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The Importance of Strength Training

by Caroline Daniel

Over the past few years you’ve probably heard a lot more chatter about the importance of strength training. Resistance training used to be discussed because of its ability to give you that “toned” look and help you build muscle (in the right combination with diet and recovery). But resistance training has a lot of benefits that not everyone’s talking about.

  1. Strength training does more than benefit your muscles.

Most people get started with resistance training because they want to increase their muscle tone, strength, or size; however, what fewer people realize is that strength training is important for your bone health. As we age, our bone mass decreases–at a rate of approximately 1% per year after age 40. In many cases, this can lead to osteoporosis–a disease characterized by low bone density that affects an estimated ten million men and women in the United States. 

But how does strength training help slow this decline in bone mass? As you lift weights, you put stress on your bones, which activates bone-forming cells (“osteocytes”). While aerobic exercise can also nudge these bone-creating cells into action, strength training has bone benefits beyond those of cardio. Resistance workouts often target the hips, spine, and wrists, bone areas that are at high-risk of fracture as we age.

As a female long distance runner, I have suffered through my fair share of bone-related injuries (more stress fractures than I’d like to admit). Throughout the first few years of my running career, I suffered from the “female-athlete triad” (enlist Google’s help if you haven’t heard about that one) which left me with a low bone density. My sophomore year of college, after suffering from my third stress injury in as many years, I started dedicating a lot more time to strength training and targeting specific muscle groups I hadn’t focused on before. 

Long story short, I’ve been stress-fracture free since (for about a year and a half now). And I credit a lot of that to my renewed focus on resistance training.

  1. Strength training might be the key to keeping the weight off.

It’s pretty common knowledge that aerobic exercise helps you lose weight–it increases the number of calories you burn in a day, thereby helping you reach the necessary “caloric deficit” to start shedding the pounds. Strength training, on the other hand, is usually credited with weight gain–either because of the “bulking up” myth (see one of our previous blog posts for more on that one) or because muscle weighs more than fat.

Strength training can actually be a key aid to weight loss, however. By increasing your lean muscle mass (or your “fat-free mass” as many exercise scientists will call it), strength training helps increase your resting metabolic rate, or the number of calories your body burns while in a resting state.  A resistance workout as short as 20 to 30 minutes can greatly increase your EPOC (or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), which means you will keep burning an elevated number of calories for a few hours after your workout. Aerobic exercise increases this as well, but strength training has been shown to keep your metabolism active for much longer after a workout.

So start your weight-loss program by incorporating cardio, but as you shed the pounds, make sure to incorporate strength training to continue to decrease your fat mass!

  1. Strength training has many positive mental effects in addition to physical effects.

Like all forms of exercise, strength training elevates the endorphin production of your body (endorphins are natural opiates produced by the brain), which helps give you a mood boost. Recent research has shown that strength training increases endorphin production more substantially than even aerobic exercise. We hear a lot about the “runner’s high”–but is the “lifter’s high” equally as invigorating?

Strength training has also been shown to decrease anxiety, with the most substantial benefits coming from low to moderate intensity workouts. These effects have been shown across a wide range of ages!

Another mental benefit: recent studies have asserted that strength training improves sleep quality by lessening time awake and leading to deeper sleep after moderate-intensity sessions.

  1. Resistance training improves your flexibility and mobility.

There’s a long-touted myth that increases in resistance training can lead to decreases in flexibility. Studies have shown, however, that eccentric strength training exercises (or exercises that involve muscle lengthening, rather than shortening) have been shown to improve flexibility more than static stretching. To put this idea in action, consider yoga: a great combination of both stretching and strength-training. It seems that the old days of extensive static stretching are increasingly being rendered obsolete.

In addition to improving muscle flexibility, strength training improves joint mobility and health. Stronger muscles provide more support for your joints. When your muscles are too weak, your joints take a major pounding–especially your spine, hips, and knees. This repeated pounding can ultimately lead to injury and increase your risk for developing arthritis as you age. 

Speaking of arthritis, by decreasing joint stiffness, strength training has been shown to be as effective as medicine in fighting the symptoms of arthritis. Studies have shown that rheumatoid arthritis patients who did resistance training workouts twice a week for two years improved their muscle strength by 59%.  As a result of this, they saw substantial reductions in inflammation and pain. 

Well, there you go. Strength training is clearly far more than building muscle. Try incorporating resistance training into your exercise regimen today–and for highly personalized training with proven results, come see us at Personal Best!

Caroline Daniel is a Student-Athlete running Cross Country and Track at Belmont University while Majoring in Exercise Physiology. She is currently completing her internship at Personal Best Fitness