Benefits of Strength Training
Strength training can complement any fitness program and it is easy to get started. Health benefits can be seen by doing just two sessions per week, and within a few weeks you will feel stronger, gain endurance and enjoy increased muscle stamina. And even though many of us picture strength training with weights, you don’t have to join a gym to start.
Strength training exercises are any type of exercise that uses resistance against your muscles. Often weights or machines are used to create resistance, but exercises that use your body weight as resistance training, like squats or push ups, are also strength training exercises. No matter what style you choose, start slow and work your way into more intense workouts. You might be surprised at how quickly you can see progress. Check out these other health benefits of strength training.
Strength – As in the name, strength training literally does make you stronger. As you embark on a regular training routine, your body responds by increasing fast-twitch muscle fibers that are capable of using greater force. As you gain muscle fiber, you gain strength while maintaining healthy muscle size. At the same time, increased muscle mass means more blood and oxygen are carried throughout your body, which helps improve overall strength and physical fitness.
Stamina – Increasing muscle tissue increases blood flow and oxygen not only to your muscles, but throughout your entire body. An increase in blood naturally increases the flow of nutrients, as well, bringing more energy to any area your body needs. The result is more stamina during other activities like running or tennis, along with a shorter recovery time. With increased stamina, many people find mid-day fatigue goes away as they feel uplifted and energized throughout the entire day.
Flexibility – We all know that stretching is associated with increased flexibility, but many don’t realize that certain types of strength training also improves flexibility. In a study published in the North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, research found that eccentric exercises provided more benefit to hamstring flexibility than stretching. Eccentric exercises lengthen muscles that are “under load,” or with resistance. Some of these include squats, pull-ups and push-ups. And if you decide to try these to improve your flexibility, don’t forget that even just a few minutes of stretching after any workout will help reduce injury throughout the day.
Bone Density – Bone density can increase as we grow, but after our twenties, this process slows or stops. Unfortunately, after 40 we can easily lose bone density, especially our lifestyle includes a poor diet and lack of physical activity. Bones are living tissue and just like muscles, they adapt to stress. When resistance, or stress, is placed on the body, bone cells manufacture collagen, which helps increase strength. This adds to bone growth and density, protecting you from bone loss and diseases like osteoporosis. The great news is that along with strength training, researchers are finding that other sports like running and tennis, can also contribute to the process which increases bone density. (1)
Shape Up – Many athletes love strength training because it helps sculpt muscles to create the best body shape for you. It’s no secret that your muscles define your shape, and lack of muscle can be easily hidden by a layer of fat.
But strength training builds muscles, and increased muscle mass burns more calories. When combined with the right diet, strength training can help increase metabolism, resulting in more efficient fat burning, improved muscle tone and a more sculpted look.
Heart Health – Regular strength training increases muscle mass and keeps body fat at bay. More importantly, increased muscle mass can raise metabolism, which can help lower abdominal fat, which is the type of fat associated with heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
Improved Insulin Sensitivity – Building muscle mass has more impact than shapely muscles. According to a review published in the journal, BioMed Research International, strength training improves muscle cells’ ability to pick up blood glucose, thus lowering blood sugar levels.
Another study showed that strength training not only improved muscle quality, but also improved whole-body insulin sensitivity. (2) This study has prompted some experts to add strength training as an important aspect of diabetes management.
Lower Risk of Injuries – Strength training improves muscle quality and when a whole-body routine is used, it can help create balanced muscles. Balanced muscles are important as they can help lower the risk of injuries like strains and muscle tears.
This type of exercise program also strengthens bones to provide a solid foundation for your entire body. Overall, a well-rounded strength training program can improve core stabilization, leading to a lowered risk of ankle and knee injuries as well as less back pain.
Brain Health – While building muscles, strength training also seems to build brain matter. In a study from 2016, researchers found that resistance exercise (strength training) led to increased neural plasticity, which is the brain’s response to adaptation. An increase in brain plasticity leads to enhanced brain performance, faster processing and even creative thinking. In other words, your brain stays younger for longer.
Better Mood – With increased brain function comes enhanced moods. And it turns out that strength training is a positive protector against anxiety and depression. The reason? Increased blood flow through the entire body also means increased blood flow to the brain. At the same time, exercise helps your brain create and release happy hormones like serotonin and dopamine. Between the blood, hormones and brain plasticity, you can enjoy an enhanced outlook on life at any age.
To enjoy the many health benefits of strength training, choose a fitness routine that suits your needs. Exercises that incorporate weights, resistance bands or your body’s own weight are beneficial and finding a routine for your goals is as easy as going online.
Once you choose your routine, be sure to incorporate it into your fitness program two times each week, while keeping up with your other activities the rest of the week. Remember to ease into this type of exercise to avoid injury and soreness, and after just a few short weeks, you should be able to enjoy the full health benefits that strength training has to offer.
2 Brooks N, Layne JE, Gordon PL, Roubenoff R, Nelson ME, Castaneda-Sceppa C. Strength training improves muscle quality and insulin sensitivity in Hispanic older adults with type 2 diabetes. Int J Med Sci. 2006;4(1):19‐27. Published 2006 Dec 18. doi:10.7150/ijms.4.19