The benefits of strength training are pretty fascinating. While there are benefits to endurance exercise, there are some that are unique just to strength training. There are positive benefits from strength training related to your cardiovascular system, body composition, metabolic rate, bone mineral density, mental health, and increasing ones functional ability to perform activities of daily living.
Reason 1: Strength training has positive effects on your cardiovascular system
While we know that aerobic endurance exercise has great benefits for our cardiovascular health, the benefits of strength training are not studied enough. However, some studies have shown that strength training is as effective as aerobic endurance exercise for decreasing the risk of heart disease. Strength training helps improve body composition, decrease blood pressure, and increase insulin sensitivity.
Reason 2: Strength training has a positive effect on energy expenditure and body composition
Strength training has both short and long term effects on energy expenditure/metabolic rate. During exercise you are tearing down your muscle fibers in order to make them bigger and stronger. When exercise is over your body starts to repair the muscle fibers. During recovery there is an increase in metabolic rate because your body needs the energy (calories) for muscle repair. In the longer term, muscles need more energy to maintain, you could call muscles “metabolically active.” Having greater amounts of muscle increases your metabolism. While strength training does increase your metabolic rate, it isn’t going to automatically increase it by 100 calories every day. It’s only a slight increase of about 5-7 calories per pound of muscle per day. But hey, eventually it adds up. Endurance exercise is not going to give your body the same increase in metabolism as strength training. Your body will actually adapt to the amount of endurance exercise you are doing and slowly start to burn less and less calories. Essentially your body learns how to do the amount of endurance exercise you are doing and try’s to make it easier and easier each time, which is going to require less and less energy. Your metabolisms ability to adapt to endurance exercise is a good reason why a lot of times tons of cardio is not the best way to lose fat. You are going to have to constantly increase the amount of cardio you are doing when your metabolism adapts.
Strength training also has positive impacts on body composition. Studies have shown that an increase in fat oxidation over time could result in a decrease in body fat stores. Strength training could also help decrease the amount of visceral fat. An increase of visceral fat around the abdomen has been shown to be a risk factor of cardiovascular disease.
Strength training is also going to help with maintaining your fat free mass while in a calorie deficit. Fat free mass is a term used to describe all nonfat tissues. These include muscles, bones, organs, and connective tissues. Maintaining fat free mass while in a calorie deficit is important to help keep your metabolic rate up so your deficit does not have be as low. Maintaining fat free mass is also important because as we age we lose about 3kg of fat free mass a decade. Strength training has been shown to help decrease the rate of loss.
Strength training is also going to help reduce the risk of osteoporosis and increase bone mineral density. Osteoporosis is a disease that involves a progressive loss of bone mineral density, especially in older adults and postmenopausal women. With aerobic endurance training you are not going to see an increase of bone mineral density.
Reason 3: Strength training has been shown to help decrease anxiety and depression
Before I start I do want to put a little disclaimer- I am fully aware that exercise is not going to reduce the risk of anxiety and depression in everyone and in no way am I suggesting that. Improving ones mental health is not a one size fits all approach. I would however suggest that if one decides they want to start exercising you should support them and not discourage them.
While many of the articles that have studied the effects of strength training on decreasing anxiety and depression are short studies the results are promising. Studies have shown that there is a decrease in anxiety, depression, fatigue, and tension. Studies have also shown an increase in cognitive ability, self-esteem, mood, tranquility, and confidence.
Reason4: Strength training increases ones ability to perform activities of daily living and reduces the demands on the musculoskeletal system, cardiovascular system, and metabolic systems
Activities such as walking, carry groceries, and stair climbing are all activities of daily living and require muscular strength. Studies have shown that strength training may reduce functional limitations. Most of the studies on activities of daily living have elderly participants but they do show the positive impact strength training has on activities of daily living. Strength training has also been shown to reduce back pain and reduce the signs of aging.
While strength training has benefits that endurance exercise does not (ex: increase metabolic rate and decrease risk of osteoporosis) that does not mean you shouldn’t do it. Endurance exercise has many benefits on ones cardiovascular system. However, you do not have to start doing all out sprints for cardiovascular exercise. Studies have shown that walking reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. In those that walk less than 4,000 steps per day studies showed that the percentage of deaths from cardiovascular disease was 23%, those that had between 4,000 and 8,000 dropped to close to 7%, and in those that had 8,000+ steps per day there was a 2.3% death rate from cardiovascular disease. When steps are above 10,000 the dose response relationship starts to plateau. This suggests that you get the most benefits from walking 8,000-10,000 steps per day.
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