Hop on any social media platform and look up #strengthtraining
I can pretty much guarantee you that within 2 minutes you will have read some sort of conflicting information about who should be doing strength training or what effect it has on your body.
The wide world of fitness contains a lot of information about strength training - Some good, some bad.
Cue the confusion:
“Is it good?”
“Is it bad?”
“Will I get bulky?”
“Won’t I get hurt lifting weights?”
“I don’t want to get too big”
“I want to lose fat so I’m just going to do cardio”
Unfortunately, as a trainer I could not tell you how often I hear people say they are intimidated by strength training. Personally, like many fears do, I believe this stems from a lack of true understanding of what strength training is.
Through my time spent as a Personal Trainer I have seen hundreds of people improve their lives through implementing a well structured strength training program. I want to help you become one of those people by explaining a few of my favorite benefits of strength training. My goal with this article is to provide a basis of education around what strength training is and how it can help you live a healthier (and frankly, happier) life.
There’s an old (and very incorrect) ideology that strength training/weight lifting/resistance training will undoubtedly result in an overly developed physique and you will need to start turning sideways in order to fit through doorways. Thankfully, this is absolute B.S. and you can still do strength training and keep a modest physique if you want to.
While lifting weights can absolutely help you gain weight, build muscle, and “bulk up”, that is not the only possible outcome. You don’t pick up a pair of dumbbells 3 times a week and suddenly start turning green when you’re angry.
That being said, the benefits of strength training are not limited to those looking to put on a metric ton of muscle mass. In fact, putting on a bunch of muscle mass is difficult. Like VERY difficult for the majority of people. It takes consistent, purposeful training and precise dietary requirements to make that happen.
Now, before we get started I want to make it clear that for the purpose of this article I will be using the terms Resistance training (RT), Strength training (ST), and Weightlifting (WL) interchangeably to describe the use of resistance to muscular contraction to build the strength, anaerobic endurance and size of skeletal muscles.
Let’s start with first identifying what strength training is:
Strength training is more commonly referred to by gym goers as weight training or weightlifting, but the term refers to any form of exercise where you push or pull against resistance. This could be using dumbbells, a barbell, bodyweight, machines, kettlebells, powerbands or any other external resistance. Traditional weightlifting uses dumbbells or a barbell to perform an exercise for a specific number of repetitions with the aim of improving muscular strength, size or endurance.
We know what we are discussing now.
So let’s discuss it.
Why should you start strength training?
Let’s make a list, shall we?
1. Reversing Muscle & Bone loss
Consistent resistance training is proven to not only slow, but actually REVERSE muscle loss.
Age-related muscle loss, also known as Sarcopenia, is unfortunately, a natural part of aging. Current studies show that on average, muscle mass declines between 3% and 8% each decade after age 30. Muscle loss increases to 5% to 10% each decade after age 50.
Decreased muscle means less strength and less mobility, both of which may increase your risk of falls and fractures. A 2015 report from the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research found that people with Sarcopenia had 2.3x the risk of having a low-trauma fracture from a fall, such as a broken hip, collarbone, leg, arm, or wrist.
Research reveals that muscle loss (Sarcopenia) is also associated with bone loss (Osteopenia). Bone mineral density (BMD) decreases as you age, just like muscle does. Adults who do not perform resistance training can potentially experience 1% to 3% reduction in bone mineral density EVERY YEAR.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about 10 million American adults have Osteoporosis, and almost 35 million others have insufficient bone mass or Osteopenia.
HOWEVER, not all hope is lost. Implementing a proper strength training program and ensuring you are eating enough protein can help you retain and even gain muscle mass as well as increase bone density as you age.
Thankfully, the same exercises that promote muscle gain can also increase bone mineral density.
Two birds, One Dumbbell.
So let’s bring this back to an earlier question:
“Won’t I get hurt lifting weights?”
I think the question you need to be asking here is : “Won’t I get hurt if I DON’T lift weights?”
For the majority of people with proper training, education, and supervision - the benefits of resistance training in decreasing your risk of injuries far outweigh the risks of injuring yourself during exercise.
ALWAYS REMEMBER. Proper form and controlled movement is key to prevent injury during exercise.
If you are not comfortable doing resistance training on your own or are intimidated by getting started, reach out to a qualified and reputable Personal Trainer in your area for guidance.
2. Increasing resting metabolism
“Increasing your metabolism” is a bit of a hot phrase these days. So let's break down what that really means.
Basically, your metabolism is the combination of all of the chemical (metabolic) processes that take place as your body converts foods and drinks into energy.
Muscle requires a higher amount of calories to sustain than body fat does.
So what this means is that the more muscle you have - the more calories you burn per day, or in other words - a “faster” or “increased” metabolism. More calories burned per day can lead to a greater calorie deficit, which may result in greater fat loss.
More muscle = Higher calorie burn/“faster metabolism” = Greater calorie deficit = More fat loss
This leads us into our next benefit:
3. Reducing body fat %
Excessive body fat is associated with risk factors such as elevated plasma cholesterol, plasma glucose, and resting blood pressure, which contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Resistance training may also help reduce body fat due to an increased resting metabolic rate (See equation above).
The exciting thing about resistance training is that as your body recovers after exercise, you will continue to burn calories at a higher rate. So your 30-minute workout will keep you burning calories for much longer than just the 30 minutes you spent exercising. This results in you burning more calories throughout your day, which can result in a greater amount of fat loss.
4. Improving Cardiovascular Health
You’ve probably heard that cardiovascular exercises (aka cardio) such as running, riding a bike, or hopping on an elliptical can greatly improve your heart health.
While this is true, these benefits aren’t exclusive to cardio. Strength training can greatly improve cardiovascular health as well. Speak to your doctor prior to beginning any exercise program, but if heart health is your main focus, consider implementing strength training as well as cardio into your exercise plan.
Strength training has been shown to improve resting blood pressure.
Approximately one-third of American adults have hypertension, which is a major factor in cardiovascular disease. Several studies have demonstrated reduced resting systolic and/or diastolic blood pressure following two or more months of standard resistance training or circuit style resistance training.
5. Improving mental health
One of the least talked about but, in my opinion, most important for the general public is the effect of strength training on your mental health.
The mental health benefits of strength training can include reduction of symptoms in people with fatigue, anxiety, and depression. Mental health improvements can also coincide with pain alleviation in people with Osteoarthritis, Fibromyalgia, and low back issues.
As you feel better physically, you feel better mentally.
Also on the list of mental health benefits, are improvements in cognitive abilities in older adults. Research has even shown a correlation in the postponement and prevention of diseases such as alzheimers and dementia.
Last on our list is one that applies to everyone.
Improvements in confidence and self-esteem. When you strength train, you aren’t just improving the way you look. You improve the way you feel about yourself.
Well, because resistance training, like most exercise, is a difficult thing. And doing difficult things is, well… difficult. BUT when you complete difficult tasks, you accomplish something.
Sometimes it’s something you never thought you could.
You’re putting in work to improve yourself, and with self-improvement comes self-esteem and self-respect. Life is better when you have those two things.
Let’s face it, there’s just something about picking heavy things up that makes you feel good.
P.S. We’ve got more specifics coming on the mental health benefits of resistance training. Make sure you’re subscribed to the Prevail Papers to stay up to date on new articles.
Subscribe here > https://www.prevailpf.com/prevailpapers
6. Facilitating physical function
In other words, increasing your ability to perform everyday activities - like playing with the kids, doing yard work, moving furniture, etc.
One of my favorite things to see as a trainer is not when a client competes in a bodybuilding show or smashes a new PR. While those things are exciting, they aren’t your life. Your life is the way you feel and the things you do every day. The way you play around with your kids, helping your buddy move (shoutout to all you truck owners out there), and doing yard work on the weekends. That being said, my favorite thing to see is when a client improves in their ability to enjoy everyday experiences. When back pain goes away, groceries get easier to carry, or they have enough strength to walk around at the zoo with their grandkids all day. That’s why I love strength training.
When you strength train, you aren’t just improving the way you look. You improve the way you feel, the way you think, and the way your body functions.
Resistance training is effective in improving several important factors of physical and mental health and can be highly beneficial for the majority of people. Whether your focus is fat loss, gaining muscle, becoming healthier, or improving your quality of life - strength training may be a great next step for you.
Until next time,
Science, D. of E. (2012). Resistance training is medicine: Effects of strength... : Current Sports Medicine Reports. LWW. August 5, 2022, from https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/fulltext/2012/07000/resistance_training_is_medicine__effects_of.13.aspx
Hong, A. R., & Kim, S. W. (2018, December). Effects of resistance exercise on Bone Health. Endocrinology and metabolism (Seoul, Korea). August 9, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6279907/
Petranick, K., & Berg, K. (1997). The effects of weight training on bone density of... : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. LWW. Retrieved August 9, 2022, from https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/abstract/1997/08000/the_effects_of_weight_training_on_bone_density_of.12.aspx