January is the time when most of us do our best to stick to New Year’s resolutions. And what’s the most popular of them? According to this study, top three resolutions made for 2019 were to diet, exercise and lose weight. Today, I would like to take a look at a dark horse of exercise niche, usually overlooked by those getting into fitness routine in order to improve physical condition and/or lose weight – strength training. Contrary to popular belief, strength training isn’t only about lifting extremely heavy weights by huge, muscular guys. It’s a kind of training that should be part of everyone’s fitness routine, as it brings serious benefits! And no, dear girls, you won’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his best years after exercising with a set of dumbbells twice a week – whether you like it or not.
I briefly mentioned strength training in my post about most useful fitness accessories, but decided not to get into details of it there. I believe strength training is such a gem, it deserves a separate post.
So here it is. A list of reasons to include strength training in your fitness routine. Girls, that applies to you as well!
What is strength training?
Let’s start with the basics. Stereotypically, what comes to our mind when we think ‘strength training’ are exercises that can be done with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and such. Those items are indeed a part of strength training (also known as resistance training, because it involves using the force of our muscles against some kind of resistance), but not a necessary part! Strength training also uses accessories such as resistance bands or gym machines. Finally, in order to build up strength, you can also use the weight of your own body in exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, squats and lounges. No equipment is needed!
Strength training boosts metabolic rate
We all know that physical activity burns energy – or calories – and in order to maintain our weight, the energy provided to our body through food should equal the energy burnt. Providing more than our body can spend results in building up fat cells, whereas undereating results in weight loss or, in extreme cases, leaves our organs malnourished and in the long term can lead to irreversible damage.
However, not all energy is spent through exercise and activity. If you spend a whole day in bed, avoiding any kind of movement or activity, your body will still use up some energy. That’s because our bodies are machines which never stop. Every tissue, every cell needs to be fueled, so there’s a so-called Base Metabolic Rate (BMR) – the amount of energy your organs passively burn throughout the day. Now here’s the thing – not all body parts are equal. Fat cells don’t need much energy to survive. Muscles, on the other hand, do. The more of them you have, the more energy your body is going to burn every day. According to this study, an extra 5 kg of muscle adds around 100 calories to your daily BMR. If you’re like me and love food, this should be great news for you.
…and as a result, maintaining weight becomes easier
The higher your BMR, the more energy your body spends. Therefore, you’re able to eat more and maintain weight! Not only will it make meal planning easier, but it will also make occasional hiccups less impactful.
Strength training is good for your heart
Study shows that resistance training helps reduce blood pressure. It also decreases the risk of obesity and diabetes and helps reduce abdominal fat – all of these play an important role in keeping your heart healthy, at low risk of cardiovascular disease.
Building muscle helps with back pain and improves posture
This point is especially close to my heart and I’m living evidence that strength training helps with back problems. Bad posture and lower back pain are among the most common health problems in developed countries nowadays. Office jobs and sedentary lifestyles lead to weaker core muscles (if you sit all day, core muscles don’t have much to do and start disappearing), weak core muscles lead to bad posture. Bad posture leads to back pain and is extremely difficult to fix. That’s why strength training targeting core muscles should be a part of everyone’s daily routine! Even 15 minutes a day make a significant difference. And don’t wait until it’s too late! Back pain is insanely difficult to fight once you get yourself to that state. Better prevent than cure! If you know your lifestyle isn’t the most active, take care of your back before it’s too late.
Strength training increases bone mineral density
According to research, osteoporosis – a disease where decreased bone density greatly increases the risk of broken bones – is estimated to affect up to 70% of white people. Adults can experience up to a 3% bone density decrease every year of their lives. On the other hand, study shows that strength training can improve bone mineral density by 3% a year – which means that it can counter the natural process. Anyone looking for an essence for eternal youth?
Strength training increases balance and flexibility which naturally decrease with age
As we age, we tend to naturally lose muscle, which results in decreased flexibility and worse balance. Strength training – building muscle – counters this natural process and keeps us in good physical shape.
It prevents injuries
Resistance training is known to increase strength in connective tissues and tendons. Paired with improved balance and flexibility, it makes us stronger overall and able to keep control over our bodies. All of those result in lowered risk of accidental injuries.
Strength training burns fat without burning muscles
One of the most popular types of exercise, especially among those jumping into a new fitness regime in order to pursue a resolution, is cardio. Running, walking, cycling and so on. Cardio exercises, especially high intensity workouts, are definitely effective and burn a high amount of energy in a short period of time. However, a side effect of strict diet paired with cardio training is muscle loss. Just take a look at Olympic marathon runners – most of them look very faint and fragile, even though they’re able to achieve impressive results in their discipline (loads of respect to them!). Don’t get me wrong, cardio exercise isn’t bad for you, there are significant benefits to it – but a regular person exercising in order to achieve and maintain good fitness level should combine cardio with resistance training, to get the benefits of both.
You burn calories for up to 24 hours after the training
As mentioned before, one of the main reasons why cardio exercises are a go-to option for those getting in a fitness routine is that they burn a lot of calories in a short period of time. But that’s it – the moment you stop exercising your energy expenditure rapidly returns to normal (depending on the length and intensity of your cardio training, there’s a bit of “afterburn” period for up to an hour after the workout). Resistance training works differently. 30 minutes with dumbbells won’t burn anywhere near as many calories as 30 minutes on the treadmill. However, your body’s energy expenditure will be increased for up to 24 hours! What kind of magic is that, you may ask? Building muscle is a complicated process. While you work out with weights, tiny fractions occur in your muscles. Those fractions are then repaired, with a slight increase in total muscle volume – that’s how muscles grow. This process of repairing itself costs your body extra energy and can take up to a whole day – that’s why you keep burning extra calories for a long time after completing a strength training.
You’ll see results quickly
Everyone starting a new fitness regime would like to see results come as soon as possible – preferably instantly. In terms of cardio exercises, results come at a slow pace and it’s likely to take weeks before you see a significant improvement. Strength training, on the other hand, is much more gratifying. If you train consistently, you’ll see results week after week. The same exercises will become easier to do and you’ll be able to repeat them more times. Seeing results is always a great motivation booster and seeing them every week will likely effectively fuel your motivation to keep going!
Strength training will give you toned, sleek body
Let’s be honest – although maintaining good fitness level is primarily important for health reasons, a lot of us exercise in order to improve our physique. Strength training helps us build lean muscle, and muscle – unlike fat – appears where it’s expected and desired. Combined with fat loss – also provided by resistance training – you’ll be left with the right shapes in the right places!
It improves sleep
Targeting all muscle groups in a full body strength training will leave our bodies tired – in a positive sense, of course. As a result, you will sleep like a baby! Research shows that regular strength training improves sleep quality of those who generally struggle to fall asleep and then sleep through the night. So if you’re having problems of that nature, give resistance training a go!
You won’t end up looking like a bodybuilder
In case you’re a guy hoping to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in full glory times after a week of working out with weights – I’m sorry to break it to you. Getting to that level takes more, much more. Years of strict training and diet regime. Occasional workouts with low-medium weights won’t bring such results. It’s even more difficult for girls, as female bodies are generally more resistant to building up muscle. So girls, if you’ve always thought that strength training should be reserved for bodybuilding guys – that’s not how it really is! Consider including resistance workouts in your fitness routines and I guarantee that you’ll be amazed by the results!