I love strength training, but I know not everyone does. However it’s SO important for so many reasons and I am hoping I can change your mind as to why you should add it into your weekly schedule.
I am not going to poo-poo cardiovascular exercise, this is good for your overall health, but it’s not the only mode of exercise you should be using in your pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle needs to include: strength training, aerobic training, good nutrition, flexibility training, getting enough sleep (7-9 hours) and relaxation techniques. All of these components together create a balanced approach to your health. And while I could go into detail about all these components, today I will focus on strength training.
Here are a few of the Benefits
- Preserves muscle mass. Until age 30, humans build muscles strength and size naturally, but then sometime after our 30th birthdays we start losing muscle mass, even if we are active. If we are inactive we lose 3%-8% of muscle mass with every decade (yikes!). This is due to many different factors, some of which are natural decreases in certain hormones and protein synthesis.
- Stronger connective tissue and greater joint stability. This is due to the increased strength of the muscles themselves. Since connective tissue–tendons and fascia–are inter-connected with your muscles, their strength increases. With improved connective tissue strength, you get greater stability around the joints, as many muscles cross over joints to initiate movement.
- Decreases risk of osteoporosis. This is because adding additional weight or forces to our bones, as is done in strength training, we help build and strengthen our bones and can increase your bone density-especially around the hips and spine .
- Decreases risk of diabetes. The more muscle mass an individual has the greater the body’s ability to regulate it’s insulin response. Studies have shown that for females who strength trained, there was a 30% reduction in risk of Type 2 diabetes in comparison to females who did not engage in strength training.
- Decreases risk of cardiovascular disease. We need oxygenated blood to be pumping through our body to perform the movements of strength training-meaning our lungs and heart have to be working together. Whether we are lifting weights that are on the heavy side (higher intensity), or whether we are lifting weights that are more moderate (moderate intensity); either of these methods is still being performed aerobically and improve our cardiovascular fitness and helps stave off cardiovascular disease.
- Decreases perimenopausal symptoms in females. This is due to the fact that strength training stimulates the production of the hormone testosterone. Symptoms of weight gain, anxiety, depression and mood swings as well as fatigue and brain fog can be alleviated due to the increase in testosterone.
(I am going to add a little additional comment here, since 1) I am female and 2) some of my clients are pre-menopausal, menopausal and post-menopausal, that from the research I have done on trying to help them achieve their fitness goals, that research ([3) suggests that if you enter into menopause with more lean muscle mass that you are less likely to have the same amount of weight gain as those who do no activity or only engage in cardio-style exercises.)
- Increases in muscular strength. This seems pretty self-explanatory. However one thing I want to mention is that in a strength training program, you need to make sure it’s progressive–that on a regular basis, it continues to challenge you so that you get stronger. The answer is not ‘Yay! I can lift this 5lb weight 100 times.’ to me that’s a big waste of your time–and I’m all about time efficiency. Instead it would be way more beneficial to lift 15lbs (or 50lbs) for 6, 8 or even 10 times.
- Accomplishing other training goals. If you are engaged in other movement-based classes or activities, like circus activities class, climbing, a hip-hop class, martial arts or acro yoga, then being stronger is only going to help you accomplish those training goals you have. And most likely faster than if you only did that one activity. This is called cross-training and it it super helpful in the process of gaining strength to do the challenging things in the other class.
Strength in our muscles is how we move throughout our day. This is more than just walking to the kitchen to make the coffee or run to the bus because you’re late. This is also how you get up and out of your chair or off the floor (remember when you used to sit on the floor) or pick up items and move them from one place to another. As stated above, if we lose muscles mass are we age and we are not challenging them with enough activity and movement, they become weaker. This weakness also becomes mobility restrictions–so now you are less strong and less mobile and flexible and suddenly you do less and less activity and movements and the terrible cycle keeps going ’round.
For Me Personally
A few years into my pursuit of being healthy (now going on 20 years-?) and a couple years after I had become a personal trainer, I read an article in Oxygen Magazine that was interviewing a famous figure competitor (I forget her name now-this was 2003/2004) and remember how she made a statement that really had me saying ‘YES!!!!!’ The statement was in regards to this model’s own journey into fitness. What she said was something to the affect of: ‘Cardio can help you lose weight, and sure, I ran myself skinny. But if you want to have curves or be shapely than you need to lift weights.’
I had had this experience a little in the beginning of my fitness journey as well. I was doing cardio and some resistance training, but not really enough to challenge me and it wasn’t until I got a trainer and a strength training program that I started to see shapes (AKA muscles) appear on my arms and legs.
Now maybe you don’t want muscle shapes on your arms, legs or torso and that’s cool. We all have different goals, but increasing your strength is still important for all the health and mobility benefits it provides.
However, if you are staying away from strength training because you think you may bulk up or become too muscle-bound and stiff, there are some things we need to talk about:
- Muscle-Bound: Sure there are plenty of people out there with some good muscle size and definition who can’t touch their toes, but there is also plenty of people with no muscle definition that can’t do that either. Research has also shown that while people sometimes feel a bit stiff after weight-training, it doesn’t actually create any long-term reductions in flexibility. Flexibility training is a component of any healthy lifestyle and should be part of your healthy weekly modalities. A person can become tight (or muscle bound) from doing too much cardio-based workouts as well, examples: running or cycling. Unless you add some form of flexibility training stiffness in your muscles can happen, whether you look like The Terminator or Shaggy from Scooby Do.
- Bulking up: In the 15+ years I have been a personal trainer, I have heard the statement: “I don’t want to bulk up” a time or 5. This is what I normally say: “unless you are taking steroids you’re not going to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger” (or this clip art image to the right). That’s not to say that some people don’t have the ability to build muscle a little easier than others, but getting your body to look like a competitive bodybuilder takes lots of hours of lifting heavy, heavy weights in a certain way and consuming certain foods and other supplements, plus strict nutrient timing. It’s arduous and meals become monotonous…it takes lots of work. There can also be a bit of time in your fitness journey, especially if your journey is to lose weight, where you have increased your muscular size and strength, but haven’t lost any or enough fat and it can seem like you are bulking up, but this doesn’t happen to everyone and doesn’t last forever either when if does occur.
I personally can’t praise strength training enough. Aside from the health benefits, in my life I feel it has made taking on new challenges a little easier. Whether these challenges were physical or more mental, I feel strong so I am able to go towards these challenges and focus on the the steps to handle these challenges.
For my students and clients it’s a huge focus of mine that they enjoy their strength training journey and program because of all the benefits it offers them. I also want to see them succeed at their goals that they have come to me for help achieving. I almost never receive an inquiry from a person that says ‘I want to get better at lifting weights!‘ Sometimes I’m contacted because a person wants to get stronger to do a certain skill or movement, but usually people contact me because they want to lose weight or increase their flexibility or core strength or they want to run around with their grandkids or a million other reasons. For me, strength training is a way to get you there, where ever THERE is for you.