Incorporating strength training into your fitness routine doesn’t have to mean hanging out in the gym for two hours a day every day, lifting nothing but heavy weights, and hanging out with huge bodybuilder types (unless that’s your thing). Strength training or weight training can look different for everyone, and the benefits go far beyond building muscle alone. Strength training can serve as a tipping point for those who are looking to increase muscle mass, or as a welcome new challenge for those who are just getting started on their path to physical fitness.
Research shows that cardiovascular exercise alone isn’t enough to get most people into the kind of killer shape they dream of (hello, abs!). Rather, it may aid in producing a caloric deficit when combined with proper nutrition, but it won’t actually help you put on lean muscle. We also need to keep challenging our bodies in new ways in order to keep our muscles strong, and that’s exactly what strength training can offer.
So, what else can strength training do for you from not only a fitness standpoint, but also help add to your overall health, and how can you best incorporate it into your life so that you’ll reap all the benefits?
I’m about to tackle all of these questions for you below, so let’s get started!
This may vary from person to person (depending on your health and fitness goals), but from a high level standpoint, one of the most common benefits of strength training is of course, muscle building. That’s not to say that this is the only result, but as a general rule, if you are able to incorporate it into your routine even just two to three times per week, you are more likely to experience muscle gains and not fall victim to the idea that all you need is cardio to be in peak physical condition. When you add regular weight training or body weight resistance training to vary up your routine, you’ll keep your body guessing.
Balance and Mobility
Using strength training by way of doing a push-up (lowering) or squatting (downward motion) are two forms of eccentric contractions, which actually lengthens muscles because the downward motion actually creates mini tears in the muscle fibers, which can help strengthen and build new muscle mass. When you are using eccentric and not just concentric (static) movements, you’re giving your muscles the green light to access their full range of motion, which can also help protect you from injury.
Brain & Mental Health
Believe it or not, when your body is going against gravity (like it does in eccentric exercises), it forces your brain to go outside of its conventional thinking pattern by engaging the parts of the brain that control your motor skills like coordination and balance. When you do the opposite of what your brain expects by performing movements like eccentric strength movements, you’re inadvertently training your brain to think in different ways. Research has also shown that strength training can also be a powerful tool in support of our mental health because it can help us learn how to better adapt when presented with physical obstacles in a controlled environment. Who would have thought doing push-ups could challenge both your mind and your body?
Another added benefit of strength training is that it can strengthen your bones. According to this article from Harvard Medical School, strength training can slow the rate of bone loss and can also contribute to new bone cell growth due to the temporary strain put on the muscles and joints during movement, resulting in stronger bones that are more dense. In this way, strength training might be of great benefit to older adults who are at a much higher risk for osteoporosis and fractures due to falls.
Decreased Body Fat
Studies have shown that strength training does burn body fat, due to the fact that it increases our Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) between 5-10%. When muscle fibers get micro tears from weight training, the body must work extra hard to repair these tissues. This process causes us to borrow from our own energy reserves, resulting in calorie burnage. Over time, strength training should lead to increased muscle mass that will eventually take the place of body fat. This is especially important when it comes to visceral fat, most commonly found in the abdominal region. Visceral fat is considered the most dangerous type of fat, as it is often associated with type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and heart disease.
Strength Training Methods
There are several options when it comes to strength training, and it doesn’t require a gym with tons of weights. TRX suspension training bands are one of the best tools you can use to get in a strength training session using your body weight as resistance. They can easily be set up at the top of a doorway or anchored into a wall and are especially convenient if you can’t make it to a gym. If you aren’t able to get access to TRX equipment, you can still do many basic moves like squats, planks, and push-ups that use your own body weight.
I recommend incorporating strength training in just two to three times per week, targeting each specific muscle group every time, or alternating with your upper and lower body. It isn’t something that has to be done every day, especially if you’re just getting into a whole new fitness regimen.