What's So Great About Strength Training?
It's no secret that strength training is my jam. I love lifting a barbell about as much as I love sipping a pumpkin coffee in the Fall, and let me tell you, that's a LOT. Not only do I find it fun and empowering, but it's also so incredibly beneficial to my health. I am so glad that society is finally shifting away from the negative connotations towards female weightlifting, and towards a more accepting, and even encouraging, attitude towards resistance training for women.
Before I lose some of you, please know that I am not talking about building the amount of muscle of a bodybuilder or a competitive athlete. Trust me, many people that I have discussed beginning a training regimen with have begun the conversation by saying, "Look, I want to tone up and build a little muscle, but, no offense, I don't want to look like you." Or, classically, "I want to workout, but I just don't want to get bulky."
First off, rude. Believe it or not, I actually love my muscles, and I worked DAMN hard to get them. Secondly, knowing the amount of time, dedication, sacrifice, hard work, sweat, and tears that went into the process of building my physique to what it is today, you will probably never have the privilege of "looking like me." The female body just isn't genetically made up to build muscle very easily. That means that in order to "bulk," it takes a lot of effort, lifting a ton of weight, eating a ton of healthy (not shitty) food, consistently, over a very extended period of time in order to look "bulky." Surprise! Lifting 5, 10, even 20 pound weights everyday for the rest of your life will never make you look like a body builder!
That is my first year competing in CrossFit vs. this year (my last) competing. That is a 5 year comparison. That is five years of absolute dedication to diet and strength training in order to put on muscle mass. Alright, so now that we're past the freak out stage, and we know that you're not going to get bulky by next week, let's talk about all the amazing benefits of strength training! Woohoo!
1. Variety! I used to go running like it was my job. I would run outside or on the treadmill almost every single day. And I was bored to tears. After I ran a marathon and realized just how much I hated running (LOL), I started CrossFit, and quickly learned that lifting could be both cardio and strength work. Woohoo! See ya never, boring old treadmill! Also, just because I love the barbell for strength training does NOT mean that's the only method of doing it! Resistance training comes in so many different forms that you can mix up almost every day! You can use dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, slam balls, sandbags, resistance bands or tubing, machines, or even just your own bodyweight. The possibilities are limitless. I love to use all of these different forms of training to keep the boredom out of training!
2. Increased muscle mass. Obviously, if you go from zero weightlifting at all to a regular lifting routine, you are going to build some muscle. Building muscle is incredibly beneficial to your health for so many reasons. First, it reverses the trends of aging! Did you know that as you age, your body naturally loses its muscle mass? Do you want to end up being old and fragile, with no muscles to help you perform daily activities as simple as getting up and down from a chair? No way, Jose! Incorporating a resistance training program into your life helps prevent this from occurring.
In fact, building muscle actually makes day-to-day activities seem much easier. Everything from walking up stairs, to reaching the top shelf, to bringing your groceries in from the car, to climbing a dang mountain all become much easier when you regularly strength train. You can think of it much like you are training for life! Picking objects up from the ground, lifting things overhead, pulling items off of shelves are all functional movements that can be prepared for by mimicking them through resistance exercises. I can promise you that all those hikes I've been doing would be tremendously harder, if not impossible, if it weren't for my strong legs!
3. Load-bearing exercise strengthens your bones! Strength training is the best way to prevent the loss of bone density as we age, and thereby the best preventative against Osteopenia and Osteoporosis. I worked directly with a client who had severe Osteoporosis upon beginning her CrossFit journey. After CrossFitting for a little over 2 years, she has totally reversed the disease, and her bones are stronger than ever! Strong bones are imperative in preventing fractures during falls. The stronger your muscles and bones, the less risk you have of injury.
4. Increased flexibility! Although regular stretching is also extremely important in a well rounded fitness routine, strength training also contributes to greater mobility of joints and tendons. Taking your muscles through their full range of motion during resistance based exercises increases mobility over time. Strong, healthy joints can also prevent or reduce the symptoms associated with arthritis!
5. Weight control. All types of exercise help us to burn calories, but strength training can keep our metabolisms burning long after that last rep, and even more so than after an aerobic workout. Your body must use energy to repair your muscles after breaking them down during strength training. This accounts for those extra calories burned after your workout is over. Also, the more lean mass you create, the higher your resting metabolic rate. It takes more energy for the body to maintain muscle mass than it does to maintain fat mass, meaning, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn during everyday activities!
6. Increased balance. An added benefit to incorporating free weights (sorry guys, no machines for this one!) is that it helps increase core strength. Core strength is an essential component of balance and coordination. Balance and coordination are integral to injury prevention in sports and daily activities, as well as in preventing falls as we age.
7. Better mental health. There are so many studies out there exhibiting a positive correlation between mental health and exercise. Strength training in particular is great for mental health, because in the gym, we can create situation where we are confronted with an obstacle which we can overcome in a controlled, predictable environment. Successfully lifting heavy weights leads to increased mental resiliency, through feelings of accomplishment. Strength training has been shown to improve depression, anxiety, and perceived body image through those same feelings of achievement.
I can attest to both of these things! Not only does lifting allow me to reduce stress, it also gives me a sense of accomplishment. Feeling like I am making progress in the gym gives me pride in myself and the amazing things that my body is able to do. By lifting heavy objects, and seeing how my activities in the gym can translate to an improvement in my ability to accomplish regular tasks outside the gym, I have a greater appreciation for my workouts. Gasp! I actually get excited to go workout! I can truly say that resistance training makes me a happier person overall!
With all of these factors coming into play, why would you not want to add strength training into your exercise routine? Don't forget, it's important to consult a physician before starting a new exercise routine. Seek guidance from a personal trainer (like me!), or someone in your area so that you learn proper movement mechanics and reduce the risk of injury from training. For at-home or on your own workouts designed by me, click on the workouts tab in the drop down menu above, or click on the services tab to work one-on-one with me! Happy muscle making!