To take off extra inches, you don't necessarily need to start power walking, running, swimming or adding more time to existing cardio workouts. These are great calorie-burning options, but there is something else you can do -- a secret weapon in the fight against flab. It's strength training.
Research has shown that adding just 3 pounds of muscle can increase resting metabolic rate by 7%. This means that with a little more muscle, your body burns more calories every day. This can add up over time and might be just the thing to make a difference in your weight management.
Even if you don't have a weight problem now, managing your weight can become more difficult as you get older. Because the average adult experiences a 2% to 5% reduction in metabolic rate every decade, our bodies burn fewer calories (but we might still be eating the same amount of food). Strength training can make up for what age is taking away.
Just a few minutes of simple exercises at home every day can get you on track. Try these exercises to start:
Monday, Wednesday and Friday:
* Incline push-ups (for the chest, triceps and core): Place your hands on the edge of your desk (or the arm of your sofa or the steps in your house) a little wider than shoulder distance apart, elbows almost completely straight. Walk your feet away from your hands until your body is in a straight line and you are balancing on your toes and your hands. Slowly drop your chest toward your hands, and then push away until your elbows are almost straight again.
* Biceps curls: Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand (or stand on the center of an elastic fitness tube and hold the ends of the tube in each hand), palms facing forward. Keep your elbows close to your ribs, and slowly bend your elbows until your hand is close to the front of your shoulder, then return to the starting position.
* Lateral raises (for the shoulders): Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand (or stand on the center of an elastic fitness tube and hold the ends of the tube in each hand), palms facing inward. Keep your elbows straight and lift your hands out to your sides until they are level with your shoulders, then return to the starting position.
Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday:
* Chair squats (for the quads, hamstrings and gluteals): Stand with your back to a chair, as if you were about to sit. Slowly bend your knees, getting as close to the chair as you can, but don't sit. Pause at your lowest comfortable squat point (just above the chair), then return to the starting position. If the exercise is too tough, make the movement smaller, or use your chair armrests to help push yourself back up to the starting position after each rep.
* Planks (for the core): Kneel on the floor on all fours. Walk your feet back as far as necessary to place your body in a straight line (as if you were going to start a push-up). Hold your body in this position for as long as you can while breathing evenly. If the exercise is too tough, hold this straight-line push-up position from your knees instead of your toes.
* Bent-over rows (for the back): Sit in a chair with dumbbells at your feet (or with an elastic fitness tube under your feet, holding the ends of the tube in each hand). Bend at the waist, dropping your chest toward the top of your thighs, reaching toward the floor with your hands, palms facing inward. Bend your elbows and pull the dumbbells (or the tubing) toward your shoulders, squeezing the shoulder blades together as you lift the weight. Return to the starting position.
With all of the exercises, do about two sets of 10 repetitions. If you can easily do more than 10 repetitions, increase the weight or the tubing resistance. If it is too difficult for you to do 10 repetitions, reduce the weight or the tubing resistance.
This is just a basic routine to start. Most home strength-training equipment (such as dumbbells, the Bowflex or the Total Gym) come with an exercise poster, workout DVD or instructions so you can vary your workout over time.
The world's greatest bodies have already discovered the secret of strength training and its powerful calorie-burning and body-shaping benefits. Don't get left behind.
Jay Blahnik, a Laguna Beach-based personal trainer, has appeared in more than 25 videos and is the author of "Full-Body Flexibility." Although he cannot answer all questions, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.