Resistance training isn’t just for body builders. Strength training is a powerful and proven tool for weight loss – but many people don’t realize it.
For one thing, many people have no idea how many benefits there are in starting a good strength training routine. From heart health to metabolism to self-esteem to bone density – the list of reasons to start are staggering.
There are also some common myths and misconceptions that should really be cleared up. If you think you’re too old to benefit, or afraid you’ll bulk up and look like a muscle-head, it’s time to put those fears to rest.
#1 - Strength Training Preserves Muscle During Weight Loss
The number one rule of weight loss is calorie deficit – that is, to lose weight you absolutely must eat fewer calories per day than you burn. There’s no way around it. This is the ONLY way to lose weight.
When you consume fewer calories than you burn, this triggers your body to start pulling energy from reserves. Fat is a great source of reserve energy – that’s one reason why we store it. Muscle however, is another source; A source easier to convert into fuel than fat. As a result, your body will by default absorb and burn both muscle and fat to make up for the calories you’re not eating.
When you exercise, your body is forced to retain muscle and draw most of those extra needed calories from fat. This is especially true of strength training, where your muscles are being pushed to their limits and forced into growth mode.
Don’t underestimate the difference here. In cases of extreme obesity, crash or fad diets combined with little or no exercise over extended periods of time can result in serious health problems and complete lack of mobility.
#2 - Increased Muscle Improves Calorie Burn
Body builders and muscle-bound movie stars agree, eating is a huge part of building muscle. This is partially because you need the materials to build that muscle, and partially because muscle requires a LOT of energy to maintain. Stars like Dwayne Johnson eat more than 5,000 calories per day just to maintain that legendary muscle.
Obviously most people shouldn’t be eating 5,000 calories per day. The Rock weighs around 260lbs, and probably only 10% of that is fat. You might be surprised to learn however, that every pound of muscle on your body costs about 6 calories per day simply to keep alive. Fat costs calories to sustain as well, but only 3 calories per day. 100lbs of powerful muscle will burn 600 calories per day all by itself, before you even consider exercise. To put it in perspective, a 3-mile run only burns about 300.
As for using that muscle, studies have conclusively shown that while cardio can help prevent muscle loss, weight or resistance training actually pushes the body to burn more fat. Significantly more, in many cases. Strength training will basically turbo-charge your weight loss results.
For bonus points, cardio exercise only burns calories while you’re doing it. Strength training not only burns calories during the exercise, but forces your body to spend many more calories recovering post-workout and can give your metabolism a serious boost for over 24 hours.
#3 - Strength Training Does Not Necessarily Increase Bulk
Women tend to shy away from strength training, based on the myth that lifting weights and other resistance exercises will make them look like the burly body builders and fitness models you see in the magazines.
This is simply not true. First, if you’re female your body is not naturally inclined to build large, bulky muscles to begin with. It doesn’t work well with your hormonal balance. Second, women have a higher healthy body fat percentage than men. You’re wired differently. Designed to retain more fat and maintain lean muscle.
Even if you push yourself extremely hard, the results will be far more “athletic” than “bulky”. For most women, the only way to push yourself past that point and into chiseled body-builder territory is with drugs to boost male hormone production and an eating/exercise routine that will consume several hours per day.
#4 - Strength Training Improves Mobility and Capability in Daily Life
Building up your strength makes everything easier. This may be an obvious benefit, but few people truly appreciate it until they experience it.
The easiest way to imagine it, is to remove 50% of the effort from any physical activity. That 100lb desk you helped a friend move last week? Imagine if it only weighed 50lbs. This is what being stronger feels like.
It’s also not just about heavy objects. In addition to having improved ability to push, pull, lift, carry, throw or scrub random things in daily life, your coordination and balance also improve. This means that ALL activities you perform daily become easier and more effortless.
#5 - Strength Training is Safe and Beneficial for All Ages
Imagine owning a 20-year-old car, and taking the mindset that performing maintenance on it is a waste of time because it doesn’t drive like it used to. The lack of maintenance is exactly why it isn’t performing well.
One of the most common misunderstandings about strength training (and many other forms of exercise for that matter) is that it’s a young person’s game. Older adults and seniors often get caught up in this mindset, believing that as they age, they are less capable of handling exercise and will reap fewer rewards from it if they try.
Afraid of sustaining a serious injury, perhaps due to a nasty spill? Regular strength training increases bone density, helping you to better survive a fall or other accident. Improved balance and coordination reduce the likelihood of taking that tumble in the first place. Increased range of motion, flexibility and core strength make you lighter and more confident on your feet.
Regular exercise may sound tiring, but it will actually boost your energy and stamina. If you wish you felt more youthful, this is the number one way to do it. Additionally, studies have shown that strength training can dramatically reduce arthritis pain.
As a final warning, living a sedentary lifestyle is bad for people of any age, but the risks of being inactive increase exponentially as we grow older. The only way to maximize your energy, mobility and health is to get up, get out and get active.
#6 - Short-Term / Immediate Health Benefits
As you know by now, strength training improves your balance and coordination, and improves bone density, which becomes increasingly important as we age. You’ve also learned that exercise will prevent muscle absorption and atrophy during weight loss.
There are more health benefits however. Strength training naturally improves posture, helps you sleep better, reduces sleep apnea and can decrease or eliminate aches and pains.
Building muscle requires oxygen. As you train, your body becomes more efficient at providing this oxygen to your system. This means improved circulation, a stronger heart, and improved resting blood pressure. Additionally, this process helps to reduce cholesterol.
Strength training also improves insulin sensitivity, which helps you better maintain blood sugar levels. This directly fights the effects of Type 2 Diabetes, and can be powerful enough in some cases to reduce or eliminate the need for medication.
#7 - Long-Term Health Benefits
In addition to immediate effects seen right away, strength training has been shown to help treat and/or reduce the future risk of a number of diseases and conditions including the following:
- Heart Disease
- Diabetes and High Blood Pressure
- Arthritis and Osteoporosis
Maintaining a regular strength training routine will keep you strong, resilient and agile, reducing the risk of injuries in your daily life.
#8 - The Relationship Between Strength and Your Brain
Did you know that up to 20% of the calories you burn each day are used to power your brain?
Not only does the brain burn tremendous amounts of energy no matter what you’re doing – it also burns more energy during physical exercise than mental exercises like puzzles and games. While mental challenges train your mind to handle new and complicated problems, physical exercise is what gives your mind the raw power to tackle those challenges.
Strength training has been proven to have powerful positive effects on brain health and cognitive function. In studies with seniors, test subjects who performed strength exercises once or twice a week performed 10-12% better on Stroop cognitive tests vs. control groups.
In addition to helping keep your cheese on your cracker, heavy strength training can actually improve your mental pathways and nervous system.
A recent study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has shown that when you use heavier resistance, your brain develops stronger neural connections to drive your muscles. This allows you to use your muscles more effectively, and thereby perform harder tasks. In other words, strength training isn’t just about building muscles – it’s also about building brain connections.
For bonus points, regular physical exercise has been shown to reduce the risks of developing degenerative mental illnesses like Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia later in life.
#9 - Strength Training Complements Other Focuses
Perhaps you’re already active and already participate in a vigorous exercise program. Maybe you do cardio regularly, or perhaps you’re focused on a sport like running, soccer, basketball, or some other activity where “bulking up” would seem harmful to your performance.
If so, you should know that strength training does not necessarily result in adding extra bulk. As noted above, body builders typically eat tremendous amounts of calories every day in order to bulk up and gain weight in muscle. If you’re consuming only as many calories as you burn each day (or fewer, when looking to lose weight), gaining size and bulk simply isn’t going to happen.
As for other sports, many fitness experts recommend cross training – that is, mixing other forms of exercise with your chosen specialty. This is partially because our bodies need rest from constantly doing the same thing, and partially because we need balance to stay healthy.
Strength training can actually be a powerful boost for your game. As noted above, heavy lifting directly improves the pathways between your brain and your muscle fibers, increasing the maximum effort you can exert. Strength training has also been shown to increase muscle endurance significantly. Whatever your sport, incorporating resistance training will improve your performance.
#10 - Strength Training Improves Your Appearance and Self-Esteem
If there’s one thing humans crave, it’s to appear sexy and attractive. Everyone wants to “look good”, both for their own benefit and for the social status that comes with it.
Dieting to lose weight, by itself, can make you thinner. But tearing down your body until you reach a target weight isn’t going to make you look healthy. Thin? Yes. Healthy? No.
Adding aerobic exercise will help you retain some of your existing muscle while burning off fat. This will certainly help you retain a healthier appearance and ensure that you stay mobile and active. It’s better than dieting alone.
If you want to look good naked however, strength training is your number one weapon.
For women, as I mentioned earlier, strength training won’t turn you into an NFL linebacker.
Women who weight train (and I’m talking heavy lifting – not those pink 2lb toy dumbbells you see at yard sales) do NOT naturally become big burly monsters. Instead, strength training helps you trade flabby for athletic, and helps you get all the right curves in all the right places. If you want a body that just won’t quit, it’s time to start a strength training routine now.
For men, strength training can help you quickly build a stout, broad, masculine form that gets noticed no matter what you wear. And for most guys, bulking up your chest and arms a little while shaving away belly fat is easier than you’d think.
Getting a chiseled six-pack might be a bit of a stretch for most guys – but you don’t have to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger to still get a major confidence boost every time you look in the mirror.
And that confidence boost is important. In addition to the endorphin high and powerful antidepressant effect that comes from a good workout, feeling healthy and looking healthy will do absolute wonders for your self-esteem and self-image.
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