Benefits of Strength Training
Resistance training (also called strength training or weight training) is the use of resistance to muscular contraction to build strength, anaerobic endurance and size of skeletal muscles. Really the only difference is that resistance training exercises involve pushing or pulling against the resistance of an object, including your own body weight or using resistance bands/loops. Strength training involves a large amount of muscle tissue by continuously increasing the weight you lift while lowering the number of reps (using weights), which leads to bigger body gains in strength.
Both have great benefits to overall health and fat loss and can be used interchangeably depending on what you prefer and what equipment you have available to you at home or the gym.
Why should I weight, strength, resistance train?
Longevity is having a long duration of individual life with good health. Adding strength or resistance training into your regular routine is good for people of all ages and fitness levels. This will help prevent the natural loss of lean muscle mass that comes with aging (the medical term for this loss is sarcopenia). This is because it helps improve muscle strength and tone which protects your joints from injury. It also aids in maintaining flexibility and balance, which can help you remain independent as you age.
Strengthening your muscles is one of the fundamental ways to help protect your joints. Muscles help carry the weight and stress of your daily movements. Increasing the strength of your muscles gives your joints greater support and helps properly align your bones!
It can also benefit people with chronic health conditions, like obesity, arthritis, or a heart condition. When you are moving your body you are getting the blood flowing and everything in your our body starts working together!
Not only is strength training good for gaining lean muscle tissue and staying healthy but if you are on a fat loss journey you are going to want to be building muscle in the meantime. Let’s say you hit your goal of losing X amount of body fat, if you don’t have any muscle under that you still won’t look “lean” or “toned.” You will just appear skinnier with the possibility of having excess skin that hangs from your body. Which you won’t like that either and might think, “I put in so much work why don’t I look toned like so-and-so”. (I’ve been there, it’s frustrating!) Muscle is the key.
Strength training vs HIIT cardio?
Although you burn more calories during a HITT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout, afterwards your heart rate returns to normal your body goes back to its regular process of burning calories. Strength training is more effective than cardio at building muscle, and muscle burns more calories at rest than some other tissues, including fat. Because of this, it is commonly said that building muscle is the key to increasing your resting metabolism — that is, how many calories you burn at rest. Weight management and increased muscle-to-fat ratio happens because as you gain muscle, your body burns more calories when at rest and throughout the rest of your day.
So LISS cardio and HIIT cardio are great for heart health and also play an important role in living a longer healthier life. HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, involves short bursts with high effort, followed by lower effort rest intervals. LISS, or Low Intensity Steady State, involves consistent effort at a steady pace for an allotted amount of time (the heart rate is usually monitored here to identify effort). We have talked about LISS (walking, biking) before in my Walk a Little More post. While HIIT is ultimately more effective at burning fat, there is a catch. HIIT takes a lot more energy (calories) and requires more recovery time than steady state cardio.
Another thing to consider is HIIT usually causing more stress on your joints and can be harder for some people because of the impact.
For many people living with autoimmune disease, high intensity workouts like CrossFit, power yoga, HIIT Training, spinning, and long distance endurance training can spike cortisol levels. This can intensify the stress mechanism in our bodies and can cause exercise induced symptom flare-ups. If you have an auto immune disease you want to try your very best to keep your cortisol and stress levels at bay. Otherwise, chronically elevated cortisol levels, it creates an inflammatory response in the body, disrupting the normal function of our hypothalamic-pituitary pathway in our brain that controls many of the hormones in our body, including thyroid hormone. Stress = inflammation. I will say since I have decreased the amount of HIIT cardio in my work out routine my body has been feeling better and recovering faster!
If you are looking to burn calories and fat, a good mix of HIIT and weight training will do the trick. If your goal is muscle growth, LISS will usually be a better option paired with weight training. Some people might think that if they aren’t getting their heart rate up with HIIT cardio then it isn’t working. You can do low impact moves while adding weights and it will raise your heart rate just as much if not more depending on how heavy you are lifting.
Resistance/weight training makes cardiovascular training more effective in producing results, and vice versa. Simply put, walking will improve your heart health and burn calories, while going to the gym — assuming you use weights — will increase your metabolism and target fat tissue. As always, to see great results, proper nutrition (calories and protein) is the key!
How often should I lift weights?
You don’t need to spend hours upon hours lifting weights or using resistance bands to benefit from strength training. You can see significant improvement in your strength starting with just two or three 30-minute strength training sessions a week if you are starting out. As your body becomes stronger, you can increase to four, five or six days a week of lifting.
It is best to pair your exercises so that the muscles you are working complement each other, then the next day, pair different muscle groups together so those muscle will start to recover instead of being over worked. For beginners and intermediate lifters, 4 workout days per week is actually the most ideal for building muscle and strength. It allows you to keep the intensity of your workouts high and get adequate recovery in between sessions, which is the perfect recipe for building muscle and strength. Here are a few examples of a 4-day split:
Day 1 – Pull (Back and Biceps.)
Day 2 – Push (Chest and Triceps.)
Day 3 – Rest
Day 4 – Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes and Calves.)
Day 5 – Shoulders, Traps
Day 6 – Rest
Day 7 – Rest
You could add abs to any day you want, or you could have 2 legs days then add shoulders to your push day and traps to your pull day. If you plan on doing two leg-day workouts per week, it would be effective to split up your training even further; one day for glutes and hamstrings and another day for quads and calves. That way you can have intense and heavy training for each day and get a full recovery before the next leg workout.
You could do a 3-, 5-, or 6-day splits as well. If you do a 3-day split, keep in mind that you will be spending more time at the gym (or in your home) each workout to get all the muscle groups checked off the list. If you are doing a 5- or 6-day split you, will have less time for recovery and might not be able to lift heavier weights, which depending on your goal and experience could slow down your progress.
What about rest days?
Downtime between workouts (whether you’re lifting, doing cardio or training for a sport) is when our bodies have a chance to actually build muscle. Strenuous workouts cause muscle tissue breakdown, while rest and good nutrition allows our bodies to build it back up.
Generally, it is recommended to take planned days off from resistance training in order to allow the body to recover from the stress of the workouts. You might find it hard to recover from workouts if you lift every day, which could be the biggest downfall to daily strength training because your body doesn’t get a real chance to recover. This can lead to muscle overuse injuries or issues with muscle imbalances if you don’t carefully plan your workouts.
Regardless of the split schedule you are following, you will need rest days for your body to recover. Although sore muscles need to rest, that doesn’t mean you should kick your feet up and spend the day on the couch. Try to get some gentle movement through lower impact activities like restorative yoga, an easy walk, swim, or cycle. Walking encourages small arteries in the legs to enlarge, which increases blood pumping through the muscles. This increase in blood flow may help you recover from soreness sooner.
It is best to do something on your rest day to keep your body moving and your mind happy. Rest days might feel awful; this means that your body is burning a lot of fuel after training and working that hard behind the scenes repair the tissue. When you start having an active lifestyle, your levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain increase (making you happier). On a rest day, you might feel sad or lazy; that is because your body hasn’t produced the endorphins that it does when you do exercise. Also, any unused energy is believed to be one of the most common reasons why people experience anxiety. If you don’t exhaust your body’s energy, it can turn into physical tension which, if not relieved, can develop into mental tension. Unfortunately, that can lead to anxious episodes and even panic attacks. I know Josh and I both struggle with rest days because we are busy bodies, but they are necessary to recover so you can go hard the next day! Some days I will push through because he wants to work out or vice versa, but I realize when I do that I can’t lift as heavy or feel as productive because my body is tired!
Great activities to do on rest days:
Walking, biking, swimming, or kayaking.
Stretching or yoga.
Foam rolling or massage.
Avoid alcohol and extra sugar.
Don’t forget to drink your minimum 100 oz of water, eat nutrient rich meals (lots of protein), and get plenty of quality sleep!
What if I already strength train but don’t see results?
If you already are lifting weights or using your body weight or loops for resistance training but don’t feel like you are making progress, then you need to make some changes.
1. Focus on progressive overload – a method of strength training that advocates for the gradual increase of the stress placed upon the musculoskeletal and nervous system. Simply, what progressive overload means is that you’re doing more over time. For example, you could be going heavier, adding some weight to the bar, doing more reps, and/or having more productive training sessions. If you are still confused let’s break it down even more, if you are doing 10 reps of bicep curls with 5 lbs weights and you can get through all 10 without struggling, then you need to increase your weight. The last 2 reps, whether you are doing sets or 8,10,12, or 15, need to be hard – really hard like making crazy faces or noises to finish kind of hard. If you are using the same weight for the same exercises week after week, you will not make progress because you aren’t challenging your muscles. Muscles need to be broken down during your work out by challenging them in order to grow when they recover through rest and nutrition. Let’s go back to that example, next week try to use 8 lb weight for your full set of 10 reps. If you only get half-way through (5 reps), that’s OK go back to the 5 lbs. Then next week, or next time you do bicep curls, use the 8 lbs again but try to get all 10 reps. If you can’t, then make it to 8 reps before dropping your weight to 5 lbs. Keep doing this will all of your exercise moves until you can get all 10 reps in with the 8 lbs weights. In no time you will be ready to try the same process with 10 lbs weights; this is called progressive overload training and it is crucial to making muscle gains and aiding in fat loss. You most likely will not be able to increase weight every week but keep trying your body will adapt to get stronger.
*Another example; if you only have 5 lbs weights (or you have maxed out at whatever weight you have) this, is when you should increase from 8 -10 reps to 12 -15 reps. If you can do all your of sets with the heaviest weights you have for all 15 reps, then slow down your movement. Instead of doing a 1 count, take 4 counts to complete this move or hold for 3 seconds. You can always find ways to make each move harder. If needed; take longer breaks between sets to be able to finish strong instead of calling it quits or dropping the weight too soon!
*If you are resistance training with bands or loops instead of weights you need to make sure you are controlling your movements. If it is easy and you aren’t struggling to finish the last 2 reps then you are doing the movements too quickly.
2. You aren’t making a mind-to-body connection or using proper form. Simply put, the mind-muscle connection is a conscious and deliberate muscle contraction. It’s the ability to focus the tension you create during exercise on a specific muscle or region of muscles in the body, which is the difference between passively and actively moving the weight. If you aren’t squeezing or activating the muscle you are working, then what is the point of doing it? If you think about your bicep pulling the weights up instead of just going through the motions, you will “feel the burn” more. Also, if you are swinging, not holding in your core, and letting your elbow come out away from your body, then you aren’t using proper form. If you are having a hard time with any of those cues, then you need to lessen your weight. In all exercising, no matter how little the weight is, you must always engage your core. If you don’t (1) you won’t get as much bang for your buck and (2) you could injury your back or other muscles.
*Even when you are just walking, engage your core – NOT by sucking in your stomach, but by pulling your belly button (right under it) in towards your back and slightly tucking your pelvis under.
3. You aren’t eating the right amount of calories or protein for your body and activity level. Click here for more on Calories and here for Protein info. You can check out my post about fat loss here with some other helpful tips.
4. You aren’t recovering properly; if you don’t recover from previous work outs; then you can’t push yourself for the next one. Take time to stretch before and after a workout. If you make time before you go to bed to stretch; your body will thank you. A tight muscle is a weak muscle. Make sure you are fueling your body with nutritious meals, drinking lots of water (100 oz minimum) and getting restful sleep (7 hours minimum)!
Strength training Conclusion
Weight or resistance training is for anyone and everyone. Even if you don’t want to lose weight or gain muscle, it is important to keep our body strong as we age to stay independent. Think about an elderly person who needs help to get in and out of the car; they move less because its hard, but an active elderly person accomplish more simply because they do more. I know there are different situations where they might have a bad hip or illness that might keep them down, but the better we take care of ourselves now, the easier we will be able to get around in the future!
To be healthier, we need to make healthier habits, like moving our body! If you don’t love lifting weights, then try exercises with just your body weight or add a resistance loop. If you like cardio still do that too but add a few push-ups, squats and planks into your routine. Whatever it is that you enjoy then do it, but chances are whatever you like the least is what you need more of to get stronger. Josh hates doing abs, but he need’s it the most; he has some back issues but strengthening his core helps support his back. If you strengthen your legs, it helps support your knees, hips and ankles. If you strengthen your gultes, this helps support your hips and back. Strengthening your upper back, arms and shoulders helps us have better posture and to be able to lift things and do regular movements.
In strength training workouts, we might not burn as many calories as cardio, but we are breaking down the muscle fibers and our body has to expend more energy (calories) to repair and recover throughout the rest of the day. Another thing is the more muscle you, have the faster your metabolism will be so you will be burning more energy even at rest.
Make sure to drink plenty water, follow a healthy diet and rest when you need to! Stretch – mobility is so important because stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way.
Most people want to lose weight, but there are other important factors to exercise; I hope you learned something helpful towards your wellness and fitness goals.
As always feel free to reach out with questions or comments below.