Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few years, you've undoubtedly heard how much better off you'd be if you lifted weights. Weight training, studies show, can slow the muscle loss that comes with aging, increase bone density, and boost the body's calorie-burning rate by as much as 300 calories a day.
But despite all the good news about strength training, most people aren't doing it: Only 15% of Americans strength train at least once a week, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association. Some are intimidated by gym weight rooms but are reluctant to invest in home equipment. Some travel too much to rely on a formal weight-training program. And some have a different reason altogether: "I detest weight lifting," says Eric Erenstoft, a 30-year-old advertising sales rep for a computer company in Los Angeles. Eric hasn't picked up a dumbbell in nearly 10 years. "It's hard to drive to a gym where you have little human interaction and get psyched up to go at a few stacks of rusty lead," he says. "And doing it at home is even less interactive. Ugh."
The good news is that you don't have to use weights to strength train -- or at least not the weights found only in a gym. In fact, at an April 2000 meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, fitness experts spoke to a packed crowd on the alternatives. Erenstoft, as it turns out, is on to something. "I can stay strong without lifting weights," he says. Instead of spending time in the lonely pursuit of pumping iron, Erenstoft does a few quick sets of sit-ups and push-ups and a handful of exercises that use his body's weight as resistance, and he's all done. Why a 'No-Weight' Workout Works -->
Resistance is essential for making a muscle stronger. When a muscle has to work against a load placed on it, it adapts to the stress by creating new muscle fibers and making neurological changes that ultimately make it stronger, says Ben Hurley, PhD, a strength-training researcher at the University of Maryland. And while weights are handy resistance tools, they're not the only effective ones. "Muscles respond to virtually anything that offers resistance," says Cedric Bryant, PhD, an exercise physiologist at StairMaster Sports. "They don't know the difference between a dumbbell, a $2,000 piece of equipment, or your own body weight."