23-year-old woman very much involved in sports. I seem to always have some sort of knee injury. Is there something specific I should be doing to prevent this ongoing problem?

A: Knee injuries are pretty common among athletic people, especially those who play court sports such as tennis and basketball, or who participate in other types of sports that require the participants to do sudden stops, to twist, to pivot, to turn, jump or run. Women, it seems, are more prone to certain types of knee injuries than are men. This is due to gender differences in the muscle structure around the knee joint. The most common knee injury among women is an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear. This ligament is located just behind the kneecap and connects the thigh bone to the shin bone. The ACL is responsible for the stability of the knee.

In general, men have more muscle development and strength in the muscles supporting the knee, so they have greater shock absorption and stability when jumping and twisting during sports. Muscle development around the knee is critical to protecting the knee against ACL injury. Another recent study found that women tend to flex (bend) their knees less than men while playing sports.

It takes special training to learn the proper way to jump and land, run fast and stop quickly, pivot and leap without injuring yourself.

The first step you can take to prevent knee injuries is to strengthen the muscles supporting the knee joint. Start doing knee extensions and leg curls to condition the quadriceps and hamstring muscles. Also learn and practice plyometric routines. Plyometric exercises are specifically designed to condition the body to jump, twist, pivot, turn and run without threat of injury.

Hiring a personal trainer who is qualified in plyometric exercise is recommended. If you can't afford one, do your homework as plyometric exercise is a very exact form of sports training which, if not executed properly, can itself cause injury.

Stephenie Karony is a certified health and fitness instructor,
a personal trainer and author of "Body Shaping With Free Weights.''
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