Strength Training 101


As you move forward with your commitment to get started with a fitness program and make some positive changes in your body, one type of exercise that you absolutely must make sure you have in place is strength training. Strength training is one of the most beneficial forms of exercise that you could do, dramatically transforming your body in a very short period of time.

Many people shy away from strength training because they are either uncertain how to perform it correctly or worried about developing large, bulky muscles. While some men may be fine with this look, most women prefer to maintain a more feminine image and strictly avoid strength training as a result of this. If you’re a woman who shares this perspective, you need to reconsider, because strength training is one of the most important exercises a woman could be doing. Women need not worry about developing bulky muscles quickly because they don’t have sufficient testosterone levels to do so. (Testosterone is a powerful muscle-building hormone.) On top of that, building larger volumes of muscle mass takes a high amount of time as well as a high calorie intake.

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Why Strength Train

First let’s begin by giving you a strong sense of exactly what you may gain by incorporating strength training into your workout routine. When you understand all the many benefits you’ll get from this exercise, it becomes that much easier to motivate yourself to keep up with it. Here are the primary advantages it will offer.

Improved Muscle Strength

Perhaps the most important benefit that strength training offers is improved muscular strength. Without regular use of your muscle tissue, your strength level will slowly decline to the point where you may start to lose lean muscle mass. The loss of lean muscle tissue is one of the largest reasons why quality of life can decline with age as individuals are unable to complete all the former activities that they used to enjoy. In addition to that, your lean muscle tissue is what will keep your metabolism revved on high, so as it declines, the chances of weight gain will increase as you’ll be burning up fewer calories on a daily basis.

Improved muscle strength from regular strength training is also going to transfer over to any other activities you perform, whether simply carrying in the groceries from the car or playing soccer in the league you just joined.

Higher levels of muscle strength will also help to protect you from injury as your body will be better equipped to handle any oncoming forces that you might incur while going about various movement patterns. Strong muscles will protect your ligaments from wear and tear, helping you sustain proper movement patterns.

Improved Metabolic Rate And Bodyweight Control

As I mentioned briefly above, the next clear advantage of strength training is the benefit to your metabolic rate. Not only will strength training increase how many calories you burn for hours after the workout is finished due to its high intensity, but also the ability to build more lean muscle mass will serve to increase your basal metabolic rate, which stands for how many calories your body burns each day at rest. The more lean muscle mass you have, the greater your calorie burn will be naturally, providing excellent weight control.

Those who sustain strength training activity for longer periods of time will burn far more calories across the 24 hour time period than those who don’t, which allows them to add more food to their daily diet without risking weight gain. It also allows them to see faster rates of weight loss by creating a higher calorie deficit.

Increased Bone Density

The best way to foster strong bones is to make sure that you are taking part in regular weight bearing activities, and strength training is as good as it gets with regard to this. Not only will you be bearing your own body weight while performing this exercise, but you’ll also be bearing the added weight that you’re lifting.

This can enhance the bone remodeling process taking place in the body, ensuring that you develop a stronger bone structure and reducing your risk of stress fractures or other bone-related problems down the road.

Improved Self-Image

Another important benefit derived from regular strength training is the improvement to your self-image. As you see your body quickly changing - getting firmer, more defined - and see the reduction in body fat taking place (provided you are eating a healthy diet), you will feel better about your appearance, which will improve your self-confidence and transfer over to other areas of your life as well.

Very few of us are not impacted by how we believe we look, and while you should never base your self-worth on your appearance, there’s no denying that it will influence how you feel on a day to day basis.

Maintaining a good sense of self-esteem may make you more confident to try out activities that you wouldn’t have thought about doing in the past, such as new sports or attending social groups.

Improved Sports Performance

Along with the enhancement of muscular strength that will help to boost your level of sports performance, regular strength training can also increase your agility and coordination, making you a better overall athlete.

Most individuals who participate in competitive sports do make strength training a regular part of their week, so it’s a smart move for you to do the same. Even if you’re casually participating in a recreational sports league, you’ll still see clear benefits in your performance.

Lower Blood Pressure And Resting Heart Rate

Two important health benefits that strength training will offer are a lower blood pressure and a lower overall resting heart rate. Far too many people believe that cardio training is the only form of exercise that can improve your heart health, but this simply isn’t the case. If you perform a faster paced strength training workout session, you will get your heart rate up quite high and maintain it for an extended period of time.

Stress Reduction

Finally, the last great benefit that regular strength training will provide is a reduced level of stress. Stress is something that can cause many different health problems such as depression, cardiovascular disease, as well as fatigue, so not something to take lightly.

Many people find that lifting heavier weights allows them to take out any aggression or tension they have while exercising, causing them to leave the gym in a more relaxed and calm state. In addition to that, high intensity exercise will cause the release of endorphins in the body, which are natural stress killers and will have you feeling better as well.

So as you can see, the benefits to strength training are numerous and this isn’t an exercise to overlook. Let’s now take a quick look into the different types of strength training activities that you can consider.

Types of Strength Training Activities to Consider

When most people hear ‘strength training’, they automatically tend to think of lifting heavy dumbbells and barbells. While that’s one popular form of strength training, it’s not the only form this variety of exercise can take. Here are some additional ways that you can incorporate strength training into your workout plan.

Weight Machines

We use weight machines to move through a pattern of movement that will target one to three different muscle groups at a time. These machines are often best for beginners as they will guide you through the movement, reducing the risk you feel overwhelmed or confused about the activity and lowering your chances of injury.

Free Weights

Another method of strength training is free weights. Free weights are considered slightly superior to weight machines by many people because they will call more core muscles into play in order to stabilize the body as you execute the movement. When using free weights you will have to be very certain of proper form however, so this is something that should be undertaken by someone who does have a little experience with strength training. Consulting a personal trainer to show you proper form is also a must for anyone just getting started. The risk of injury will be slightly higher with this variety of strength training, so care must be taken to avoid that.

Resistance Band Training

Resistance band training is a third way to incorporate strength training into your workout program. Resistance band training is an ideal option for beginners as well as those who want to work out in their home with minimal equipment. Resistance bands are cost-effective to purchase and can easily be stored away in a drawer when not in use, making them excellent for that home gym.

Resistance band training won’t offer quite as much resistance as free weights or machines will, but when you’re just starting, they will typically provide enough resistance for you to see physical benefits from them.

You can perform almost all of the same exercises using resistance bands as you can with free weights, so exercise variety won’t be a concern.

Bodyweight Training

Bodyweight training is the next form of strength training to discuss. This form of training is going to have you using just your body weight as a form of resistance and can also be very beneficial for those looking to gain strength and workout without any equipment at all.

You will be slightly more limited in the number of exercises you can complete with bodyweight training, so boredom may set in over time. Most people will therefore see best results by combining bodyweight training with some other form of strength training as well.

The one drawback with bodyweight training is that you will be limited resistance to however much your body weighs, so as you get stronger, you may find that it’s not challenging enough to continue to make progress.

Plyometric Training

Finally, the last form of training to consider is plyometric training. This type of training involves a rebounding type of movement pattern where you’re going to be focusing on stretching the muscle fiber and then releasing it, causing the rebound to take place. Usually some form of jumping is involved with plyometric training. It will also improve your power generation ability as well, as the muscular contraction phase is performed very rapidly.

This type of training is often used by those who are training for sporting activities, but is still beneficial for the everyday trainees looking for a new way to challenge their bodies.

So there you have the different ways that you can incorporate strength training into your program. As you can see, if you really dislike lifting weights, you can still reap all of the benefits that were described above through alternate activities.

Who Should Participate in a Strength Training Program?

The answer is quite simple - everyone! Almost everyone will benefit by including this form of exercise into their workout routine.

Older adults who are at the highest risk of losing lean muscle mass must include it into their week to help offset this risk and to maintain functionality as they continue to age, while maintaining their healthy body weight.

Adults ages 20-60 will also benefit from strength training as it will improve their body image and confidence, while offering clear health benefits that I pointed out earlier.

Teenagers will see clear benefits from strength training as they will be at the point in their life when muscle building will start to be occurring at a more rapid pace naturally, so this form of exercise will help to enhance that. As many teenagers are also struggling with their body image and self-confidence at a time when so many changes are taking place, strength training can help them feel better and thus set them on a path to becoming confident adults who lead an active lifestyle.

The only individuals who should proceed with caution into strength training are very young teens (10-14 years of age) as at this point their bodies are still in rapid growth and development; strength training may place too much additional stress on their system. These individuals may not completely understand proper form either, so would be at a higher risk of injury. If someone at this age does want to get started, bodyweight training or resistance band training will be the best way to go.

So there you have all the vital information to know about strength training. If there’s one exercise that you absolutely should not miss, this would be it. With so much to offer and with such a little time committed required to reap these benefits, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be including it in your workout routine.

Shannon Clark, CPT

Shannon Clark is a certified personal trainer with over a decade of experience in the industry. Her passion for fitness began with figure skating as a child, leading to the Western Canadian Championships as a teenager. After retiring from skating, Shannon earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and began her career as a fitness trainer and writer. Her professional advice has been published in numerous magazines and websites.