Strength training is often confused with bodybuilding. But the fact is they’re not the same thing. Bodybuilding is as much about chasing a physical ideal as it is about being strong which is why weightlifting isn’t part of the Mr. Olympia contest.
Strength training, on the other hand, is intended to help people achieve a higher degree of physical fitness. It doesn’t matter if you develop the biggest biceps at the gym. What matters is that you reach a point where you don’t feel like your body is holding you back from pursuing the active lifestyle you want.
Below, we’ll take a look at what’s involved with strength training and how it can benefit you.
What is Strength Training?
Strength training is a set of exercises intended to produce a stronger, healthier you. Even though bodybuilders utilize strength training to achieve their desired look, bodybuilding itself isn’t strength training. So don’t worry. You don’t have to pursue 20” biceps in order to engage in successful strength training.
Strength training (often called “resistance training”) is intended to increase the amount of physical power a person has at their disposal. It’s not primarily concerned with whether that results in perfectly shaped triceps or hammies.
The goal is to feel more vital, more physically engaged with your own body and to enjoy the other benefits of strength training, which we’ll get into in a moment. The beauty of strength training is that there’s no single strength training routine you have to follow. You can tailor your workouts to match your particular physiology and your specific goals.
What are the Benefits of Strength Training?
The benefits of strength training are many and easy to understand. They include:
- Increased strength – This might seem unnecessary to say. But if what you really want is to be the best marathon runner, strength training won’t necessarily help you all that much. If, on the other hand, your goal is to be a bit leaner and stronger, then strength training is for you.
- Increased flexibility – While this might seem counterintuitive, it’s not. Remember, we’re not talking about bodybuilding here, we’re talking strength training. Effective strength training works your muscles through their entire range of motion. This increases flexibility and decreases the risk of muscle pulls and sprains.
- Enhanced muscle tone – While we’re not talking about bodybuilding per se, there’s nothing wrong with looking a bit stronger. Strength training will no doubt enhance your muscle tone and that will no doubt make you look healthier and more attractive.
- Sustainable weight-loss – Many people combine weight training with their weight loss efforts. And this makes perfect sense because muscle tissue actually burns more calories even when at rest, something fatty tissue can’t do. Because of this, it becomes easier to keep the weight off.
- Reduced risk of injury – A stronger body is one that’s less likely to sustain an injury. Whether you work with your hands or you just enjoy sports—your stronger, fitter body will be less likely to wind up in the emergency room with an injury.
- Enhanced brain function – Strength training has a way of increasing the metabolic rate and causing blood to reach parts of the body and brain that had been long-neglected. That blood will also be carrying greater amounts of oxygen to your oxygen-dependent brain, thereby enhancing its function.
- Longevity – In the past, strength training was thought to be the exclusive domain of the young. In recent years, however, doctors have discovered that strength training can help older people live longer, healthier lives.
Muscles atrophy with age, unless they’re put to use and this wasting away of strength, is one of the things that opens people up to injury and disease.
- Enhanced self-esteem – When people feel better about themselves, it’s obvious. They smile more, are more relaxed, have greater confidence, and a more positive outlook on life. This type of enhanced self-esteem is one of the most obvious benefits of strength training.
“The higher your energy level, the more efficient your body – and vice versa.” – Denise Austin
How Does Strength Training Help With Weight Loss?
We touched on this briefly in the previous section, but it deserves a bit more attention. Lots of folks make strength training part of their weight loss efforts and there are a number of reasons for that. The most obvious is that muscle tissue burns calories just by being muscle tissue.
This means that even when you’re just sitting around on the deck enjoying a beautiful summer day, your muscles are busy burning fat. So having more muscle can actually increase how fast you’re losing weight.
But that’s not all, most people aren’t interested solely in being skinny. Even for women today, the old ideal of “you can’t be too thin” no longer has the influence it once had.
Like men, many women today don’t just want to be thin—they want to be fit and weight training is one of the best ways ever devised to achieve a higher level of fitness.
Don’t get us wrong: if you are seriously overweight slimming down is going to have plenty of benefits whether or not you ever lift a single dumbbell. Think about it, what kind of body do you want to show the world once it’s no longer buried under excess fat? A thin one or a strong, healthy one?
Does Strength Training Make Women Bulky?
Strength training by itself will not make women bulky. This is a myth that no doubt has its origins in the mistaken notion that strength training = bodybuilding. It doesn’t.
Exercises for Strength Training
Below we’re going to go through some of the classic strength training exercises and touch on what each is intended to do.
- Bench Press – The bench press is done lying down. Typically on a weight bench. Your back is flat with your legs typically dangling off the end of the bench. Your hands are at shoulder width. The weight suspended above your head.
You grasp the barbell with both hands and lower the weight to your chest then you push straight up. Lower the weight and repeat. The bench press primarily strengthens your upper chest.
- Bicep curl – For this article, we’re describing the standard one-handed curl using a dumbbell. Stand straight with your feet shoulder length apart. Knees should be ever-so-slightly bent. Hold the dumbbell with the palm facing up.
Slowly lift the weight, bending your arm at the elbow while keeping that elbow in close to your side. Lower the dumbbell slowly all the way. Repeat. This exercise works the bicep as the name implies, but also strengthens your core.
- Leg Extension – The leg extension is done sitting on a weight bench or if you don’t have a weight bench, a sturdy chair. If you have a weight bench, your legs will go under the weight suspended from the end of the bench.
If you don’t have a bench, get some weights you can strap to your ankles. Lift your foot slowly until your entire leg is extended straight out. Lower slowly and repeat. This exercise works your quadriceps or “quads.”
- Leg press – You’ll need the right machine for this and most gyms have one. Lie flat on the bench with your hands at your side. Your knees should be bent 90 degrees and your feet flat against the weighted platform.
Grab the handles with both hands and then push out with your feet until your legs are straight. Avoid locking your knees if possible. Slowly retract your feet and repeat. This exercise works your buttocks, hamstrings, and calf muscles.
- Leg curl – Lying flat on your stomach, your feet will be straight out from you, under the weight at the end of the bench. Lift your feet until your lower legs are at a 90-degree angle to the bench then slowly return to flat and repeat. This exercise primarily works the hamstrings but also impacts the hip flexors.
Strength training doesn’t require you to workout 7 days a week until you’re the size of the Hulk. All it’s really intended to do is provide you greater control over your one and only body. Along the way, it will also provide a slew of other benefits including increased flexibility, reduced risk of injury, and even greater longevity.
It’s a good idea for any man or woman intent on achieving a higher degree of overall health. It’s one of the few activities that pay just as many dividends at 70 as it does at 17. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and lift weights!