Strength Training

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.

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.

And you need to rest in between strength-training workouts.

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.

1. Strength training makes you stronger and fitter.

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.

2. Strength training protects bone health and muscle mass.

At around age 30 we start losing as much as 3 to 5 percent of lean muscle mass per year thanks to aging.

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, 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.

3. Strength training helps keep the weight off for good. 

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).

4. Strength training helps you develop better body mechanics.

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.”

5. Strength training can help with chronic disease management.

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.

6. Strength training boosts energy levels and improves your mood.

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,”. 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)

As if that isn’t enough to convince you, there’s evidence strength training may help you sleep better, too.

7. Strength training translates to more calories burned.

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. 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.

8. Strength training has cardiovascular health benefits.

Along with aerobic exercise, muscle-strengthening physical activity helps improve blood pressure, according to HHS. (2) 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.

Getting Started: How to Add Strength Training to Your Routine

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? So what are you waiting for? Get started now with a complete workout program that includes strength training.