A south asian woman and an older caucasian woman using kettlebells at the gym

It’s tempting to think that strength training is for bodybuilders and professional athletes, but that doesn’t have to be the case. This form of exercise can have significant benefits, even for those among us who don’t need our muscles to ripple. It can boost your overall health and fitness, and no matter what position you’re starting from.

What is Strength Training?

Strength training – also known as weight or resistance training – refers to any physical activity designed to improve muscular strength and fitness by exercising a specific muscle or muscle group against external resistance.

There are many ways in which this can be achieved, including free weights or weight machines, resistance training or suspension equipment. The aim is to overload your muscles and cause tiny tears (known as “micro-tears”) in the muscle fibres, which the body then repairs, adapting the muscles to better handle the stimulus that caused the damage. This is the process of muscle growth, scientifically termed ‘hypertrophy’.

Why is Strength Training Important?

While strength training has obvious benefits for athletes and bodybuilders, it also carries significant benefits for general fitness, especially as you get older. It can also be extremely beneficial to people with chronic health conditions.

 

A woman at the gym

Benefits of Strength Training

Let’s break down these benefits in a little more detail; there are a lot of them!

It can help to delay the ageing process

When you age, you naturally start to lose muscle mass. This is called ‘sarcopenia’. Strength training can help to prevent or postpone this by replenishing your muscle mass rather than letting it waste away. Strength training also lowers your risk of falls, as you’re better able to support your body.

It burns calories efficiently

Strength training helps to boost your metabolism in two ways. Firstly, building muscle increases your metabolic rate. Muscles are more metabolically efficient than fat mass, allowing you to burn more calories at rest. And secondly, research shows that your metabolic rate is increased up to 72 hours after strength-training exercise. This means that you’re still burning additional calories hours and even days after your workout.

It makes you stronger

Gaining strength makes it much easier to perform daily tasks, such as carrying heavy groceries or running around with your children. Furthermore, it helps improve athletic performance in sports that require speed, power, and strength, and it may even support endurance athletes by preserving lean muscle mass.

It lowers your risk of injury

Strength training helps improve the strength, range of motion, and mobility of your muscles, ligaments, and tendons. This can reinforce strength around major joints like your knees, hips, and ankles to provide additional protection against injury. Furthermore, strength training can help correct muscular imbalances. For example, having a stronger core, hamstrings, and glutes takes the load off of your lower back during lifting, decreasing your risk of lower-back injuries.

It makes you appear leaner

Muscle is denser than fat, meaning that it takes up less space on your body, pound for pound. Therefore, you may lose inches off of your waist even if you don’t see a change in the number on the scale. Losing body fat and building stronger and larger muscles also showcases greater muscle definition, creating a stronger and leaner appearance. Fat stored around the abdomen, especially visceral fat, is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Studies have shown the benefit of strength-training exercises for reducing abdominal and total body fat.

It improves the health of your heart

Regular strength-training exercises can decrease blood pressure, lower total and Low-Density Lipid (“bad”) cholesterol, and improve blood circulation by strengthening the heart and blood vessels. Strength training also can help you maintain a healthy body weight and manage your blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels are a major risk factor for heart disease.

It’s good for your mental health

Strength training confers multiple benefits to mood regulation, such as increased self-esteem and self-efficacy. What’s more, exercise promotes the release of mood-boosting endorphins, which can play a role in a positive mood.

Those who engage in strength training may also have better brain health and protection against age-related cognitive decline. Studies in older adults have pointed to significant improvements in cognitive function after participating in strength training, compared with those who did not participate in it. It’s believed that resistance training has many neuroprotective effects, such as improved blood flow, reduced inflammation, and an increased expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is linked to memory and learning.

man doing a unilateral lift with weights

Types of Strength Training

One of the biggest advantages of strength training is that there are many different types of it, which you can tailor according to what you want to achieve.

Agile Strength

Agile strength exercises are characterised by quick accelerations in speed, direction, velocity, or carrying heavyweights in multiple directions. This helps your body to move with ease and fluidity in any direction, which improves your coordination and balance while helping to prevent injuries.

Starting Strength

Starting Strength is entirely based on barbell training because the barbell is unique in how well it can be progressively loaded and used safely with increasing weight. It uses linear progression, adding a little weight every time you work out. Over time this grows into a huge amount of weight through building your muscles.

Relative Strength

Relative strength is the amount of strength to body size, or how strong someone is compared to their size. This reflects a person’s ability to control or move their body through space, a vital trait in all athletics. All else being equal, smaller individuals have higher relative strength. Relative strength training could include gymnastic movements involving only your own body weight. Those with a sufficiently high level of relative strength are less fatigued and are likely more efficient at moving their body weight in space.

Endurance Strength

Endurance training means training with a high number of repetitions at low weights. Strength endurance training therefore does not train with maximum strength, but only with an intensity of about 50 percent of maximum performance. In general, those who train by exercising for a long time will develop better oxygen delivery to muscle and endurance capacity

Explosive Strength

Explosive strength training focuses on improving power, speed, and agility, making it an essential component for success in various sports and daily activities. It can improve your physical performance during many fast-paced sports and may reduce your risk of injury during activities that involve high power outputs with quick acceleration, such as most racket and field sports.

Speed Strength

Speed strength is the ability to absorb and transmit forces rapidly. It involves specific skills training and does not often involve maximum expression because of the aggressive nature of the movements. Speed strength training could involve exercises such as plyometrics, medicine ball throws, and barbell cycling.

Maximum Strength

Maximum strength training promotes the highest level of muscle force that can be produced. maximum strength is the ability of a muscle or specific group of muscles to recruit and engage all motor units to generate maximal tension against an external resistance. Examples of maximum strength exercising include powerlifting, squats, deadlifts and bench pressing. It increases levels of muscle-building hormones, as well as bone density and strength.

Getting Started with Strength Training

With strength training, it’s best to start small and build up. The best way to achieve this is through short but consistent strength sessions. But first, it’s critical that you warm up. If you don’t warm up, even your initial stretching exercises could cause injury. Some warm-ups could include arm circles, lunges or star jumps.

You don’t need masses of expensive equipment to get started. Pushups, pullups, and other bodyweight exercises can help build up your muscles and make it easier for you to work out longer. Simple props like elastic resistance tubing and giant inflatable balls can help with some movements. And don’t be afraid to switch it up. More variety may help you get stronger.

Strength Training Exercises

There’s a huge number of strength training exercises, which could include lifting weights, or ‘low-impact’ training such as working with resistance bands and bodyweight exercises. But strength training exercises don’t even have to include going to the gym or putting on any lycra. Heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling, climbing stairs, hill walking, cycling or even dancing can all be considered strength training exercises in their own way.

But while these are beneficial, a targeted regime will be the best way to see the maximum results. The best exercises for overall strength include push-ups, sit-ups or squats, deadlifts with weights, walking lunges, bicep curls and planks.

A Man Doing Bench Press

Incorporating Strength Training into Your Routine

Combining weight and cardio helps you lose weight faster: A mix of cardio and strength training can help you lose weight faster than either one alone. Weight training increases your muscle mass, and muscles burn fat but also weigh more than fat. Cardio, on the other hand, burns through calories quickly before that energy can be stored as fat deposits. Combining both allows you to take advantage of the benefits of both.

Balancing cardio with strength training will depend on your personal fitness goals. If you are looking to build muscle and get shredded, then your focus should be on weight training with some cardio thrown in. A ratio of 5:2 will be best, but you can also do weights and cardio on the same day to get the best of both. If you want to lose weight fast and focus on your overall fitness, cardio-led workouts with the addition of some strength training could be the ideal combination for you. You can even combine low-impact exercise through swimming during your rest days. This allows you time to improve your flexibility and coordination, while also reducing the risk of injury or fatigue.

How Often Should you do Strength training?

It’s not necessary to lift weights every day, and if you do, you increase your risk for overuse injuries and overtraining syndrome. For most people, strength training two to three times a week is sufficient, but if you prefer to split training different muscle groups, then you can train up to five days a week.

Nutrition for Strength Training

Minimally processed foods are the best for weight-lifting nutrition. Lean protein, complex carbs and fibre are your best friends, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. Your body needs lean protein to build muscle and stay full. Complex carbs, such as green leafy vegetables, give you energy to burn and fibre fills you up and keeps your digestive system and hormones in alignment. Fats should be healthy, mono-saturated fats, such as olive oil, or from plant-based sources rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Walnuts, flaxseeds and similar oils, nuts and seeds provide healthy fats.

Strength Training Recovery

Rest should be considered part of your exercise schedule rather than a break from it. Every time you work out you create microscopic tears in your muscle tissues. When you rest, your muscles start to heal and grow back stronger, meaning you’ll be able to do the same workout with less effort in the future.

If you skip rest days, it could lead to longer spells out through injury. Working out when your body and mind are tired means you’re more likely to have bad form, trip or stumble. You’re also at risk of overuse injuries as you constantly stress and strain the body and don’t allow it the necessary time to repair itself.

Even on your rest days, you can remain active. While your muscles need time to recover after an intense workout, you can still do light exercise on recovery days, such as walking, swimming, or yoga. Engaging in active recovery may help to prevent lactic acid buildup, remove toxins, and boost circulation.

A middle-aged woman doing upper body weight training with a small barbell

Who is Strength Training Suitable For?

Strength training’s versatility makes it a great exercise for a wide range of different people, including these groups.

Beginners

The wide range of exercises available makes strength training ideal for beginners. You don’t have to be experienced to get started, and low-impact exercises such as pull-ups and squats don’t even need any equipment. You can go at your own pace, and work intensity levels up as you progress.

Women

Strength training for women is beneficial in unique ways and doesn’t have to mean lifting heavy weights like a bodybuilder. It can lessen the risk of conditions unique to women such as osteoporosis, perimenopause and menopause, and pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and postpartum depression.

Perimenopause and Menopause

Perimenopause and menopause are important life stages for women when your ovarian hormones – oestrogen and progesterone – begin to decline, leading to a host of symptoms such as an irregular menstrual cycle, hot flashes and low mood. Declining oestrogen levels are linked to a decrease in metabolic rate, a loss of lean muscle tissue, a loss of bone density and an increased risk of weight gain, some of the key potential health issues that strength training can address.

Runners

Strength training accomplishes three goals for runners: it prevents injuries by strengthening muscles and connective tissues; it helps you run faster by boosting neuromuscular coordination and power; and it improves your running economy by encouraging coordination and stride efficiency.

Cyclists

Cyclists can also significantly benefit from strength training. It increases the force you can apply to the pedals, meaning that you will go further for every turn of the pedal. You will become more efficient without changing your physiology. It is also good for your posture while increasing muscle mass and enhancing coordination.

Triathletes

Strength training for triathletes builds muscle, improves metabolism and increases endurance, but should be very different from programmes used by bodybuilders, powerlifters, and the general public. Everyone has the same muscles and bones, but everyone uses them in completely different ways. Different training goals, or outcomes, are reached by using different combinations of exercises, sets, repetitions, rest periods, exercise order, weight, and progression plans.

BJJ

To improve performance and health if you practise Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, increasing muscle mass with strength training is key. Strength training will improve your strength-to-weight ratio, reduce injury risk, and slow down the loss of muscle mass as the body ages. All grappling sports competitions require athletes to reach a specific weight category, and strength training is one way in which you can burn off those excess calories. Talking of which…

Weight Loss

The more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate tends to be. More muscle also helps your body burn more fat than muscle, which is important if you want to lose weight and keep your strength. So, if you build muscle, you can speed up your metabolism and burn more fat when you exercise. Strength training can be highly beneficial to those who are seeking to shift some excess pounds.

Two women doing a kettlebell workout at the gym

How Does Strength Training Impact Mental Health?

Not only does strength training improve your physical well-being; but it can also provide unique boosts to your mental well-being, too. Committing to a goal, building habits, and sticking to a routine alone can help boost your mood.

That’s not all, either. Endorphins released through strength training can give you a jolt of feel-good chemicals that help you see the brighter side of life, while it can also make you feel more mentally engaged and boost your mental energy and focus, improve your relationship with your body, help with things like memory and preventing cognitive decline, and lower both stress and anxiety.

 

From your mental health to your physical health, from those who want to lose a few pounds to those who want to get ripped, strength training can improve you. At Underground Gym, we can help you get into your very best shape, whether through one of our gyms. Get in touch today, and take that first step towards a leaner you!