Many people I talk to have “increased strength” or “increased muscle tone” as one of their top fitness goals. They want to feel more capable and confident in their every day. Some have a specific focus in sport or dance they want to accomplish. Some just want to be able to walk up stairs without running out of breath, or want to keep up with their kids as an energetic parent or grandparent.
Strength training, as part of a larger fitness program, is key to living a vibrant, physically expressive life. At least that’s how I see it. And that’s what I see in my clients when they add strength training to their fitness practice.
Of course, not all strength training is created equal. I advise against focusing on weight machines. And I recommend building complexity and variety overtime, including advancing coordination challenges and using multiplanar and multi-joint movement patterns.
What are the benefits of strength training, at any age?
Here’s a list taken in part from the Mayo Clinic. Strength training helps you:
–Develop strong bones: Bone strength is proportional to muscle strength, because when muscles are under stress and have to work, so do the bones. Strength training can increase bone density and reduce your risk of osteoporosis.
–Lose fat and increase muscle mass: Recovering from a strength training session is energy-intensive; it increases your metabolism for up to 3 days after your workout so you burn more calories long after the work is done.
–Enhance your quality of life: Strength training may improve your quality of life and your ability to do everyday activities. In the end, I think this is the most important reason to build strength.
–Balance better and fall less: Building muscle, coordination and flexibility can mean fewer falls and better responses to falling.
–Reduce the signs and symptoms of chronic conditions: arthritis, back pain, obesity, heart disease, depression and diabetes can all be improved through strength training.
–Maintain or improve cognitive function: Regular strength training and aerobic exercise may help improve thinking and learning skills at any age.
–Be more athletic: From playing basketball in your neighborhood to climbing mountains to competing in a triathlon, strength training gives you an advantage to compete better or last longer in your sport.
There is a myth that strength training is for men and cardio is for women. Or that upper body strength training is for men and lower body strength training is for women. These are based on sexist stereotypes and not health, and certainly not athleticism. If what you want is to be a capable, resilient organism, with a healthy, balanced body, you need to train your whole body in a variety of ways.
There’s another myth that strength training is only good for building mass and cardiovascular training is only good for losing weight. The truth is that both are needed to be athletic, and athletic people tend to be both strong and lean, which in the end is what most people want. If you want to lower your bodyfat, include strength training and interval cardio training every week, ideally doing both 2-3x per week.