Until about a year ago, I avoided strength training, convinced that sweaty cardio was more effective. Since embracing it, though, my body has completely transformed (hello, obliques and biceps!) and I feel healthier than ever.
The benefits of strength training don't end with a more sculpted bod, though. (Far from it, actually.) And you don't have to use barbells to experience them for yourself.
"Bodyweight exercises, free weights, and machines all fall under the strength training umbrella," explains Kehinde Anjorin, CFSC, NCSF, strength coach and creator of The Power Method. In fact, even Pilates, TRX moves, and resistance band exercises qualify, adds Amanda Freeman, founder and CEO of Pilates-inspired workout studio SLT.
This is all to say: You've got options, here. And that's part of the reason why, perhaps, folks are beginning to think differently about strength training, which is a good thing. "I believe people are starting to realize the true importance of strength training and how it can add vitality and longevity to their lives," Anjorin says. "With new research and studies emerging every day about the benefits of strength training, we're seeing a paradigm shift."
From weight loss to better heart health, and so much more, here are 11 strength training benefits every gal should know about.
1. Strength Training Builds And Maintains Muscle Mass.
While cardio is excellent for heart health, it can't really compete with strength training when it comes to building muscle. "Cardio simply can't deliver the type of physiological change most people desire," Anjorin says. That's not to say you can't build muscle running or doing other types of cardio that rely on weight-bearing moves (think: dance and HIIT) or resistance (hi, swimming!), it's just that it's not the most efficient way to get those gains.
That's because strength training, a.k.a. resistance training, relies on you lifting increasingly larger amounts of weight, which signals your muscles to adapt and grow bigger (hello, hypertrophy training) and/or stronger (depending on the style of strength training you choose).
2. Strength Training Makes Your Joints Stronger.
"Since most strength training exercises are lower-impact, you can build muscle strength and endurance with less stress on the joints," explains trainer Brittany Watts, CPT. What this means is that, while any weight-bearing workout will actually help strengthen your joints (yes, even running), you can reap those results while reducing your risk of injury if you opt for resistance training.
Another plus of strength training? Many moves—like squats and lunges—actually strengthen your joints while mimicking functional movement patterns (think bending down to pick up a baby, pushing a heavy door, or getting up from a chair), says Megan Roup, CPT, celebrity trainer and founder of dance-inspired workout The Sculpt Society. So, you'll be helping to keep your hips, knees, ankles, wrists, elbows, and shoulders healthy while also training your bod to make every day activities easier, too.
3. Strength Training Is One Of The Best Forms Of Low-Impact Cardio Exercise.
While it's more difficult to build muscle via aerobic exercise, strength training is actually one of the best, low-impact cardio workouts. The key is to focus your workouts on compound movements, which involve more than one joint and muscle group and not to rest for very long (if at all) in between exercises.
"Combine four to five compound movements and perform them with very little rest and you'll get your heart rate going and reap of all the aerobic benefits without conventional methods like running," Anjorin says.
4. Strength Training Supports Weight Loss And Weight Management.
One of the perks of building muscle with strength training? Lifting weights helps you to burn calories and stored energy (i.e. fat) more efficiently, Dina Khader, RD, CDN, previously told Women's Health. And strength training is a surefire way to increase your lean muscle mass, which in turn, helps your body burn off more of the fuel you consume from food every day rather than store it as excess energy in the form of fat cells. This type of energy optimization is important if learning how to lose fat and gaining muscle at the same time is one of your fitness goals.
Jillian Michaels is a strength training guru. Here's how she fuels her workouts:
You'll reap some short-term burn benefits, too: "With strength training, there's a higher excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC)," explains Watts. "This means you burn more calories after your workout," Watts says. It's known as the afterburn effect, and this bonus burn can last for several minutes to several hours after a sweat sesh.
5. Strength Training Improves Your Cardiovascular Health.
"Recent studies show that weight training can be just as effective as cardio in promoting heart health," Watts says. In fact, after looking at data from over 4,ooo people as part of a year-long survey, researchers from the American College of Cardiology in 2018 determined that strength training was better at reducing a person's risk of heart disease than cardio exercise like walking or cycling—though both types of physical activity are necessary for overall health.
Add to that this 2019 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise which found that people who did at least one hour of strength training per week had a 40 to 70 percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke compared to those who didn't...and these results were independent of any heart-health perks participants gleaned from aerobic exercise.
6. Strength Training Protects Bone Health.
Among its many other benefits, strength training can also help you maintain strong, healthy bones, which becomes only more important as you get older. "Strength training supports bone density, so it can help lower your risk of osteoporosis," says Watts. Osteoporosis, which is common in older women, occurs when bones become porous and weak, and more prone to breaking.
For this reason, Freeman is especially adamant about menopausal women strength training. "Estrogen decreases as women go through menopause, and lower estrogen levels lead to a much higher incidence of osteoporosis," she says.
7. Strength Training Improves Your Mood and Mental Health.
In addition to the physical benefits of strength training, there are legit mental health perks to consider, too. "It's also about the feeling you get when you strength train and pick up weights," Anjorin says. "You feel powerful, which transcends your workout and sets the tone for your day." Basically, it's a one-way ticket to tapping in to your inner badass. Bartha toootally agrees: "A strength training workout will transform your entire outlook on fitness."
Science also suggests that strength training can improve your mood and mental health, according to a meta-analysis of 33 clinical trials (over 1,800 subjects) published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2018. It found that participants who performed resistance training showed a significant reduction in symptoms of depression.
8. Strength Training May Actually Help You Live Longer.
Do it correctly (think adequate rest and appropriate intensity), and you can strength train for your entire life—all while building and maintaining the strength you need to enjoy your days and favorite activities.
It's a good thing strength training makes it easier to stay mobile and independent too, because it's increasingly linked with longevity, says Freeman. In fact, a 2019 review published in Frontiers in Physiology suggests that strength training may be even more effective at reducing risk of all sorts of common, age-related chronic diseases than cardio.
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