If you've made it to the gym, your first impulse might be to go straight for the cardio. We can't say you'd be wrong, but you may be neglecting another important aspect of a balanced fitness routine: strength training.  

Strength training is also sometimes called resistance training, which refers to the fact that you are exerting your muscles against a resisting force, like a weight or the ground. It works by overloading your muscles so that they will have no choice to adapt and get stronger. That means that if you're begging for mercy by the time you get to your last few reps, you're doing it right! You may feel like you're pushing yourself to the limit, but sometimes pain is just part of the game.

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Since muscle burns more calories than fat on a day-to-day basis, the muscle you build during strength training could be as beneficial to your weight loss journey as cardio even if you might burn less calories during an individual session, and more beneficial to maintaining a leaner body long-term. Strength training can also lead to phenomenon called "afterburn," in which your metabolism is amped up long after your workout is finished. It also helps you hold onto the muscle mass you might otherwise lose during dieting or naturally as you age.  

Strength training can also improve bone health, which is especially important for women as they endure the hormonal changes of menopause, and it can help improve your flexibility, balance and coordination. Studies have also found that strength training can reduce pain from chronic conditions like arthritis and help lower blood sugar levels in diabetics.

Finally, strength training can be a huge mood booster. Aside from your exercise-induced endorphins, regularly pushing yourself through challenging tasks can give you more confidence, and so can looking at your newly toned muscles in the mirror! Studies have even found that two or more days of strength training per week can improve your sleep quality and even help relieve the symptoms of clinical depression.

You don't have to spend every night at the gym to see a difference either, and in fact, you shouldn't; your body needs time to recover and to rebuild the muscle that you're breaking down during your workouts. Unless you're trying to be The Rock, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' recommended twice a week 60 minute full-body strength training workouts should be plenty.

If you want to add more strength training to your workout routine but don't know where to start, a little internet research may do you good, as might a well-made video tutorial or a fitness class at your local gym. A few personal training sessions could also be a good way to start exploring your strength training options.

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