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7 Ways Strength Training Boosts Your Health and Fitness
Every workout plan should include strength training — and bigger muscles are just one of the health benefits you’ll reap.
Reasons to Add Strength Training to Your Workout Routine
Strength training goes a long way in terms of supporting bone health, making aerobic exercise more productive, preventing injury, and facilitating healthy aging. Getty Images
If you knew that a certain type of exercise could benefit your heart, improve your balance, strengthen your bones, and help you lose weight all while making you look and feel better, wouldn’t you want to get started? Well, studies show that strength training can provide all those benefits and more.
Strength training — also known as weight or resistance training — is physical activity designed to improve muscular fitness by exercising a specific muscle or muscle group against external resistance, including free-weights, weight machines, or your own body weight, according to the American Heart Association.
“The basic principle is to apply a load and overload the muscle so it needs to adapt and get stronger,” explains Neal Pire, CSCS, an exercise physiologist and the national director of wellness services at Castle Connolly Private Health Partners in New York City.
And what’s important for everyone to know is that strength training is not just about body builders lifting weights in a gym. Regular strength or resistance training also helps prevent the natural loss of lean muscle mass that comes with aging (the medical term for this loss is sarcopenia).
Strength training is an important part of your overall fitness and benefits people of all ages, particularly those with health issues such as obesity, arthritis, or a heart condition.
The new Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), recommends children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 incorporate strength training into their daily 60 minutes of physical activity three days per week. Adults should aim to do moderate or intense muscle-strengthening workouts that target all muscle groups two days per week.
And you need to rest in between strength-training workouts.
“The thing about strength training is that you don’t get better during workouts; you get better in between,” says Pire. “You should give yourself a day in between strength training to allow your body to recover and rebuild the muscle tissue from the stimulus of lifting or resistance.”
Why is strength training so important? Listen to tips from Kelsey Wells, a trainer with the workout app Sweat and creator of the PWR weight-training programs.
How Strength Training Helps Your Health?
Besides the well-touted (and frequently Instagrammed) benefit of adding tone and definition to your muscles, how does strength training help? Here are just a few of the many ways.
This benefit is the obvious one, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. “Muscle strength is crucial in making it easier to do the things you need to do on a day-to-day basis,” Pire says — especially as we get older and naturally start to lose muscle.
Strength training is also called resistance training because it involves strengthening and toning your muscles by contracting them against a resisting force. There are two types of resistance training:
Isometric resistance involves contracting your muscles against a nonmoving object, such as against the floor in a push-up.
Isotonic strength training involves contracting your muscles through a range of motion as in weight lifting
At around age 30 we start losing as much as 3 to 5 percent of lean muscle mass per year thanks to aging.
According to a study published in October 2017 in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, just 30 minutes twice a week of high intensity resistance and impact training was shown to improve functional performance, as well as bone density, structure, and strength in postmenopausal women with low bone mass — and it had no negative effects.
Likewise, the HHS guidelines note that, for everyone, muscle-strengthening activities help preserve or increase muscle mass, strength, and power, which are essential for bone, joint, and muscle health as we age.
Aerobic exercise such as walking, running, and cycling is well-known as a way to help increase the number of calories you burn in a day and thereby shed extra pounds. But strength training helps, too (even if you’re not burning a huge number of calories during the workout).
Exercise science researchers suspect strength training is helpful for weight loss because it helps increase your resting metabolism (meaning the rate at which your body burns calories when you’re just going about your day, not exercising).
“A good resistance workout increases your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC),” Pire says, referring to the calories your body continues to burn after a workout.” [Resistance or strengthening exercise] keeps your metabolism active after exercising, much longer than after an aerobic workout.”
A study published in the journal Obesity in November 2017 found that, compared with dieters who didn’t exercise and those who did only aerobic exercise, dieters who did strength training exercises four times a week for 18 months lost the most fat (about 18 pounds, compared with 10 pounds for non-exercisers and 16 pounds for aerobic exercisers).
Strength training also benefits your balance, coordination, and posture. One study showed that in older people who are at higher risk of falling (and causing a lot of damage) because of worse physical functioning, strength training reduced risk of falling by 40 percent compared with individuals who did not do strength-training exercise.
“Balance is dependent on the strength of the muscles that keep you on your feet,” Pire notes. “The stronger those muscles, the better your balance.”
Studies have documented the many wellness benefits of strength training, including helping people with some chronic diseases manage their conditions. If you have arthritis, strength training can be as effective as medication in decreasing arthritis pain.
And for the 14 million Americans with type 2 diabetes, strength training along with other healthy lifestyle changes can help improve glucose control.
Strength training will elevate your level of endorphins (natural opiates produced by the brain), which lift energy levels and improve mood. “All exercise boosts mood because it increases endorphins,” Pire says. But for strength training, additional research that’s looked at neurochemical and neuromuscular responses to such workouts offers further evidence it has a positive effect on the brain (including a 2014 study published in Frontiers in Psychology), he adds.
As if that isn’t enough to convince you, there’s evidence strength training may help you sleep better, too.
Strength training helps boost your metabolism (the rate your resting body burns calories throughout the day). But weight or resistance training can help boost your calorie burn during and after your workout, too.
You burn calories during strength training, and your body continues to burn calories after strength training (just like you do after aerobic exercise), a process called “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” or EPOC, according to the American Council on Exercise. When you do strength, weight, or resistance training, your body demands more energy based on how much energy you’re exerting (meaning the tougher you’re working, the more energy is demanded). That means more calories burned during the workout, and more calories burned after the workout, too, while your body is recovering to a resting state.
Along with aerobic exercise, muscle-strengthening physical activity helps improve blood pressure, according to HHS. The government recommends doing muscle-strengthening activities twice weekly plus 150 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity activity at minimum to help reduce hypertension and lower risk of heart disease.
If you’re looking to add strength or resistance training to your routine you have a lot of options, Pire notes. You definitely don’t need a gym membership or expensive weight machines, he adds. “Squatting on a chair at home, push-ups, planks, or other movements that require you to use your own body weight as resistance be very effective.”
If you have any health issues, ask your doctor what type of strength training is best to meet your needs and abilities. You can also work with a fitness expert to design a strength-training program that will be safe and effective for you.
Who doesn’t want to look better, feel better, and live a longer, healthier life.