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Benefits of strength training

Popular belief has it that strength training is mostly for people who want to build muscles and strength.

While there is an essence of truth there, it's certainly not the sole benefit. The fact is, just about everyone could benefit from strength training.

It's one of the most beneficial things you can do for your body to maintain its health.

In fact, many recent studies show that strength training exercises can improve one's quality of life. We're talking about less stress, better sleep, less body fat, more energy, and even improvement in mental and emotional health.

In today's post, I'll list and discuss 6 that I think you could benefit the most from. 

But before I do, let's first understand what strength training is.

What is strength training?

Strength training also known as resistance training is a form of physical activity designed to improve muscular fitness by exercising a muscle or a muscle group against external resistance to build "physical strength".

Strength training is based on the principle that a muscle or muscle group must work to overcome an opposing force. 
This causes the muscle(s) to contract.

Benefits of strength training

When you repeatedly do or perform strength training workouts, your muscles get stronger and more dense, giving your body a toned look. 

Various types of resistance 

Strength training can be accomplished with various types of resistance.

This resistance can come from:

  • Bodyweight training
  • Free-weights (dumbbells, kettlebells, barbell, etc)
  • Exercise machines
  • resistance bands
  • Medicine balls

The choice to incorporate a certain type of resistance depends on your level of physical fitness and familiarity with the exercise equipment as well its availability. 

What is strength training?

Science backed benefits 

Many studies documented that strength training exercises are extremely effective both for active and inactive individuals.

Especially for older individuals, strength training preserves independence while trimming your silhouette pleasingly, says Julie K. Silver, MD (1).

In fact, people with health concerns—including heart disease and arthritis—often benefit the most from an exercise program that includes lifting weights 2 to 3 times a week, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2). 

Strength training in conjunction with regular cardiovascular exercise can also have a profound impact on a person’s mental and emotional health.

An article published by George Mason University states that strength training workouts at moderate intensity proves to be the most effective in the reduction of anxiety symptoms as well as other benefits including (3):

1. Cognition

Cognition with women

Image Credit: ajp.com.au

Cognition allows a person to interpret learned information by processing and integrating it with existing knowledge. "One research" has shown that resistance training enhances cognition by improving memory and executive functioning. 

Another 12 month long study on cognitive decline amongst seniors captured the benefit of resistance training in cognitive functions (4).

Their results show once-weekly or twice-weekly resistance training improved the executive function of selective attention and conflict resolution among senior women by 10-12 %. 

2. Depression 

Depression among women

Image Credit: huffingtonpost.com

Strength training provides similar improvements in depression as antidepressant medications, reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (5).
 
Currently, it is known that people feel better after they exercise, particularly strength training.

One study shows that exercise and strength training release a hormone called endorphins, neurotransmitters that improve our mood and make us feel better by enhancing pleasure and minimizing pain. 

Endorphins are released during long, continuous workouts done at moderate to high intensity. 
 
Also people tend to be happier after weight training because they feel stronger. 

3. Chronic fatigue

Chronic fatigue

According to George Mason University, about 25% of Americans suffer from feeling of fatigue or more simply put, getting tired too quickly. 

Though everyone experiences fatigue at some point, too fast to feel tired can negatively impact one's daily performance and mental health. One scientifically proven solution is exercise.

More specifically, strength training and low-intensity cardio help a great deal. 

Research has shown these two forms of exercise can be the best interventions for improving a person's stamina and functions. Additionally, they can improve strength, increase aerobic capacity, and prevent symptoms associated with chronic fatigue

Other numerous health benefits have been associated with strength training: 

  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • osteoporosis
  • obesity
  • lower back pain
  • depression

4. Healthy bone

Healthy bone

Regular strength training workouts do more than just shaping your muscles.

It can prevent bone loss by increasing bone density.

As you age, this becomes increasingly more beneficial as osteoporosis, caused by loss of bone density is a major health problem starting middle age (USDA Human Nutrition Research Center).

By increasing bone density, strength training can reduce your risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis. 

Just because you have a decade or two ahead of you before hitting the middle age, don't put off efforts to keep your health and bone in check.

5. Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is much more common in women than men; this is primarily due to the hormonal cycle.

According to National Osteoporosis Foundation, women are more likely than men to suffer from osteoporosis and can lose up to 20% of their bone density in the five to seven years following menopause. 
 
Strength training can also help to slow down muscle loss, a condition known as sarcopenia.

Strength training combats the loss of muscle mass by increasing muscle density and strength. The loss of muscle mass and strength can negatively affects balance, gait and overall ability to perform daily tasks. 

6. Lose Body fat

Lose body fat

Do you want to reduce your body fat? Strength training can help!

Strength training workouts build muscle mass. 

Because muscles are more active and energy-demanding than fat, trading in fat for muscles means more energy is needed to maintain these tissues, according to University of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign

The higher the proportion of muscle mass you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate will be. 
In fact, muscles contribute as much as 20 to 25% to total resting metabolic rate.

For muscles needing more energy to sustain itself and perform daily functions, it results in a higher resting metabolic rate and causes your body to burn more calories efficiently.  

Measuring your body fat uses Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR. 

If you have a higher percentage of muscle compared to fat, you will have a higher BMR. 

One study shows that moderate duration of strength training exercises improve the capacity of muscle to oxidize fat, aiding fat loss.

There are numerous other benefits of strength training. 

Here is a list of strength training benefits, provided by Better Health Channel:

  • Increase muscle strength 
  • Increase lean muscle mass
  • Weight management
  • More Stamina
  • Improve depressions
  • Improve posture 
  • decrease risk of injury
  • Increase self-esteem
  • Enhanced performance of everyday tasks
  • Prevent osteoporosis 
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease 
  • Improve cholesterol levels 
  • Decrease body fat percentage
  • Reduces axiety

Getting started with strength training

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults perform "strength training workouts” a minimum of two non-consecutive days per week, with one set of 8 -12 repetitions for healthy adults or 10 - 15 repetitions for older and frail individuals. 

For most, 8 to 10 exercises should be performed to target the major muscle groups.

How to Progress Appropriately

Progressing your resistance training or strength training to meet your specific goals is not only important but necessary. 

Progression can mean different things to different people, but for the purpose of this post, we define progression as “the act of moving forward or advancing toward a specific goal over time until the target goal has been achieved.”

This can occur with specific trainable characteristics of muscular fitness, such as strength, power, hypertrophy, and local muscular endurance.

These four (4) factors will improve with almost any properly designed strength training or resistance training program.

However, they will be further enhanced by proper modifications of exercise variables such as load, volume, rest period, between sets, and the frequency.

Exercise variables:

  • Load
  • Volume (repetitions + sets) 
  • Rest Period
  • Frequency

Load: The load is the amount of weight lifted in a given set, which is based on a percentage of the 1-repetition maximum (1RM). 

Volume: The volume is the total number of repetitions and sets that are performed in a given exercise session.

Rest Period: Rest period between each set and exercise.

Frequency: Frequency refers to the number of exercise sessions per week.

How to manipulate each of these for the optimal enhancement of strength, power, hypertrophy, or muscular endurance is described below.

You should vary your progressive strength training program every 4 to 6 weeks to keep improving.

Exercise variables can impact on your results include: 

  • Sets
  • Repetitions
  • Exercises
  • Intensity (weight uses, body position, rest, time under tension, etc.)
  • Frequency (number of sessions per week)
  • Rest intervals (between sets)

If you vary your strength training program through the number of repetitions and sets performed, exercises undertaken and weights used, you will maintain your strength and the lean muscle mass you gain. 

Typical resistance exercises in a strength training program:

Bodyweight exercises

  • Jumping Jack
  • Squats
  • Push-ups
  • Lunges
  • Plank
  • Glute Bridge
  • Bicycle crunches
  • Superman exercise 
  • Dips
  • Pull-ups

Free weights 

  • Dumbbell chest press - chest 
  • Bent over rows - back 
  • Dumbbell lateral raises - shoulders 
  • Dumbbell curls - Biceps 
  • Dumbbell kickbacks - Triceps
  • Weighted crunches - Abdomen
  • Squats / barbell or dumbbell - Quadriceps
  • Deadlift - Hamstrings 

Machine exercises 

  • Seated Chest Press - muscle works (Chest, triceps, shoulders)
  • Lat Pull Down - Back 
  • Shoulder Press - Shoulders 
  • Cable Curls - Biceps
  • Press-downs - Triceps 
  • Seated “Abs” Machine - Abdomen 
  • Leg Extensions - Quadriceps 
  • Leg Curls - Hamstrings 

Basic Guidelines

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) set out their guidelines for strength training: 

Muscular strength exercise variables:

Muscular strength is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to exert a maximum force.

  • Load: 60 - 70 %, of 1 RM for novice to intermediate: 80-100% for advanced.
  • Volume: 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions for novice to intermediate; 2-6 sets of 1-8 repetitions for advanced.
  • Rest Periods: 2-3 minutes for higher intense exercises that uses heavier loads: 1-2 minutes between the lower intense exercises with light loads.

Muscular Power

Power is defined as the optimal amount of work performed in a given time period.

Muscular power is the highest  power output attainable during a particular moment, and is required in activities of daily living, sports, and work. 

For optimal improvements in muscular power, a light load of 0 to 60 % of 1RM should be used for 3-6 repetitions over one to three sets per exercise. 

  • Load: 30-60% 1RM for upper body exercises; 0-60% 1RM for lower body exercises.
  • Volume: 1-3 sets of 3-6 repetitions per exercise
  • Rest period: 2-3 min for higher intense exercises that use heavier loads; 1-2 minutes between the lower intense exercises with light loads.

Muscular Hypertrophy

Muscular hypertrophy is the enhancement of muscle size (a.k.a. getting a toned body).

  • Load: 70-85% 1RM for novice to intermediate, 70-100% for advanced.
  • Volume: 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetition for novice to intermediate; 3-6 sets of 6-12 repetitions for advanced 
  • Rest periods: 2-3 mins for higher intense exercises that use heavier loads; 1-2 minutes between the lower intensity, exercises with light loads.

Muscular Endurance 

Load muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or a muscle group to repeatedly expert a sub-maximal resistance.

  • load: lower than 70% of 1 RM
  • Volume: 2-4 sets of 10-25 repetitions
  • rest period: 30 seconds to 1-minute between each set.

Workout Frequency 

For all above, it is recommended that novice individuals train the entire body 2-3 days per week. (2-3 times a week of full body workouts)
 
Intermediate individuals should train 3 days if using a total-body workouts or 4 days if you using an upper/lower body split routine, training each major muscle group twice per week.
 
Advanced lifters can train 4-6 days per week, training each major muscle group once to twice per week.
 
At this level, muscle group split routines of one to three muscle group trained per workout are common since this would allow a higher volume per muscle group.
 
Elite weightlifters and bodybuilders may benefits from using very high frequencies such as, two workouts per day for 4-5 days per week. 

Avoid overtraining 

To reduce the risk of overtraining, a dramatic increase in volume should be avoided.

It is recommended that a 2-10% increase in the load be applied when the individual can comfortably perform the current workload for one to two repetitions over the desired number on consecutive training sessions.

There you have it! Just about all us can benefit from strength training.

After all, who doesn't want to sleep better, have more energy, and be less stress? I know I do.

I hope after reading this post, you'll considered adding strength training to your regular workout regiment.

Do you think we missed something that you wanted to learn about strength training? Leave us a comment below to let us know.




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