As you might have noticed, I am a big fan of strength training. Not only do I find it a lot of fun to look like a badass because I use bumper plates which look much heavier than they actually are, or do I enjoy lifting my girlfriend off the floor like a rag doll, there are also tons of actual benefits involved with strength training, even when doing it occasionally. I’m not going to convince you to become a bodybuilder, but some strength training should be included in your workout regimen for sure if you want to live a healthy life. And that of your grandma too.
What is strength training?
Strength training involves the use of resistance to train your muscles. This can be done by using barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, machines, bands, your Vittel water bottles or even your own bodyweight. There are different kinds of strength: strength-endurance, speed-strength, explosive strength, … All with different ways to train them optimally. We will however not go into this in detail today.
That said, you do not need to load up huge weights on the bar to do strength training! People are often scared when they think of strength training, and think of big bald mean guys bench pressing the weight of a small car in between sets of drinking blood and crushing skulls. Those same people are often surprised when I tell them a simple air squat or a 2 kg biceps curl counts as strength training too.
The benefits: an endless list
The list of associated benefits is very lengthy to say the least. I will shortly state the most important ones here, but rest assured there are more than just these.
- Higher fat loss
Studies have shown that weight training can result in 40% more fat burned during the workout. But there is more: the resulting higher muscle mass will increase your base metabolism leading to more calories burned when you are not doing any activity. In case you think I made a typo: here it is again. More. Calories. Burned. While. Not. Doing. Anything. You’re welcome.
- Reduced risk of injury
Because of the added stability to your joints, your risk of injury will drop. Also, strength training itself is a very low-risk activity when done correctly. For more on active stability, check out my previous blog post here.
- Bone density and osteoporosis
The number one way to limit the effects of
osteoporosis is to do weight-bearing activities such as the compound movements (squat, deadlift, …) in strength training. This has been proven over and over again to increase bone density and therefor reduce the risk of fractures. In my personal experience as a physio in an elderly house, there is still quite a lot of resistance towards this kind of training from elderly people who prefer more traditional forms of exercise such as a bicycle, this is the future of training for elderly.
- Carry-over effect
Strength is something you will always need. From carrying grocery bags to picking up your kids to kicking the ball harder, applications are everywhere. Not only will it make you better in sports or these everyday activities, they will also feel much easier and less taxing. Like the blog title of my friend blogger Hannah Hirsch says: “Lift heavy, live light”! (check them out here)
- Improved physique
Ever wanted to get toned and sculpted? Guess what will make you get there: strength training. Your figure consists of your bone structure, bodyfat and muscle mass. You can’t change your bone structure and your bodyfat is determined largely by how you eat. So your muscle mass will give your body that figure you are looking for. Not only that, it can also improve your posture.
So what should you be doing?
If weights are an option, I would advise
a program consisting of multiple compound movements. They use multiple muscles at once and have more functional carryover than isolation exercises. Some good choices would be a squat, deadlift, lunge, (weighted) pullup, bench press, row and shoulder press. A program consisting of these movements alone can get you very far!
I personally saw big strength improvements with the “Starting Strength” program by Mark Rippetoe. It consists of the squat, deadlift, bench and shoulder press, pullups, back extensions and the power clean. Currently I am implementing this with one of my clients and she has (in a little over a month) made tremendous strength gains already, adding weight to all of her major lifts with more than 10 kg on her squat already. Other solid programs out there are the “Westside for skinny bastards” program and the “Wendler 5-3-1” template.
If you however have no access to weights or are somehow afraid of them and the blood drinking vikings in the gym, a squat or lunge without a barbell, pushups, burpees, pullups and situps are excellent choices.
But if there is 1 thing I could say is that when you first start off, a program is not the most important issue: consistency is. Go train 2-3 times a week, sleep and eat well and you will without a doubt make big improvements on your strength numbers.
See you in the gym!