From seasoned body-builders, to seniors picking up a barbell for the first time, to children and youth in their PE class, strength training is a popular type of physical exercise that has no bias to age, gender or ability. Almost anyone can do strength training in one form or another, and it has extensive health benefits and applications for all.
Strength training is identified as the type of training that focuses on increasing, toning, and building lean muscle tissue, as well as improving the structural integrity and strength of our skeletal system. (1) Strength training not only benefits us physically but is also associated with a host of other benefits, such as cognitive and physiological improvements. (2)
Types of Strength training
Strength training comes through exerting our muscles in a controlled manner and can be carried out in multiple ways:
Strength training with stationary equipment
Some strength training exercises rely on equipment such as gym machinery or stationery weightlifting machines that can be calibrated to increase or decrease the level of resistance and therefore the level of effort needed.
When using gym equipment, it is always important to read and follow the instructions carefully and to make sure you are positioning your body appropriately to avoid injury. When selecting the resistance level or calibrating the machine, especially for the first time, always start light and only increase the difficulty level gradually. The exercise should be challenging but not overly so, and maintaining proper form is essential to avoiding serious injury and undue strain on your body.
Strength training with free weights/ light equipment
Strenqth training can also be done with free weights, such as dumbbells, kettlebells, ropes, resistance bands and TRX. People often choose this type of strength training as it’s more convenient, flexible and affordable, as they can buy this equipment and use it at home versus buying a gym membership. It’s also extremely versatile and allows a greater variety of exercises and range of movement. However, due to that higher freedom and flexibility, it also opens one up to a higher risk of injury. When choosing this type of strength training, maintaining proper form and a carefully guided range of motion is essential.
Body resistance training / Strength training with no equipment
This requires no machinery or free weights at all, instead, it focuses on the body’s own weight to create resistance and exert the muscles, which is why it is sometimes referred to as resistance training. While body-weight resistance might not foster muscle growth as quickly as that done with heavy weights or equipment, it’s extremely flexible, with no investment in equipment. The advantage is that it can also be done anyplace, anytime. Examples are doing plyometric exercises, such as pull-ups, push-ups, squats and lunges, which can increase your speed, endurance and strength.
Benefits of strength training
Strength training benefits are extensive and touch on every aspect of our lives. (2) Chief amongst them are:
Strengthening muscle and bone
Strength training not only strengthens muscles, but it also joints and bones, and has actually been recommended as a means of preventing osteoporosis and frailty, a common ailment for older adults. (2)
Growth and regeneration
Strength training stimulates the development and growth of muscle and bone tissue, as the muscle grows and repairs itself after each training session.
Coordination and Balance
Strength training and its related movements improves hand-eye coordination, and general body coordination as well. It has also been shown to improve balance and posture.
High Calorie burn
Most types of exercise burn calories, but strength training has the added advantage of a continued calorie burn even after the workout is finished. The body continues to burn extra calories as it repairs and grows the muscle, sometimes up to 24 hours afterwards. If we develop and maintain a strength training regimen, as we gain more muscle tissue, our calorie expenditure is raised permanently. (2)
Combating muscle loss
Our bodies naturally tend to decrease muscle mass, that is to say we naturally lose muscle as we age. Strength training combats that muscle loss, and rejuvenates the body.
Fighting common ailments
Strength training has been shown to reduce joint inflammation, prevent diabetes, improve, or reduce arthritis, as well as other common ailments such as heart disease, obesity, and back pain. (2)
People who adopt a strength training regimen often see noticeable improvements to their overall appearance and posture. Muscles look infinitely better when they are toned.
Can you do too much?
Like many things in life, too much of a good thing can be bad, and strength training is a good example of that. Often people will jump into a new strength training regimen, and will throw caution to the wind, with negative results, either an injury, or extreme fatigue and soreness. This is an important caution for everyone, but especially important for beginners – slow and steady wins the race, or in this case, builds the muscle.
Always consult with your physician before starting a regimen especially if you are worried with a pre-existing condition and ask for help at the gym or of a trainer at the onset. Experienced weightlifters and athletes usually train different muscle groups together, targeting different parts of their anatomy in systematic workouts. It’s important not to target the same muscle group repeatedly in different sessions with no chance of rest, as that would fatigue the muscle and slow down repair and growth. A tired muscle might also underperform, increasing the risk of injury.
If you are new to strength training, don’t worry, it’s not difficult or impossible to begin. Start by setting some minimal short-term goals, and some long-term goals, and work towards them. Just as the journey of a thousand miles is travelled one step at a time, so is the journey to a stronger you covered one training session at a time.