Strength training has many indisputable benefits which can be condensed into four categories. Many people enjoy strength training for its ability to make them bigger and stronger. However, the other benefits are less known, and equally important. Some avoid strength training because they may not want more muscle, or strength, and do not understand the major health benefits. This is a mistake.
During my career as a certified personal trainer, I’ve worked with special needs adults as a health and fitness director. I was able to improve the mood, cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance and strength of many individuals. Even those who are physically disabled, and confined to wheelchairs, love the opportunity to improve strength.
Not one single person had a desire to gain six-pack abs. They simply enjoyed the opportunity to improve their health and fitness. In fact, a simple trip to the gym was the highlight of the day for some! I wish more people felt this way. The strength training benefits presented in this article will help change more lives.
Strength Training Benefit #1 – Increased Metabolism (Calorie Burn)
The first benefit of strength training deals with nutrition and body composition. We like to eat and we like to look good, but the two do not always mix well together. Strength training can change that when done properly. Lift heavy things on a consistent basis, and your body will thank you by increasing the abilities of muscle fibers.
Pro Tip – Make sure you are able to perform bodyweight exercises properly, such as these push-ups for beginners, prior to lifting heavy. Your foundation should be strong and stable enough to handle the load.
Strength training can be confusing because some gains are neuromuscular. The body will recruit more muscle fibers (ones you already have but don’t use regularly) and allow you to lift more weight. That’s a good thing. Muscle fibers will also increase in size depending on your training program. What does this have to do with burning calories? I’m glad you asked.
I’m not a calorie counter, and I do realize the body does not literally burn calories. It’s simply the way we describe metabolism. Our bodies require nutrients to function, even when we are resting. We feed our bodies macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats), which are broken down to fuel bodily functions, repair tissue, or be stored for later. All macronutrients contain calories, most of which can be found in fats.
Many people exercise, not for the burn within the muscles, but for the caloric burn we cannot see. We have calculations and heart rate monitors which provide a rough estimate of how many calories we burn during each workout. People love burning calories in an effort to lose weight quickly, or get fit fast, but often choose forms of cardio to do so. However, strength training will increase the amount of calories burned in several ways.
- Improved metabolic rate with the addition of lean muscle mass
- Conquer more intense workouts with more strength, mass and endurance
- Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption
- Regular training prevents a declining metabolism
Increase Metabolic Rate
Strength training can increase daily metabolic rate through increases in muscle size. More muscle requires more nutrients, which means you burn more calories at rest. If your body is burning more calories, you either need to eat more nutrients, or you will eventually lose weight due to a caloric deficit. This caloric deficit may not seem like much, but can add up over a long term training program.
Greater Workout Intensity
As your body adapts to a training program, you will see improvements in strength, endurance and muscle shape. Consequently, you will be able to tackle more intense workouts. Such workouts will require more energy, which will require more calories. As you perform total body exercises and compound movements which force your body to work harder, you will be transformed into a calorie burning machine.
Pro Tip – Always warmup your body to prepare it for the intensity of the workout. Use exercises to activate specific muscles and ensure they relate to your workout. For example, I use the bird dog exercise to activate core stabilizers, glutes, and upper back, while focusing on form, feel and breathing.
Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption
After an intense strength training session your body requires more oxygen and more calories to meet energy demands. More intense workouts will provide greater EPOC effects. These effects can last for a few hours, or a few days. Exercises which require greater weight loads may have the longest lasting calorie burn. The calories you burn from EPOC will vary from workout to workout, and will be more noticeable long term.
Prevent Metabolism Decline with Age
Parts of our bodies begin to deteriorate as early as the age of 30. We slowly lose bone density, strength, endurance, energy, and muscle mass without strength training. As we continue to age, the risk of injury increases and we may gain weight as metabolic rate decreases. The best way to combat these negative consequences is a strength training program.
Strength training helps build and maintain lean muscle. Maintain more muscle as you age and you will continue to burn more calories. Furthermore, your metabolic rate will remain above average. The benefits of strength training are many. These deal with improving metabolism, which can help maintain a healthy weight. The following strength training benefits include muscles and bones.
Strength Training Benefit #2 – Stronger Muscles and Bones
Increases in strength and muscle size are two of the most well known benefits of strength training. Newbies will find their bodies quickly adapt to exercise. Muscles will feel very sore after completing a new workout, but the body adapts quickly. However, experienced weight lifters will not normally feel very sore, and require more specific programing to continue seeing results. Regardless of your experience level, strength training will reward you with stronger muscles and bones.
Why You Need Strong Muscles
There are, at least, 640 skeletal muscles inside the human body. These muscles allow you to push, pull, bend, walk, sit down, maintain a balanced posture, and move in other ways which will not be discussed here. Muscles are made to be moved on a daily basis. If we don’t use them, we can lose them. In fact, disuse atrophy can lead to disability in certain cases. In the very least, weak muscles can lead to imbalances inside the body. Muscle imbalances are often accompanied by inflammation, pain and injury.
Strong muscles allow your body to move better in all of the ways mentioned above. Additionally, they are less prone to injury and provide greater joint stability. How many strong people have problems standing up, climbing stairs, or bending over to pick up an object? You probably don’t know too many. Strength training will not make your body invincible, but its benefits may make you feel more like a super hero.
Why You Need Strong Bones
Most of us have 206 bones inside our body. Unlike muscles, they are mostly stable and we don’t typically care how they look. Our muscles move our bones closer together and further apart. Bones are much harder than muscles, but can weaken and break. As we age, the risk of osteoporosis (pourus bone) increases. If our bones become too weak they can more easily become broken.
Children run, jump, play and fall everyday. They may suffer a few cuts and bruises, but are least likely to break a bone. On the other hand, older adults are the most likely to suffer a broken bone. In fact, a single fall could result in fracture and some people never recover. What can we do to help prevent future fractures? Strength training and high-impact activities will serve us well as we age. Lifting weights, not only, slows bone lose, it results in stronger bones by increasing bone density. Furthermore, weight bearing activities can reduce the risk of injuries, fractures and falls.
How Heavy Should You Lift?
Most weight lifting programs recommend lifting approximately 65% – 85% of your 1RM (the most weight you can lift a single time) for a certain amount of reps. Of course, this depends on your individual goals. Generally, more weight leads to greater gains in strength and bone density. If you barely finished your last rep (with excellent form), you probably have enough weight on the bar. Some people recommend a more conservative approach by suggesting a couple of reps be saved in the tank.
Strength Training Benefit #3 – Less Stress
Strength training workouts are intense. When you are lifting heavy stuff, it is nearly impossible for your mind to wander and dwell on other worries. I don’t know anyone who thinks about what they are going to cook for dinner while squatting twice their own bodyweight. Weight lifting activities demand your full concentration and mental focus. You need to control your breathing, watch your form, keep track of reps, maintain tempo, AND focus on using the correct muscles.
Pro Tip – If your mind is able to wander while lifting, you probably aren’t challenging your body enough.
Taking your mind away from other things can reduce stress while working out, but it’s only temporary. Thankfully, no intense workout can last forever. However, there are other stress-reducing effects which take place after the workout is over. Strength training has been shown to improve mood and brain function. It can also have a positive impact among those suffering from anxiety, or depression. Furthermore, our bodies release chemicals know as endorphins during an intense workout in order to reduce pain and stress. The “endorphin-high” is one major reason people (myself included) enjoy exercising on a daily basis.
Intense exercise results in a cycle of stress-reducing benefits. At first, your body is uncomfortable. As intensity increases you may feel like giving up, but you persevere nonetheless. Your body releases endorphins to counter the pain, negative feelings and other stress hormones flowing through your system. Finally, you feel outstanding. You may even have more self-confidence, self-worth, energy, optimism and a personal sense of achievement. Consequently, you commit to repeating the process in a day or two.
Increase Endorphins with Intensity
Although we can feel the effects of endorphins post-workout, studies have been limited on the subject. This study revealed a greater endorphin release in those who completed a HIIT workout, compared to those who completed a moderate aerobic workout. It should be noted that each group of subjects felt “pleasurable feelings” after exercise, but the endorphin release among the HIIT group was greater. It is also possible that a very high intensity could drive some individuals to quit.
Strength Training Benefit #4 – Live Longer (Age Reversal)
Not many people enjoy getting older, except for children. Kids can’t wait to get older because they “can’t do anything”. Adults want to be young again like kids because of the playful and carefree lifestyle. We also notice the effects of aging and remember our past abilities from our younger days. Sadly, we cannot stop the process of aging, but we can age better and add longevity to our lives through strength training.
Strength training improves cellular health, biomarker health and functional health. We can avoid pain, move better and live potentially longer lives thanks to strength training. It cannot pause time, but it can reverse the effects of aging in our futures. Here are a few issues the average person may encounter as they age:
- loss of muscle mass
- weaker bones
- insulin resistance
- weight gain
- high blood pressure
- joint pain
- less energy
A consistent strength training program is our solution to each of these issues. The benefits of strength training are very intertwined, and number 4 has the most to boast about. This is where we improve it all: cellular, biomarkers and function. Not only can we live longer thanks to these health improvements, but due to “age reversal” as well.
Still Not Convinced?
This study was able to verify that weight training reverses aging at the gene level. What does that mean? One of the best benefits of strength training is longevity. It’s not quite as good as the fountain of youth, but it’s our next best option!
Of course, there are other strength training benefits, such as better sleep and heart function. Those could be thrown into more than one of the four categories listed. How do you feel about strength training? Are there any other benefits you notice? Many things change over the years, but people will always need to move their bodies and challenge their muscles. Lift shit up to burn calories, get stronger, cut stress and live longer!
I’ve been a personal trainer for nearly a decade, certified by ACE, NASM and WITS. Helping people reach their fitness goals and potentially live longer is a true honor. I have over 1,000 hours of coaching experience with seniors, youth athletes and individuals with disabilities.
I can help you feel better, and live longer. Even though I share workouts on this site, you are solely responsible for trying exercises, or places discussed here. Let’s move better, live longer and wander more often.