The Health Benefits of Strength Training
Strength training — also referred to as resistance training — is defined as exercises that cause the muscles to contract against an external resistance. To create that external resistance, you can use dumbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, or your bodyweight.
Strength training provides you with a wide range of health benefits, including:
#1 Strength training can help to improve metabolism
According to a paper published by the department of exercise science of Quincy College, inactive adults experience a 3% to 8% loss of muscle mass per decade. (1)
Every pound of muscle burns around 6.5 calories per hour, while fatty tissues only burn 1.2 calories. That’s why your muscle mass is directly related to your basal metabolism, i.e., the number of calories your body burns at complete rest.
According to research, 10 weeks of resistance training can increase muscle mass by up to 1.4 kg, increase resting metabolic rate by 7%, and reduce fat weight by 1.8 kg. (2)
Apart from that, strength training will not only burn energy during the workout but also after. The reason for that is the nature of the recovery process. When you overload a muscle, you cause micro-tears within the muscle fiber. During the recovery process, the body requires energy to repair these tears. Some people also call this the ‘after-burn effect’ of strength training.
Strength training can support bone health
Osteoporosis, a condition where the quality and density are significantly reduced, is becoming a major health issue in the U.S. According to the American Council of Exercise (ACE), an estimated 50% of all women and 25% of men that are 50 years or older will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture at one point in the lives.
The increase in bone mass and size peaks around the age of 30, after that bone loss is part of the normal aging process. However, this process can be accelerated due to inactivity or a diet lacking in calcium, vitamin D, or protein.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), using resistance training to place external pressure on the bone forces the bone to adapt: stress placed on the bone results in small deformations, which then triggers an increase in bone mass and strength.
When it comes to bone health, two or more weight training sessions per week seem to be most effective. The ACSM suggests starting with 10–15 repetitions per exercise and building up to 20 before adding another set*.
*A repetition (also referred to as “rep”) is the number of times you perform an exercise, and the “set” is the number of cycles of the relevant exercise.
Strength training can help to prevent type 2 diabetes
Diabetes has become an epidemic. According to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2015, around 30.3 million Americans suffer from diabetes and 84.1 million have prediabetes.
Research suggests that weight training can help to increase insulin sensitivity by improving your muscles’ ability to absorb (excess) carbohydrates. According to a study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, this improvement in insulin sensitivity can last for at least 16 hours post-exercise. (3) (4)
According to the American Council of Exercise (ACE), individuals with type 2 diabetes benefit from resistance training consisting of 12–15 repetitions of 8–10 exercises twice a week.
Strength training can help to improve heart health
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US.
Multiple studies have shown that cardiovascular exercises such as walking, running, or swimming are beneficial for heart health. However, recent research also links strength training to the prevention or improvement of cardiovascular diseases:
A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests that regular strength training can help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease significantly, independent of aerobic exercise. (5)
Another study published by JAMA Cardiology found that engaging in strength training 3 times per week can help to reduce the fat that‘s directly touching the heart and can thus decrease the risk of heart disease. (6)
To reduce the risk of heart disease, the ACSM, and the American Heart Association recommend performing muscle-strengthening activities for all major muscles at least twice per week. The American Council of Exercise suggests 12–15 repetitions for 1–3 sets using 8–10 exercises.
Strength training can help to prevent falls
When we age, balance and coordination tend to decline, which increases the risk of falls. One reason for this is the loss of muscle mass and strength. Especially weakness of the lower extremities has been linked to a significantly increased fall risk. (7)
According to the National Council on Aging, falls are one of the major causes of injury among people age 65 and older.
Strength training can help to decreased fall risks by improving balance, coordination, and posture.
Research suggests that strength training is especially helpful to prevent falls in people that are 65 years or older. (8)
A strength training program that focuses on building lower body strength and includes single-leg balance exercises seems to be optimal for fall prevention.
How can you start a strength training program?
If you have no experience with resistance training, it’s a good idea to hire a trainer for a couple of introductory sessions. This will allow you to learn basic exercises for all major muscle groups and how to do them in good form.
I would suggest starting with bodyweight exercises before progressing to exercises that use external load in
If you’re exercising at home, you can also use resistance bands or a Pilates circle to start a strength training program.
A word of warning: if you’re suffering from any (chronic) health condition, please get clearance from your physician before starting an exercise program.
In good health,
Download my handout with more nutritional weight loss strategies.
Ready to take your fitness or weight loss journey to the next level? Contact me regarding my in-house or Zoom personal training sessions at [email protected] or 4153604664.
Find more ideas for improved health and happiness on my Medium publication Wellness Decoded.
(1) Westcott WL. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2012;11(4):209–216. doi:10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8
(2) Way KL, Hackett DA, Baker MK, Johnson NA. The Effect of Regular Exercise on Insulin Sensitivity in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Diabetes Metab J. 2016;40(4):253–271. doi:10.4093/dmj.2016.40.4.253v
(3) Westcott WL. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2012;11(4):209–216. doi:10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8
(4) Borghouts LB, Keizer HA. Exercise and insulin sensitivity: a review. Int J Sports Med. 2000;21(1):1–12. doi:10.1055/s-2000-8847
(5) Shiroma EJ, Cook NR, Manson JE, et al. Strength Training and the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2017;49(1):40–46. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001063
(6) Christensen RH, Wedell-Neergaard A, Lehrskov LL, et al. Effect of Aerobic and Resistance Exercise on Cardiac Adipose Tissues: Secondary Analyses From a Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Cardiol. 2019;4(8):778–787. doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2019.2074
(7) SHOBHA S. RAO, M.D., University of Texas Southwestern, Dallas, Texas: Am Fam Physician. 2005 Jul 1;72(01):81-88.
(8) Barnett A, Smith B, Lord SR, Williams M, Baumand A. Community-based group exercise improves balance and reduces falls in at-risk older people: a randomised controlled trial. Age Ageing. 2003;32(4):407–414. doi:10.1093/ageing/32.4.407