If you ask people why they train, you’ll most likely find out that they train in order to have a toned body and look good in their favourite dress, jeans or in their swimming suit at the beach. Having a “look good” goal is by no means a bad motive to adhere to your exercise routine. Strength training, in particular, is a great tool to shape your body. If you’re thin, you can increase muscle mass to get a toned look. If your weight is normal or even if you’re overweight, with strength training you can reduce body fat whilst gaining muscle and have a stronger, leaner and better looking body.
My point today is that muscle gain or fat loss does not have to (and shouldn’t !!) be the only reason you strength train. Also, when you’re lifting weights, you shouldn’t only be focusing on “fixing your flaws” (I’ve seen a lot of this on social media, and it’s such a wrong message!). There is much more to strength training than “getting a six pack”, “losing your love handles”, “getting cellulite off your glutes” etc.
For those of you who have “looking good” as the basic motivator behind your workouts, let me tell you: there is so much more to be gained from strength training than this. The list of health benefits of exercising is endless. If we narrow it down specifically to strength training, here are my top less known benefits I want you to know:
Strength training increases bone mineral density
If you want to keep your bones strong as you age, you better start muscle-strengthening exercises. The basis of bone health is diagnosed through bone density in the spine and hip. That said, hip fractures are the number 1 reason for nursing home admissions. Studies show a direct and positive relationship between the effects of resistance training and bone density. Moreover, although both aerobic and resistance training exercise can provide weight-bearing stimulus to the bone, research indicates that resistance training may have a more profound site specific effect than aerobic exercise.
Depending on your age, fitness level and/or prior injuries or other risks involved, you can choose activities where you move your body, a weight or some other resistance against gravity. You can do that with functional movements which can be as simple as standing and rising up on your toes or going up and down stairs, lifting your own bodyweight, using weight machines, using elastic bands or lifting weights at your gym.
The point is, include strength training in your fitness routine at least twice a week. Strong bones mean you can prevent osteopenia, osteoporosis and fractures as you age.
Skeletal muscle acts as an endocrine organ
I have been training for years to stay in top form on the water as well as to recover from injuries I’ve had during my windsurfing career. Nowadays I spend a considerable amount of my working week researching topics around fitness and nutrition. One day I ran across a study which demonstrates how muscles release substances that have a positive effect on organs. These substances are called myokines and they are hormones produced by skeletal muscle tissue as the muscles contract. The list of myokines has been growing and if you want to see their possible systemic effects, you can have a look at the infographic below, or read the study.
There are many well-known ways to help better the quality of our sleep, including meditation, turning off technology an hour before bed, drinking herbal tea, taking a hot shower, etc. Studies suggest that lifting weights in particular helps towards a better nights’ sleep. Many individuals report better sleep quality when they strength train regularly and there are even studies to support the relationship between these two!
One point to make here: check if working out too close to your bedtime makes you feel more alert and causes trouble when you’re getting into bed. In that case, try to work out in the morning or afternoon to give your body sufficient time to relax after your session.
Activities of daily living become much easier
If you aren’t strength training, you can’t understand the magic of this statement until you experience it yourself! I’ve had clients with jobs where they have to carry or move things around and they can all agree that getting stronger made it much easier for them. Plus, learning exercises such the squat, the step up and even the shoulder press in the correct way, means that you can also avoid injuries when standing from sitting, putting stuff in your cupboards, standing from a supine position or climbing stairs. The way you use your body improves radically when you’re into strength training and you’re guaranteed to find yourself doing things you would never have considered in the past.
I always encourage my clients to focus on what their body can do and then aim to get stronger and improve their performance. When you focus on getting better in some small way with every workout, you get mentally stronger, too. Don’t worry about burning calories, making your thighs thinner or your stomach tighter. Just focus on doing a little better than your previous workout every time. On that note, setting performance goals is so much better than appearance goals! Performance goals make you stronger and empower you! There’s nothing more boosting for your confidence levels than getting closer to that positive, performance-based goal of yours. Trust me, making your body stronger makes you a stronger person in many other ways.
Strength training may improve your memory
Back in the days, people were taught that the loss of brain cells was an irreversible condition and nothing could be done to change it. Nowadays, there are studies to prove that adults who exercise are actually enlarging their brain’s memory centre by one to two percent per year, where typically that centre declines in size with age. There is overwhelming evidence that exercise produces cognitive gains and helps fight dementia. Moreover, the greater the gains in strength, the greater the improvement in cognitive function observed, so you’d better favour strength training over aerobic exercise! If you want to read more about it, you can have a look at an article by Dr. Mercola.
What you can definitely take home from this blogpost is that strength training improves every aspect of your life! Whether you care about your appearance or not, I hope the above reasons have won you over and that you will be strength training at least twice a week from now on, if you aren’t already!