Article excerpt

Aerobic exercise used to be seen as the ideal way to get fit. Activities such as cycling, walking and running, which burn up the calories while strengthening your lungs and heart, were thought of as the ideal workout.

Now, however, experts realise that lifting weights is as beneficial to your body as aerobic exercise. Often viewed as a way just to build up muscle - with the undesirable effect, for some, of bulking up your shape and adding on the pounds - studies have shown that resistance training, or lifting weights, is vitally important to the way you look, the way you feel, and most crucially, how well your body holds up into old age. And, if you're clued up on the latest physiological research, you'll know that BodyPUMP is the fitness class of the future.

BodyPUMP was developed in New Zealand eight years ago as a way to make weight-training more user-friendly. The class uses adjustable barbells which start at two kilos. And before you rule yourself out as being too weak, consider the fact that the average grocery bag that you lug around can easily weigh five kilos.

BodyPUMP targets all the major muscles in the upper and lower body. It aims to merge the gym with the aerobic studio by adding music for motivation, an instructor for guidance, and a group setting to help you bond with others through the experience of shared muscle fatigue (although admittedly you may prefer to bond at the pub).

When I first walked into a bodyPUMP class, even me, a veteran fitness instructor for over 16 years was surprised. This is serious stuff. Forget funky movements and gyrating women, this room was filled with men, lots of them - still rare in fitness classes. The women had obviously left their Lycra at home as there wasn't a neon-clad bod in sight. Instead they all wore functional fitness gear meant for sweating, not posing.

Gone from their faces was the glazed look of an aerobic high, replaced by a gaze of concentration and determination. They all moved in unison but not doing fancy footwork. With a collective exhalation the entire class lifted and lowered, pushed and pulled, what appeared to me to be a very heavy, very scary-looking barbell.

BodyPUMP honed in on all my muscles and more. Although I've regularly lifted weights for several years, I've stuck to the more feminine, brightly- coloured, vinyl-covered dumb-bells. In the BodyPUMP class the sheer bulk of the weights made me feel extra strong. Since the exercises alternated between slower and faster-paced moves, I found myself sweating and (should I admit?) grunting with the rest of them.

Weight lifting works by challenging your muscles to exert slightly more force than they're used to. As a result your muscles adapt by becoming stronger, leaner and firmer. This is the fastest way to tone up sagging body parts and the stronger your body is, the better equipped you are to battle the symptoms of ageing: weak joints, poor posture and excess flab.

The real motivating factor, however, is the dramatic effect weight training can have on body fat and weight loss. Contrary to popular opinion, lifting a barbell or a set of dumb-bells can actually help you lose weight. The key seems to be the effect of the weights on your metabolism.

Starting in our twenties, both men and women start to lose vital muscle mass at a rapidly increasing rate. …