Strength and weight training tend to conjure up a very specific image: muscle-bound athletes. These individuals push themselves to the limit to hone and refine their bodies. And while these athletes are certainly dedicated to keeping their bodies fit, what about the average person who just wants to get healthy?
Science suggests strength training benefits everybody, whether you want to build muscle or simply stay in shape. New studies show that weight training may be able to do so much more than improve muscle mass, including supporting your heart, bones, and long-term health.
How Strength Training Benefits The Body
Let’s look at how strength training can benefit the body. When you lift weights, you force the muscles to work hard. This exertion causes the muscles to break down. Cells rush to repair the muscles. This ultimately makes the muscles stronger.
Strength training may also help to increase bone density. Over time, the body breaks down bone tissue via a process known as bone resorption.1 This is a natural process, and on paper, shouldn’t be anything to worry about. In fact, many young people naturally outpace bone resorption with bone formation.
However, in certain cases, bone resorption can pose an issue. People with sedentary lifestyles run the risk of losing more bone than they gain. The same applies to women after or during menopause. Enter strength training. We assume that muscles take the brunt of the burden of training. This isn’t entirely true. Bones, ligaments, and tendons all get a workout. In the case of bones, strength training stimulates the growth of osteoblasts. These are the cells that help bones grow. Aerobic exercise can help as well, but research shows strength training equally, or even more, beneficial.2-3
What Do You Stand To Gain?
During resistance training, stress is placed on muscles. As a result, the body uses its stores of glucose. This heightened state of glucose consumption continues long after the workout is over. This means that resistance training may be useful for people with certain metabolic conditions.4,5 One study focused on resistance training in older men with insulin sensitivity issues. Research showed that two sessions a week improved insulin swings, and decreased abdominal fat.6
This isn’t the only study covering strength training and weight loss. One focused on women who had recently lost weight.
Another notable thing about strength training is its effect on inflammation. A natural response to injury, inflammation can sometimes get out of hand. Chronic inflammation goes hand-in-hand with many health issues, particularly in the heart. Studies have shown that strength training may lead to marked drops in inflammation. This applies not only to healthy people, but those who are already overweight.8,9
It’s important to note that there are also indirect benefits of strength training. The elderly are often at risk for injury due to falling. By strengthening your muscles and bones, you may improve your balance.10 For older people, stronger muscles may help them maintain their independence longer.
Working Strength Training Into Your Life
Of course, these benefits won’t help you unless you do the work. Whether it’s lack of time or self-consciousness, some people may not want to go to the gym to lift weights. But strength training is about much more than just lifting weights. It also includes exercises like pushups, pull ups, abdominal crunches, and leg squats. All of these involve minimal equipment. And if you don’t want to hit the gym regularly, you can always buy free weights to use at home, or even lift things like laundry detergent, water bottles, canned goods, or your kids. Resistance tubes are another easy option.11
When it comes to designing your initial workouts, remember that you want to push yourself, but not too far. Doing too much too soon can lead to injury. For example, for weights, you want to actually start below your limit. Also, if your form is poor, you may not reap the full benefits of your workout.12
Everyone’s body is different. Most experts recommend choosing a weight heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.13If you notice you can do more with less effort, it’s time to raise the weight or reps.
Strength/Weight Training In Review
Beneficial exercises that help build strong muscles can contribute to your overall health. Consider adding strength or resistance training to your workout routine. The variety will make things fun, and your body will reap the rewards. So, grab some weights or hit the workout machines, and get to work building your health – one rep at a time!
6. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/28/3/662.short https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2393546