You can make the mistake that I did and only do cardio/ aerobic exercise such as running, cycling, and swimming. And you might also make the other mistake that I made, which is to faff around doing Pilates. Or you can follow what the science clearly reveals, which is to do strength training, plus conditioning. And as I know many of you are still reading this with suspicion, it may help to ask this question; what’s the opposite of strong?
If you are trying to boost your energy levels and minimize fatigue, aerobic conditioning should be a secondary consideration to strength training and carefully managed.
Having realized for myself the health benefits of strength training, I have to acknowledge gratitude to my physio for forcing me into the gym.
IT STARTS IN YOUR HEAD
The negative perceptions of weightlifting are hard for many to get beyond, especially for intelligent people. Many people associate weight lifting in a gym with knuckleheads and vanity, and it’s true, you will find that in a gym. However, going to a gym doesn’t mean you have to start taking supplements, steroids and enter a beauty pageant. You don’t even need to go to a gym. You can train at home. Although most I meet in the gym are friendly people just trying to improve their lives.
Strength has now become one of the significant factors in estimating your biological age, and therefore your state of health and predicted lifespan. That’s why the Harvard medical school guidelines recommend improving it.
SO WHAT ARE THE PROVEN BENEFITS OF EXERCISE?
It’s no secret that exercise is important, but not everyone is so sure as to why. Following are the benefits of exercise:
- To generate fat loss and increase resting metabolic rate.
- Release ‘feel good’ hormones promoting psychological wellbeing and ward off anxiety or feelings of depression.
- Boost self-esteem and confidence.
- Slow the effects of aging.
- Reduce stress and improve sleep.
- Improve balance and control.
- Maximize cardiovascular health.
- Raise lung capacity, power, and cardiorespiratory health.
- Improve blood pressure and reduce blood cholesterol.
- Reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and some cancers.
- Reduce the risk of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, and type 2 diabetes.
However, it’s only through strength/ resistance training that you can significantly induce the following benefits:
- Muscle tone – neuromuscular stimulus and type II muscle fiber conversion leads to muscle growth and metabolism acceleration while decreasing body fat. It also prevents sarcopenia.
- Immune system improvement.
- Endocrine/ hormonal system improvement.
- Blood vessel growth to muscle tissue.
- Prevent injury by strengthening muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
- Mobility and joint function improvement and extend physical independence.
- Core strength, coordination, and posture improvement.
- Bone density generation to prevent osteoporosis.
- Cardiorespiratory system improvement is also achieved with specific exercise programs.
- Athleticism – you’ll see improvements in your power, speed, agility, and endurance.
New research is pointing towards improvements in cellular function and mitochondrial biogenesis (1).
Muscular atrophy, shortening, and weakness, plus skeletal change is a part of aging. Many of these problems are also what you would expect from the combination of:
- Sitting for much of the day.
- Poor posture.
- Poor sleep recovery.
- Some form of malnutrition (such as from an unresolved gut issue).
Typical postural and musculoskeletal issues are:
- Forward head.
- Elevated shoulders.
- Rounded shoulders.
- Anterior pelvic tilt.
- Lateral irregularities for the shoulders and pelvis.
Typically tight muscles are:
- Lower back.
- Hip flexors (front and top of thighs).
- Adductors (inner thighs).
These muscles can become excessively weak:
- Upper back.
- Glutes (bum).
- Abductors (outer thighs).
Despite misconceptions, building strength is also known to build mobility. Therefore my experience is that muscles in this situation should be worked hard to build strength and hypertrophy, making sure movements go through their full range of motion. And at the same time, stretch these muscles regularly.
Many of these musculoskeletal problems are treatable with assessment by a competent exercise physiologist, strength and conditioning coach or personal trainer. However, the success of your results will depend on the quality of your coach, the effort that you put in, and your physical state.
BEGINNING A STRENGTH TRAINING PROGRAM
For anyone starting strength training, several variables will be unclear until you do a reasonable amount of trial and error. The first question is, do you have any medical risks? After that, it is a matter of how well do you move biomechanically? And how heavy can you lift for each muscle group, e.g., what are your RM‘s (rep maxes)?
Finding your sweet spot and making sure you aren’t overtraining takes skill. It is also going to take at least some trial and assessment as everyone is different.
MAKING A START
For those that are convinced to give it a go, the next hurdle can be intimidation. Joining a gym can make you feel like a fish out of water, and it’s understandable why many people like to work out at home. If you’re struggling to decide whether to join a gym or workout at home, refer to the gym vs. home.
If you’re a woman who avoids strength training because you’re worried about developing a bulky body, you shouldn’t be. There are plenty of ladies now working out in the weights area, and they don’t look anything like the hulk. For more on this topic, you can refer to women & exercise.
For an introductory strength training program, refer to introductory strength.
If you want to keep nerding out on more anatomy, refer to physiology of training.
1. Impact of resistance training on skeletal muscle mitochondrial biogenesis, content, and function. Groennebaek T, Vissing K. Front Physiol. 2017; 8: 713. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28966596