Strength training simply refers to “resistance training” – conditioning the muscles using progressively more difficult loads.
That’s an extremely broad definition that probably doesn’t help you much.
Basically you’re using muscular force against different levels of resistance. As you do this, your muscles adapt to the strain and you get “stronger”.
The resistance can be simply your body – imagine doing things like unweighted squatting, lunging, push ups, or pull ups.
The resistance can be an external tool – imagine throwing a medicine ball, swinging a kettlebell, or pressing some dumbbells overhead.
So what makes Strength Training so important? Why are doctors, physical therapists, and trainers always buzzing about it?
Strength training does indeed make you stronger – but that is actually an indirect result – and often times not even the most important one.
Strength training actually does the following, and in the following order:
- Improved motor control and balance – by doing basic movements (like a squat, lunge, or push up) repetitively at a slow pace we improve our brains ability to communicate with the musculature that initiates the movement. This improves our coordination, making us less injury prone.
- Increased muscular endurance – doing sets of 12, 15, 20 repetitions of a weightlifting movement with a moderate load and adequate rest in between sets improves our muscles endurance – the brain allocates more resources to those muscles because now they are WORKING (where before they were sedentary) – and suddenly we find ourselves fatiguing much slower.
- Hypertrophy – increased muscle density. Resistance training will, over time, increase our muscle density.
- Increased bone density – our bones CRAVE and need this type of stimulus – as we train them in this manner they become less brittle and more able to resist the torque and force of day to day life
- Strengthened connective tissue – tendons and ligaments become more pliable and resilient
- Increased Strength
- Increased work capacity – as all the above take place, you increase your overall work capacity – which is the measure of how much intensity you can sustain over a long period of time. Frail, weak individuals cannot sustain high levels of output over long periods of time. Think of them as the friend that you simply need to run faster than during the zombie apocalypse.
The thing about this framework is that your body MUST go through steps 1, 2, 3 all the way to 7. You cannot bypass steps 1-6.
When we strength train we will actually feel perceivably stronger very early on – these early adaptations are actually your brain becoming more adept at communicating with your tissues – improved motor control and coordination.
Gaining real strength takes long periods of time and happens quite slowly. Early on all we are doing is allowing our brain to tap into our bodies latent strength – but the brain limits us from accessing this because we lack the ability to control movement, or are stiff and joint reliant and therefore more injury prone if we were to try to express our true strength.
Strength training is the precursor to any type of exercise that is done at a high heart rate with highly repetitive movements – because if you cannot do the movement well at a slow pace, it’s a guarantee that you will not do the movement well at a fast pace, short of breath, with music blaring.
Think of strength training as the insurance policy on your body. It allows you to participate in other forms of exercise more fully and with less risk of injury.
Done right strength training can be extremely fun and rewarding. A good coach/trainer can take you through progressions that will unlock the potential of your body in a way you have never experienced. You will see benefits such as increased flexibility, decreased joint pain, improved body composition, improved self esteem, improved blood/health markers, and much more
In summary – if you’re not engaging in a planned strength training program 2-4x a week you are missing the most vital portion of your exercise habit. Look for a program that is
- Planned – there must be a clear and explainable structure as to why movements are paired together, why they are selected on certain dates, and the repetitions and sets prescribed to those movements
- Progressive – there must be a planned method of slowly over time increasing the level of difficulty of the same small range of movements that you practice as you get better at them
- Periodized – there must be planned rest days and weeks for your body to recover from the progressive strain.
- Expert led – it’s highly advisable to have a qualified coach/instructor who practices what they preach AND supervises you – remember you must be progressively increasing the weight of the movement as well as the difficulty – thus its in your best interest to have someone there watching to make sure you’re doing it right.