8 Ways Strength Training Boosts Your Health and Fitness
Every workout plan should include strength training — and bigger muscles are just one of the health benefits you'll reap.
Medically Reviewed by Michael Cutler, DO, PhD
Strength training goes a long way in terms of supporting bone health, making aerobic exercise more productive, preventing injury, and facilitating healthy aging.
If you knew that a certain type of exercise could benefit your heart, improve balance, strengthen bones and muscle, and help you lose or maintain weight, 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 strength and fitness by exercising a specific muscle or muscle group against external resistance, including free-weights, weight machines, or your own body weight, according to the American Heart Association.
“The basic principle is to apply a load and overload the muscle so it needs to adapt and get stronger,” explains Neal Pire, CSCS, an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist and account manager at The Gym at Englewood in Englewood, New Jersey.
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 is good for people of all ages and fitness levels to help prevent the natural loss of lean muscle mass that comes with aging (the medical term for this loss is sarcopenia). It can also benefit people with chronic health conditions, like obesity, arthritis, or a heart condition.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommend children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 incorporate strength training into their daily 60 minutes of physical activity three days per week. Adults should aim to do moderate or intense muscle-strengthening workouts that target all muscle groups two days per week.
And you need to rest in between strength training workouts.
“The thing about strength training is that you don’t get better during workouts; you get better in between,” says Pire. “You should give yourself a day in between strength training to allow your body to recover and rebuild the muscle tissue from the stimulus of lifting or resistance.”
Tips for Working Out: Strength Training
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
This benefit is the obvious one, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. “Muscle strength is crucial in making it easier to do the things you need to do on a day-to-day basis,” Pire says — especially as we get older and naturally start to lose muscle.
Strength training is also called resistance training because it involves strengthening and toning your muscles by contracting them against a resisting force. According to the Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine, there are two types of resistance training:
- Isometric resistance involves contracting your muscles against a nonmoving object, such as against the floor in a pushup.
- 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 decade thanks to aging, notes Harvard Health Publishing.
According to a study published in October 2017 in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 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, the HHS physical activity guidelines note that, 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 Your Body Burn Calories Efficiently
All exercise helps boost your metabolism (the rate your resting body burns calories throughout the day).
With both aerobic activity and strength training, your body continues to burn calories after strength training as it returns to its more restful state (in terms of energy exerted). It’s a process called "excess post-exercise oxygen consumption,” according to the American Council on Exercise.
But 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). So you can amplify this effect depending on the amount of energy you put into the workout. 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.
4. Strength Training Helps Keep the Weight off for Good
Because strength training boosts excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, it can also help exercisers boost weight loss more than if you were to just do aerobic exercise alone, Pire says. “[Resistance or strengthening exercise] keeps your metabolism active after exercising, much longer than after an aerobic workout.”
A study published in the journal Obesity in November 2017 found that, compared with dieters who didn’t exercise and those who did only aerobic exercise, dieters who did strength training exercises four times a week for 18 months lost the most fat (about 18 pounds, compared with 10 pounds for nonexercisers and 16 pounds for aerobic exercisers).
You may even be able to further reduce body fat specifically when strength training is combined with reducing calories through diet. People who followed a combined full-body resistance training and diet over the course of four months reduced their fat mass while improving lean muscle mass better than either resistance training or dieting alone, concluded a small study published in January 2018 in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.
5. Strength Training Helps You Develop Better Body Mechanics
Strength training also benefits your balance, coordination, and posture, according to past research.
One review, published in Aging Clinical and Experimental Research in November 2017, concluded that doing at least one resistance training session per week — performed alone or in a program with multiple different types of workouts — produced up to a 37 percent increase in muscle strength, a 7.5 percent increase in muscle mass, and a 58 percent increase in functional capacity (linked to risk of falls) in frail, elderly adults.
“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.”
6. Strength Training Can Help With Chronic Disease Management
Studies have documented that strength training can also help ease symptoms in people with many chronic conditions, including neuromuscular disorders, HIV, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and some cancers, among others. For the more than 30 million Americans with type 2 diabetes, strength training along with other healthy lifestyle changes can help improve glucose control, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a study published in June 2017 in Diabetes Therapy.
And research published in 2019 in Frontiers in Psychology suggested regular resistance training can also help prevent chronic mobility problems, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
7. Strength Training Boosts Energy Levels and Improves Your Mood
Strength training has been found to be a legitimate treatment option (or add-on treatment) to quell symptoms of depression, according to a meta-analysis of 33 clinical trials published in JAMA Psychiatry in June 2018.
“All exercise boosts mood because it increases endorphins,” Pire says. 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, he adds.
And there's evidence strength training may help you sleep better, too, according to a study published in the January–February 2019 issue of Brazilian Journal of Psychology. And we all know a better night’s sleep can go a long way in keeping mood up.
8. Strength Training Has Cardiovascular Health Benefits
Along with aerobic exercise, muscle-strengthening activities helps improve blood pressure and reduce risk of hypertension and heart disease, according to HHS.
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, pushups, planks, or other movements that require you to use your own body weight as resistance can 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.
SOURCE: Michael Cutler - Everyday Health