Strength training, commonly known as picking heavy things up and putting heavy things down has always been thought of as an activity relegated to the bodybuilders, power lifters and professional athletes of the world. Casual gym goers sometimes limit themselves to treadmills, bikes and ellipticals rather than wading through dumbbell and squat rack territory. Unfortunately, this mentality deprives you of some important health benefits the treadmill or elliptical alone, cannot provide.
Just as a workout routine made up entirely of strength training ignores the benefits of cardiovascular exercise, a routine which ignores strength training is similarly lacking. To enjoy the wide ranging benefits of exercise, a workout routine must be well rounded and include elements of multiple fitness disciplines.
What is strength training?
Strength or resistance training is a type of activity focused on increasing muscular strength using a variety of tools including: weights (dumbbells and barbells), resistance bands, machines and even body weight exercises. Strength training overloads the muscles, and over time, causes an increase in strength and size.
The amount of aerobic or cardiovascular exercise is typically measured in time or distance. Strength training, in its basic form, is measured in exercises, sets and repetitions. Strength trainers pick certain exercises to target specific muscles. They perform a number of sets per exercise and count the repetitions completed during each set. For example:
- Exercise #1: squat
- 4 sets - 8-12 repetitions per set
- Exercise #2: leg press
- 4 sets - 8-12 repetitions per set
- Exercise #3: lunges
- 4 sets - 8-12 repetitions per set
In the above example, the strength trainer performed three exercises: squats, leg press and lunges. Each exercise consisted of four sets. Each set consisted of 8-12 repetitions.
Summary of Benefits
- increased muscle mass1and bone density1
- decreased fat mass and unwanted weight gain1
- improved independence in elderly1, cognitive abilities1, management of type 2 diabetes2 and performance in a variety of sports3,4,5
- reduced pain associated with arthritis1
- reduced depression6,7
Increased muscle mass. The most visible benefit of strength training is increased muscle mass. This improves body image & self-esteem, increases strength & functionality and aids in fat loss.
Also. Aside from better looks, strength training also provides specific health benefits in certain populations.
Retaining muscle mass and functionality as we age. Without adequate levels of physical activity, we tend to lose 3%-8% of muscle mass per decade. This decreases our daily energy expenditure and increases fat accumulations. One study noted strength training could increase muscle mass, decrease fat accumulations, improve movement control & walking speed, promote independence in the elderly, improve cognitive abilities, increase bone density and reduce pain associated with arthritis1.
Type 2 Diabetes. Another study compared the effects of strength training and endurance training on blood glucose, insulin and HbA1c levels. It found those who engaged in strength training had significantly improved diabetes management. It concluded, "ST [strength training] was more effective than ET [endurance training] in improving glycemic control. With the added advantage of an improved lipid profile, we conclude that ST may play an important role in the treatment of T2D [type 2 diabetes]2.
Improved Performance. Strength training improves performance in a wide variety of sports. One study found strength and ballistic power training significantly improved jump and sprint performances3. Another study investigated the effects of upper body strength training on baseball throwing velocity. It found upper body strength training increased mean throwing velocity in baseball players4. Yet another study found strength training provides benefits even in an activity not usually associated with muscle: golf5.
Reduced Depression. Exercise in general has been shown to reduce depression. One study found aerobic and non-aerobic forms of exercise both had positive effects on depression6. Another study compared the effects of high and low intensity weight training on depression in older adults. It found, "high intensity PRT [progressive resistance training] is more effective than is low intensity PRT or GP [general practitioner] care for the treatment of older depressed patients." In other words, high intensity weight training improved the markers of depression more than low intensity weight training or even standard care by a general practitioner alone7.
The Bottom Line
Strength training has something for everyone. It improves looks for the healthy population but also improves mobility and ensures independence in the elderly. It also improves the management of type 2 diabetes, improves performance in athletes and even reduces depression. If strength training was a drug, it would rake in billions of dollars for the pharmaceutical industry; take advantage of this free medicine. Strength training does not require the use of expensive and complicated gym memberships. Untrained individuals can benefit from simple exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups and body weight squats.
- Westcott, W. L. (2012). Resistance training is medicine: Effects of strength training on health. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 11(4), 209-216. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22777332
- Cauza, E. (2005). The Relative Benefits of Endurance and Strength Training on the Metabolic Factors and Muscle Function of People With Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 86(8), 1527-1533. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003999305002121
- Cormie, P. (2010). Adaptations in Athletic Performance after Ballistic Power versus Strength Training. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 42(8), 1582-1598. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/41414288_Adaptations_in_Athletic_Performance_after_Ballistic_Power_versus_Strength_Training
- Lachowetz, T. (1998). The Effect of an Upper Body Strength Program on Intercollegiate Baseball Throwing Velocity. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 12(2), 116. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/1998/05000/The_Effect_of_an_Upper_Body_Strength_Program_on.11.aspx
- Fletcher, I. M. (2004). Effect of an 8-Week Combined Weights and Plyometrics Training Program on Golf Drive Performance. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 18(1), 59. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2004/02000/EFFECT_OF_AN_8_WEEK_COMBINED_WEIGHTS_AND.8.aspx
- Doyne, E. J. (1987). Running versus weight lifting in the treatment of depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55(5), 748-754. Retrieved from http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/ccp/55/5/748/
- Singh, N. A. (2005). A Randomized Controlled Trial of High Versus Low Intensity Weight Training Versus General Practitioner Care for Clinical Depression in Older Adults. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 60(6), 768-776. Retrieved from http://biomedgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/60/6/768.short