Strength training as a form of exercise gets little to no attention compared to cardiovascular training. Most people know that walking or riding their bike is an essential part of maintaining good health; strength training is often acknowledged as a beneficial thing to do for optimal health, but not essential enough to regularly incorporate into their exercise routine.
Strength training, by definition, is a concerted effort to use resistance or weights to work a muscle group. Many people falsely believe that being active, such as standing and moving during a shift at work, or doing house work, is enough effort to keep muscles healthy and strong. Being active is beneficial to the body, but it takes a focused effort to work muscles by either using weights, or your own body weight, to get the benefits of strength training.
The benefits of strength training are much too important to omit when committing to a healthy lifestyle, and many of these benefits cannot be accomplished with cardiovascular training alone. A well-designed strength-training program can provide the following benefits:
- Increases muscle mass, and muscle burns more calories than fat. Even at rest, your body will burn more calories if you strength train regularly. As muscle mass increases, metabolism increases, making it easier to maintain a healthy body weight. If you don’t intentionally rebuild muscle through exercise, every ten years you will need to eat 150-450 less calories each day to maintain your current weight.
- Helps to slow down or halt muscle loss that accompanies aging. A typical adult loses about one-half pound of muscle per year after the age of 20, which means you feel less energetic and generally weaker.
- Slows bone loss that accompanies aging and increases bone density.
- Maintains or increases joint flexibility.
- Helps to manage or reduce pain from ailments such as arthritis and old injuries.
- Improve fitness variables such as glucose metabolism, blood pressure, muscle strength endurance, body composition and even insulin sensitivity.
- Improves your mood. Research from Harvard University found that strength training is very effective at reducing depression in older adults (Singh, Clements, & Fiatarone, 1997).
- Improves brain function. Coordination required to strength train keeps your brain active.
- Enhances appearance.
- Improves balance and decreases your risk for injury.
- Helps you sleep more soundly.
- Allows you to do activities you otherwise could not do.
When beginning a strength training program, follow these tips:
- Consult with a certified fitness professional to learn safe technique before beginning a strength-training program.
- Warm up properly. Spend a few minutes before exercising to warm muscles and connective tissues up and reduce risk for injury.
- Perform every exercise at a slow, controlled and consistent rate of speed throughout the movement.
- Engage in a strength training program that is designed to achieve muscle balance. Make sure each muscle has a chance to be worked equally.
- Perform all exercises through a full range of motion.
- Breathe through each exercise. Inadvertently holding your breath while strength training can cause excessive stress to your heart.
- Vary your program. Machines, free weights, pilates and fitness ball exercises, to name a few, are all effective tools for strength training. Try one or two together to further enhance muscle strength and decrease boredom.
- Exercise each muscle group at least two times per week, with at least two days rest in between workouts.
You don’t have to spend three hours a day to see the benefits of strength training. Exercise two to three times a week for thirty minutes a session and you will reap all of the great rewards mentioned above. Strength training is undeniably worth your effort and time.