It has been accepted knowledge for some time in the fitness industry that there are many benefits of strength training. Also called resistance training, this should be an essential component in any fitness regime.
Benefits of strength training
Strength training has many reported benefits including:
- Improved muscle strength and tone – to protect your joints from injury. It also helps you maintain flexibility and balance and helps you remain independent as you age.
- Weight management and increased muscle-to-fat ratio – as you gain muscle, your body burns more kilojoules when at rest
- Greater stamina – as you grow stronger, you won’t get tired as easily.
- Prevention or control of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, back pain, depression and obesity.
- Pain management.
- Improved mobility and balance.
- Improved posture.
- Decreased risk of injury.
- Increased bone density and strength and reduced risk of osteoporosis.
- Reduced body fat.
- Improved sense of wellbeing – resistance training can boost your self-confidence, improve your body image and reduce the risk of depression.
- A better night’s sleep and avoidance of insomnia.
- Increased self-esteem.
- Enhanced performance of everyday tasks.
Increase Fat Burning
The relationship between muscle development and reduced body fat is particularly interesting. Basically the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism and therefore the more fat you burn. Strength training improves fat burning:
- because you metabolise more quickly in the day or two following a workout, when your muscles are repairing themselves (this is the time you may experience DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). After a really good workout you may hurt for days, but personally I enjoy this type of soreness because it’s like I can actively feel the improved metabolism and fat burning occurring, and
- just simply having muscle improves your metabolism.
This article in The Age newspaper adds a further dimension to the argument, suggesting that strength training – exercising our muscles – releases chemicals called “myokines, which have a range of benefits including reducing the low level inflammation in the body thought to contribute to heart disease, type 2diabetes and Alzheimer’s – and possibly working as tumour suppressants”. The research is new, as I understand it, but promising.
Whichever way you look at it, strength training can only do you good. There used to be a view that if women lifted heavy weights, they would look ‘bulky’ or ‘manly’. Something like this perhaps:
This misguided view is in fact quite disrespectful. As I’ve noted elsewhere, diet is the major factor in stripping body fat to expose that degree of muscle mass, and it takes in some cases YEARS of hard work to achieve a body like the above.
The suggestion that a woman might lift a few dumbbells a couple of times a week and accidentally wind up ‘bulky’ is ludicrous. In fact, a moderate amount of muscle mass is what is more likely to happen, and with a low(ish) amount of body fat you’re far more likely to end up with a body like this:
Bulky? Manly? Hardly. Of course this may not be everyone’s idea of the ideal body, and we need to be careful about presenting these almost-perfect bodies as something to aspire to, because the reality is that our genetics play a big part in determining overall body shape and composition.
Two people that have identical training regimes and diets will still look different. Genetics might mean you develop larger quads, or have a thicker waist or broader shoulders than the person next to you, but this should never mean that you value your self-worth based on whether you look like a sports model.
And it’s by no means a reason to stop, or even reduce the amount of strength training you do, because the benefits noted above far outweigh any aesthetic considerations (in my view). A fit, strong, healthy body is always going to be more attractive and add far more to your self esteem than feeling frail, under-nourished or obese.