There are lots of different types of exercise, although the form that typically comes to mind is cardio – also known as aerobics. Ever since activities like jogging and group aerobic classes became popular, cardio exercise has come to epitomize for many people what fitness is all about.
However, the focus on cardio has marginalized and overshadowed another very important and beneficial form of exercise – strength training.
Strength training, sometimes called weight training or resistance training, is often confused with bodybuilding and weightlifting and frequently undervalued, misunderstood or labeled as a “guy thing”. Cardio has definitely grabbed the limelight but strength training is every bit as valuable.
That’s not to say cardio is in anyway unworthy of it’s popularity; it’s good for your overall cardiovascular system, lung fitness and general health too. BUT strength training offers several important benefits that cannot be gained from cardio alone.
So, what are the benefits of strength training? Good question! Here is a brief list of the most noteworthy benefits of pumping iron…
Strength Training Makes Everything Easier
Have you ever struggled to open a pickle jar, carry your groceries or lift your child? If so, you were lacking strength. Imagine how much easier similar tasks would be if you had more muscle power in reserve!
By following a well-designed, progressive strength training program, you will prepare your muscles for the trials and tribulations that frequently crop up in everyday life. For example, the next time you have to move some furniture or help a friend change a flat tire, you’ll be more than up to the challenge.
Strength Training Will Help You Burn Fat Faster
Muscle needs and uses calories to sustain it so the more muscle you have on your body, the more calories you need on a daily basis. The number of calories you use per day is usually referred to as your basal metabolic rate, or just metabolism for short.
Adding even a couple of pounds of muscle to your body can have a meaningful impact on your daily caloric requirements and make weight control and fat loss easier. Which burns more fuel – a car with a small four-cylinder engine or a big V8? The same is true of your body and muscle is your fuel-burning engine.
Strength Training Preserves And Even Increases Bone Mass
Needless to say, your bones are essential. They give you shape, make up joints for easy movement, provide a store for important minerals such as calcium and provide a framework for your organs and muscles to attach on to. Unfortunately bones, like muscles, can become weak because of inactivity and a side-effect of the aging process.
If left unchecked, this weakness, called osteopenia, can turn into a medical condition called osteoporosis which is characterized by weak, porous bones that are prone to fracture.
However, in addition to increasing muscle strength, regular strength training can also preserve or even increase bone mass and strength. Your body responds to the stresses placed upon it and strength training, by loading your bones, increases the production of bone-building cells called osteoblasts.
Strength Training Lowers Blood Glucose Levels
Lifting weights uses a type of carbohydrate that is stored in your muscles called glycogen. When glycogen stores are depleted, your body likes to restock them as soon as possible and to do this increases its sensitivity to the hormone insulin – insulin is produced by your pancreas and helps ferry nutrient into your cells. The greater your insulin sensitivity, the better able your body is at taking glucose out of your blood and shunting it preferentially into your muscle cells.
This is good news for a couple of reasons…
Lowered blood glucose is commonly associated with a reduced risk of developing diabetes, some cancers and even coronary heart disease and increased insulin sensitivity means that nutrients are preferentially directed to your muscles and away from your fat stores.
All in all, lowered blood glucose levels are a good thing!
Strength Training Helps You to Sculpt The Body You Want
There is no denying cardio is good for your health, but in most cases, it is not an effective way to target specific muscles or body parts to improve how they look, function or feel. For example, if you want strong, firm, shapely arms, strength training is a much better way to target these muscles than jogging, cycling or virtually any other type of cardio – even swimming. Strength training allows you to zero in with laser-like precision on the areas of your body you most want to work.
That’s not to say you can “spot reduce” fat by doing exercises for specific muscles – you can’t. However, you can make sure that all your muscles are in great shape so that when you do lose your unwanted fat they’ll look as good as possible.
Strength Training Improves Posture
Long periods of sitting, general inactivity, overly tight muscles and overly weak muscles as well as bad habits like slouching can play havoc with your posture. Posture can best be described as the alignment of your joints and usually refers to the position of your spine, shoulders, neck and pelvis.
When posture is good, joints are aligned in such a way as to require minimal muscle tension to keep everything in place. When posture is poor, such as when we slouch, muscle tension increases which can cause a myriad of problems including localized muscle pain and unwanted joint wear and tear.
Posture normally deteriorates when muscles are no longer able to overcome the pull of gravity. For example, a slouch is, at least partially, the result of weakness in the upper back and posterior shoulder muscles.
Strength training provides an effective way to strengthen the postural muscles so that gravity (and overly tight muscles on the opposing side of a joint) do not pull bones out of optimal alignment.
Ironically, many cardio activities can actually contribute to bad posture – running and cycling being the prime suspects.
Strength Training Enhances Mobility And Flexibility
In the bad-old-days, strength training was often said to cause exercisers to become “musclebound,” which suggested that increased muscle mass or the very act of strength training itself would make your muscles stiff, inelastic and immobile. This is simply not true. Exercises that involve a large range of movement such as lunges, squats, dumbbell flys, pull-downs and overhead presses can actually enhance joint mobility and muscle flexibility.
Of course, any exercise that is performed incorrectly by using a shorter-than-optimal range of movement could cause your muscles to tighten up, something often called “adaptive shortening.” But, any trainer worth his wages can teach you the proper motion for an exercise.
Strength Training Will Make You A Better Athlete
If you have two athletes who possess exactly the same skills, in a head-to-head competition, the winner will almost always be the one who is stronger. Strength training makes virtually every movement we make easier, more efficient, less fatiguing and faster.
From runners to rugby players, soccer players to skiers, boxers to bowlers, strength training can help improve your sporting performance, which is why top teams and elite athletes hire specialist strength and conditioning coaches to help maximize their strength and performance.
Of course, you’ll come across naysayers who will tell you that strength training makes women look masculine, exercises like squats are bad for you knees or muscle will just turn to fat if you stop exercising. Don’t buy into it – they are just echoes of myths that have long since been laid to rest.
If more people strength trained on a regular basis, the world would be a stronger, happier and healthier place.This post contains advertisements and/or affiliate links. For more information, see our disclosure here.