THE ROLE OF STRENGTH TRAINING: WHY ITS ESSENTIAL TO YOUR HEALTH
Strength training is underrated as a method of controlling weight, but it has amazing fat-loss and body composition benefits. Whilst it has been linked with bodybuilding and various negative cultural stereotypes, the reality is that competitive bodybuilding is a parody of conventional strength training and misrepresents the way that body transformation works. Strength training won’t make you big and bulky (not accidentally, anyway) and it won’t make women look like men: strength training is an essential part of fostering optimum health, physical fitness and protecting yourself from the dangers of ageing.
The physique benefits
The first thing to note about strength training is that it contributes to weight loss and body transformation. Most people don’t just want to lose weight, they want to lose weight and look better – strength training is the fastest way to build muscle and assists in the fat-loss process. This makes strength training a great way to improve your health whilst also looking better and feeling more confident!
Whilst cardio exercise uses more calories and burns more fat in the gym, the effects of strength training are much longer in their effect. When you perform a heavy strength workout, your body will be recovering for the next 24-48 hours (for a beginner) – during this time, your body is working hard to repair the muscles and connective tissues that experienced healthy levels of stress during your workout. This process is calorie-expensive, which helps with weight loss, but it also forces your body to be more efficient with nutrients: weight training is a great way to ensure that proteins are used for muscles, carbohydrates are used for energy and dietary fats are used to regulate the hormone levels and keep the body healthy.
THE KEY HEALTH BENEFITS
Honestly, I could preach the health benefits of strength training for 10,000 words, but we don’t have the scope for that in this article so I’m going to highlight the key benefits and hopefully convince you to ditch the treadmill for the squat rack at least twice a week! Here’s a shortlist of the fantastic health-promoting qualities of proper strength training:
- More muscle
- Less fat
- Improved metabolism
- Improved nutrient partitioning/usage
- Better bone health
- Reduced loss of mobility during aging
- Better heart health
- Increased confidence
- Improved hormonal profile (in both men and women)
- Elevated mood
- Decreased stress
- Improved immune system function
- Better brain chemistry
- Look better naked
MORE MUSCLE: NOT JUST FOR SHOW
Increased muscle mass is a great thing – not only is it a good thing to be, and look, strong, but it has a number of medical benefits that can maintain your health in the long term. For example, increased muscle mass around a particular joint (such as the knee) is an easy way to reduce the chance of injury to the joint and make it more resilient to long-term degradation or injury. Consider how many people have hip injuries or back pain – these injuries could be prevented or minimised in many cases simply by adding muscle mass to the area.
Improved muscle mass also combats the effects of aging. As we get older, sarcopenia sets in and reduces our quality of life: sarcopenia is the natural reduction of muscle tissue in response to aging but having more to begin with will keep you stronger as you age. It has been remarked in physiotherapy that the difficulty of a single-legged (pistol) squat is how difficult an individual with advanced sarcopenia may find standing up from their seat. If you want to be moving about independently for as long as possible, be sure to strengthen the body now!
Muscle is also great/awful for its metabolic properties. Muscle is incredibly expensive in terms of calories, which makes it far easier to lose weight if you have a lot of muscle. In addition to this, you’ll look and feel better, and have better overall circulation.
ORGAN HEALTH: SUPPORTING THE BONES AND HEART
Strength training also has key benefits beyond the muscles: when we put the body through serious hard work, we place a healthy stress on the heart and other tissues which forces them to develop and become stronger. Much like lifting weights causes the muscles to become stronger due to stress, it has a similar effect on two key organs: the bones and the heart.
Strength training strengthens arterial wall muscles, which can improve the stroke length of the heart – how much blood is pumped with each beat – and keep circulation strong and healthy as we age. This is even more important because heart disease is such a common killer, and poor lifestyle choices can contribute to the morbidity rate, which is at least 1/6 deaths in some areas.
Lifting weights and performing bodyweight movements also contribute to the strengthening and maintenance of the bones. Many of us ignore the bones and think that they’re just there, but the bones are living tissues like any others and require proper maintenance. By stressing the bones and connective tissues through exercise, we cause them to grow stronger in the long-term. This is key to aging well because it combats osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, two common health conditions that result in breaks and a loss of quality of life.
Strength training should be part of everyone’s exercise regime: it provides a wide variety of physique and physiological benefits that can benefit your health and wellbeing for decades to come. Whilst many of us treat health and fitness like a short-term solution, for most people it is more important to focus on long-term quality of life and strength training (weight training in particular) is a great way to achieve this. Additionally, squatting is far more fun than cardio!