“Ahhh strength training, but isn’t that for like umm bodybuilders and stuff?” The million-dollars question! Can’t even begin to tell you how many times I heard or was asked that question before. Let me start this article by saying, no, strength training is not just for bodybuilders and “stuff”. Everyone should be strength training due to the many benefits you reap when you do so regularly. Strength training is not that hard and is suitable for both genders, almost all ages and people with different goals. Wanting bigger muscles is not a pre-requisite to begin strength training. In fact, many people train regularly primarily for strength trainings’ associated health benefits and extra “bonuses” you get with it.
So, what is strength training?
Strength training is a type of training where trainees use resistance, both natural (bodyweight) and artificial (free weights / resistance bands / weight machines). The added stress on your body from training with resistance results in more muscle mass, becoming stronger -what doesn’t break you makes you stronger-, more agility and increased work capacity. These benefits are just scraping the surface. Let’s take a deeper look into what strength training does to your body and overall health.
Strength training and cardiovascular health
Contrary to popular belief, strength training does not only train your muscles, but it also trains your respiratory system and heart muscle resulting in better lung function, improved blood pressure levels and protection against coronary disease. Yes, the main engine used is your muscles, but fortunately, the human body works as one unit. Your whole body works together to fire up power production in your muscles and lift the added resistance. Furthermore, your muscles may be the leading engine in moving the weight, but your muscles’ engine is the heart that pumps blood throughout your body and pumps more blood into your muscles while training. This also has a beneficial effect on blood circulation and endurance capacity. Try doing a set of 10 reps of somewhat heavy squats and see how hard you’ll be breathing right after! Strength training also results in cellular chemical by-products (waste) that your body metabolizes and removes. The removal of those chemical by-product requires the presence of blood rich in oxygen, and guess where that has to come from? Your heart. All this exercise your heart gets makes it stronger which results in lower blood pressure and heart rate since your heart is getting stronger and thus more efficient and pumping out more blood.
Effect on bone mass
Bone density loss is a disease that affects approximately 1.3 million adults in the United States alone. In addition, humans start to lose more bone mass as they age which results in weaker bones and susceptibility to serious injuries and fractures. Strength training is one of the few activities humans can perform to increase their bone mass. In fact, strength training might be the only type of training that has that effect. Strength training not only increases bone mass, but it also increase bone density which results in stronger bones. This benefit can help keep your bones younger as you age and protect you from bone density loss diseases such as osteopenia and osteoporosis. Bones that are most susceptible to fractures and injuries are the spine, wrists and hips. Strength training can help strengthen those critical bones and improve your quality of life.
Effect on joints, tendons and connective tissue
Feeling old, young fella? Many people assume that if they start strength training they’ll automatically become immobile and can’t wipe their … due to the newly-gained muscle mass. There is only a tiny issue with this statement, it’s full of crap! Clinical studies have indicated that strength training improves mobility more than any other exercise and helps strengthen joints and connective tissue. In fact, those painful strains trainees get sometimes are merely stimulus for joints and tendons to grow and become denser. This will result in better agility and stronger joints.
Effect on metabolism
Nowadays, everyone is looking for that magic pill that will fire up their metabolism and make them lose weight on autopilot. I have some bad news for you, it doesn’t exist! If you really want to increase your metabolism SIGNIFICANTLY, consider resistance training your new best friend. All clinical trials that have been performed on humans observe a significant increase in metabolism when subjects were put on a strength training regimen. Strength training accelerates the metabolism through adding stress your body which makes your body react as if you were in survival mode. A chain reaction of physiological and chemical reactions start taking place and one of the benefits you get is an increased metabolism that is better at processing food and macronutrients and faster at doing so. Furthermore, resistance training increases your resting metabolic rate through increasing the amount of muscle mass you carry. Every pound of muscle burns between 10-13 calories per day AT REST -without you doing anything-! It is crucial to note that strength training increases resting metabolic rate more in men than women. Sorry, ladies!
Effect on body composition
Thanks to Captain Obvious, we know that resistance training increases muscle mass significantly, however, do the body composition effects stop at this point? You will often hear that you should do strength training if you are interested in building muscle, but you should do cardio if you are willing to lose weight or burn fat. In fact, losing weight comes down to taking in less calories than your body needs. Yes, cardio may burn more calories, train your legs and heart and it is still an excellent type of exercise that shouldn’t be neglected, but the truth is that strength training also burns many calories and is better for overall weight loss and fat burning precisely. On average, cardio burns 10-12 calories per minute (intense cardio that is) and strength training burns 8-10 calories. However, cardio wins in this aspect due to the cyclical nature of weight lifting. BUT, strength training builds more muscle mass which results in a faster metabolism in the long run. Additionally, weight training is better than cardio for changing your body composition because it helps you build muscle mass, burn fat and preserve your existing muscle mass which is essential to give you the shape you desire. You can mainly do cardio to burn off the calories but don’t count much on preserving your muscle mass which will ultimately cause you to deflated and have that “skinny-fat” look.
Effect on mood and mental health
While strength training has many physical benefits, it also has many positive effects on mood and overall mental health. Resistance training causes the body to secrete endorphins during and after training. Endorphins are the natural feel-good hormones the brain secretes which have anxiolytic and anti-depressant properties and are considered to be a great natural pain reliever. I’m sure you remember how refreshed you felt after a good training session, well this is due to your body secreting endorphins. Furthermore, strength training has been indicated to improve cognitive function, promote better balance, improve memory, improve quality of sleep and fight depression and fatigue. Stop relying on those neurotoxic anxiety prescription medicines and go out for a training session, you will feel much better without the side effects associated with medicines. Since strength training improves body composition, a favorable change in self-esteem is usually observed in trainees which results in higher levels of confidence! Don’t get high on weed, but get high doing some squats ;).
Resistance training improves your hormonal profile
On a more physiological scale, resistance training has been proven to have a positive effect on hormonal levels in both men and women. In men, strength training seems to increase testosterone levels and growth hormone levels. Furthermore, the ratio of testosterone to estrogen improves as well. PS: estrogen is not the devil people make it out to be. In fact estrogen is as crucial to men as it is to women, but this is another subject. In women, resistance training elevates estrogen levels, optimizes testosterone -yes, women have testosterone too- levels and elevates growth hormone levels as well. In men, strength training also improves the density and sensitivity of androgen receptors which results in better utilization of hormones, especially testosterone. In older gentlemen, strength training to have an even stronger effect on optimization of hormones. This study has indicated that not only older adults experienced a better hormonal response from training, but they also felt better which is probably caused by the increase in testosterone as well as an increase in endorphins’ levels.
It could be concluded that resistance training has anti-aging effects in humans due to the hormonal optimization, increase in bone density, improvement of mental health, metabolism acceleration, but the anti-aging effects of weight lifting don’t stop here. In this study, the researchers analyzed hundreds of expressed genes in sedentary people and compared the data to analysis of gene expression after putting the subjects on a strength training program. The results were phenomenal to say the least. At the cellular level, 596 different genes that are related to aging were recorded prior to training, however, after training for 6 months, the number of different aging related genes recorded decreased to 179 genes! That is one-third the number of genes in only 6 months! The researchers concluded that not only does strength training significantly slow down the aging process, but it even reverses it! If you want to live longer and healthier, start lifting some weights.
Type II Diabetes
Strength training makes metabolism more efficient are processing foods including carbohydrates and simple sugars. Moreover, resistance training improves insulin sensitivity due to more efficient nutrient partitioning effect in favor of muscles, which results in better management of blood glucose levels and thus decreasing the risk of getting type II diabetes. Due to this positive effect on blood glucose levels, doctors often advise their patients to start resistance training as part of a therapeutic program.
Resistance training and your immune system
Due to the many positive physiological changes resistance training induces, the body’s immune system becomes stronger and more efficient at fighting and preventing diseases. Resistance training and its body composition changing effects also decrease inflammation levels significantly which results in better physical function, improved sense of well-being and protection against infections and sickness. Add to this the fact that many people start following a good nutritional plan when they start lifting weight and you get a double whammy of benefits and better immune-function.
One of the best benefits you get when you lift weight is the positive development of your characters. Weight lifting is one of the best thing to do to become more patient and disciplined. Since lifting weights doesn’t result in favorable body composition changes over night, trainees develop more patience, discipline, focus and overall character along the journey. Appearance related benefits associated with strength training also boost peoples’ confidence and improves their self-image.
Improved CNS function
Your muscles may be what drives the force you excrete against the weights while you are training, but your central nervous system is the driver of those muscles. The central nervous system is responsible for all movements including muscle movement, thus it gets plenty of stimulation during weight lifting. This clinical study indicated that resistance training causes favorable cognitive and neuro-muscular adaptation. To top it off, resistance training strengthens your central nervous system like no other physical activity ever could.
Since this blog aims to help reduce obesity rate in the U.S. (and hopefully on a global level as well), we will always recommend strength training for obese individuals who are serious about improving their health and changing their body composition. I am not even going to cite any studies to support my statements on how beneficial resistance training is for treating obesity because the evidence is clear. Just read this post from the start and add 1 and 1 together. It all makes sense. When you improve health markers, accelerate your metabolism, improve your immune function, strengthen your muscles and nervous system, build more muscle mass, burn fat, fight mental disease, improve cognitive function, reverse anti-aging processes, strengthen your bones and joints, and increase your insulin sensitivity for better utilization of nutrients consumed, your body goes under a complete positive change both internally and externally. You will also feel better and more confident. Now, you tell me how resistance training doesn’t help treat obesity!
After this long and detailed post, I doubt anyone could possibly need another reason to jump on a strength training program. Resistance training is one of the best self-investments you can ever do. The rewards are unmatched and long lasting. Along the process, you will feel better and more proud of yourself every single day because you will be changing your life to the better, working on the physique of your dreams and developing your character all at the same time! Sitting on the couching eating potato chips and chocolate bars while watching TV might be fun, but resistance training is also fun and more rewarding. Stop making excuses, get off the couch and get your @ss in the gym!
If you liked this article, please don’t hesitate to share it with your friends. And as usual, if you have any comments or questions feel free to post them in the comments section below! Enjoy your first training session and the amazing rush you will feel 😉
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