Strength training, or what we also call resistance training, weight training or muscular training, is a critical component of physical fitness. This is along with other components like endurance, flexibility, coordination, speed, agility, balance, power, reaction time etc.
If we define strength training in the basic manner, then it is “a system of physical conditioning in which muscles are exercised by being worked against an opposing force (as by lifting weights) to increase strength, muscle mass or endurance”.
And, in order to achieve this, you can use a variety of tools like dumbbells, barbells, machines, kettlebells, resistance bands, suspension equipment, medicine balls, sandbags etc.
Also, depending on the individual goals, what type of strength training goal he/she wants to achieve is important. For e.g. muscle hypertrophy (also called as building muscle size), muscle endurance (how much your muscles can sustain an exercise for a period of time, generally preferred by endurance runners), muscle strength (practiced by experienced lifters), or explosive power (combination of power & speed to improve power, generally used in explosive sports).
Personally, I would rate strength training as the most important component of all, or what should form the base of physical activity for all individuals, and will help in improving all other fitness components.
Strength training have several excellent benefits, either in your day to day life, or if you have a specific goal in mind. Irrespective of the profession and age group, strength training is the base component one should focus on. Let’s see some of the amazing benefits it provides:
- It makes you Stronger – the very basic benefit of strength training is that it helps you gaining strength or getting stronger for your desired aim. Whether you are a female who has issues with playing with kids, lifting them up, carrying groceries, or an elderly who has weak joints and has difficulty walking, or an athlete who wants to achieve the best in their sport involving speed, power & strength; strength training will help you achieve that goal.
2. Improves body composition – strength training is the fastest and most sustainable way to lose body fat, gain lean muscle mass and boost metabolic rate. It is the strongest controller of your BMR (basal metabolic rate), and a factor totally under your control.
Higher the lean body mass/muscle mass, higher will be the BMR, because muscle mass is metabolically more demanding than the fat tissue. On the other hand, obese individuals have a lower BMR, because adipose/fat tissue is metabolically less active. In adults, muscle mass represents the largest tissue of the whole body, accounting for app. 40-50% in a lean adult man.
Inactive adults experience a 3% to 8% loss of muscle mass per decade, accompanied by resting metabolic rate reduction and fat accumulation. Ten weeks of resistance training may increase lean weight by 1.4kg, increase resting metabolic rate by 7%, and reduce fat weight by 1.8kg.
In short term also, resistance training exercises, results in muscle damage which increases the resting energy expenditure and increases metabolic demand to exercise in the days that follow. Strength training is also the most efficient way to target belly fat, as compared to other forms of exercises.
Strength training is the best remedy for Skinny Fat. Skinny fat is an individual with higher body fat percentage, but normal body mass index. In simple terms, a skinny fat percentage, may have a higher body fat percentage, but looks thin in a t-shirt. The arms are thin and skinny, but there is fat around the belly. Overall, the person has a below average amount of muscles, combined with higher & unhealthier amount of fat.
One of the major cause of being skinny fat is lack of muscle mass. A reason, why strength training must form the base of entire training for the skinny fat individuals. Most people realize that weight training can be good for building muscle, but even then, they still underestimate how effective it can be.
For skinny fat individuals, the amount of muscle-protein synthesis we can stimulate with a good workout routine overshadows almost every other factor. Calorie cycling done absolutely perfectly is a drop in the bucket. Weight training done properly is a waterfall.
3. Best way to strengthen bones & joints – Sarcopenia (muscle failure) is characterised by a decline in skeletal muscle strength, mass and function. Primary sarcopenia occurs with advancing age, whilst secondary sarcopenia is secondary to co-existent illnesses, e.g., diabetes. The prevalence of sarcopenia increases with age.
The biomechanical relationship of muscle and bone is evident during ageing where lower physical activity and mechanical loading contributes to both decreased muscle mass, function and bone mineral density.
Sarcopenia further increases fracture risk through increasing risk of fall in patients who already have vulnerability of bones due to osteoporosis. On this basis, recently the term ‘osteosarcopenia’ has been proposed for patients with both sarcopenia and osteoporosis.
Exercise training has been recommended as a low-cost and safe non-pharmacological strategy for the conservation of musculoskeletal health. It is widely accepted that mechanical load induced by exercise training increases the muscle mass, produces mechanical stress in the skeleton, and enhances the osteoblast activity.
However, not all exercise modalities are equally osteogenic. For exercise training to elicit an osteogenic effect, the mechanical load applied to bones should exceed that encountered during daily activities. Weight-bearing exercise such as progressive resistance exercise (RE), can improve the bone health in adults.
RE has been highlighted as the most promising intervention to maintain or increase bone mass and density. This is because a variety of muscular loads are applied on the bone during RE, which generate stimuli and promote an osteogenic response of the bone.
4. Reduces the risk of chronic diseases – there is an emerging body of evidence showing that resistance exercise training (RET) appears to be as effective as aerobic exercise in reducing risk of several chronic diseases. Regular performance of resistance exercise improves muscle mass, strength, and function, and can have direct effects on the primary prevention of a number of chronic diseases.
We all know that aerobic exercise training is highly recommended for people with cardiovascular diseases. Whereas, people carry an absolutely wrong and absurd notion about strength training when it comes to cardiovascular health benefits.
There is there is extensive evidence supporting a role for resistance exercise in maintaining cardiovascular health and again this is likely to be of a comparable magnitude in terms of risk reduction as that seen with aerobic exercise. Indeed, low-to-moderate intensity resistance exercise (30–69% of 1RM) exerts similar improvements in blood pressure and blood lipid profiles than high-intensity Resistance exercise (≥70% of 1RM).
Acc. to a meta-analysis study, resistance training may elicit blood pressure reductions that are comparable to or greater than those reportedly achieved with aerobic exercise training.
Another meta-analysis concluded that, strength training promotes decreases in total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, and CRP levels and increases HDL and adiponectin concentrations. Thus, progressive strength training could be a potential therapeutic option for improving abnormalities in lipid and inflammatory outcomes in adults.
Similarly, when it comes to blood sugar control, people with diagnosed type 1 and type 2 diabetes can benefit greatly from the inclusion of resistance exercise, along with other nutritional and pharmacological interventions. acc. to the American Diabetic Association, resistance training benefits for individuals with type 2 diabetes include improvements in glycaemic control, insulin resistance, fat mass, blood pressure, strength, and lean body mass.
Acc. to a meta-analysis study, resistance training improves glycaemic control and muscle strength in elderly patients with T2D. Resistance training with high intensity can be a strategy to treat patients with T2D and sarcopenia associated with aging.
A study of 35,754 women, found that, compared to women who reported no strength training, women engaging in any strength training experienced a reduced rate of type 2 diabetes of 30%. A risk reduction of 17% was observed for cardiovascular disease among women engaging in strength training. Participation in both strength training and aerobic activity was associated with additional risk reductions for both type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease compared to participation in aerobic activity only.
Resistance exercise also help reduce cancer risk, cancer recurrence, cancer mortality, and improving prognosis during adjuvant therapies.
5. Boosts Cognitive Function – strength training is an excellent way to boost brain health and prevent age related cognitive decline. The mental health benefits of resistance training for adults include reduction of symptoms in people with fatigue, anxiety, and depression; pain alleviation in people with osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and low back issues; improvements in cognitive abilities in older adults; and improvements in self-esteem.
Positive changes in self-esteem as a result of resistance training have been reported in older adults, younger adults, women, older women, cancer patients, and participants of cardiac rehabilitation. Combined resistance training and aerobic activity helps improve significantly physical self-concept, total mood disturbance, depression, fatigue, positive engagement, revitalization, tranquillity, and tension in adults and older adults.