Strength training: the most important thing you aren’t doing
Strength training, resistance training, weight lifting – all terms that send shivers down the spines of most normal Australians and many young athletes. As you consider these terms, most of you are likely picturing the big sweaty boys in your local gym, intimidating and screaming as they complete their 10th round of a bench press set that started while you were still fast asleep. Well I would like to argue that maybe those meatheads might actually be onto a good thing, although maybe with a little less screaming needed.
When I look at exercise practices within society, strength training often appears as the lost modality…but why? Maybe it is because it gets a bad wrap, due in part to the testosterone-filled young males that flood your local gym. Maybe it is because many do not completely understand it and think they are either going to end up hurt or as big as a bodybuilder. Maybe it is just easier to go for a walk or run – which as an exercise specialist, I am definitely not discouraging. However, a well rounded exercise program of both aerobic and resistance exercise has been shown repeatedly to reap the most beneficial rewards.
Let me pass on 5 interesting facts about strength training and see if I can change your perception:
1. Strength training is the ONLY treatment that can counteract frailty in older age as caused by sarcopenia (age-related loss of muscle mass and strength).
2. Strength training increases your resting metabolic rate, primarily through the stimulation of new muscle growth. This means that at rest, your body requires more calories to maintain the normal metabolic processes…and yes, unless you start eating more food, that will likely also result in burning fat at rest!
3. It is well known that strength training can improve the performance of athletes by increasing both strength and speed (amongst others). But did you know that the more important role of resistance training in athletes is to prevent injury. A stronger and more robust athlete has a smaller chance of sustaining an injury – and less time injured means more time on the field or court improving their skills.
4. Strength training is even more important in persons with the most severe illnesses, like cancer and heart disease. In both cases, strength training can actually counteract the negative effect that treatments like chemotherapy and open-heart surgery have on the rest of the body, and drastically improve a patients quality of life. In fact, the intermittent pauses between reps and sets means that strength training is actually safer on the recovering heart muscle than walking on a treadmill!
5. You don’t have to be old to see the benefits of strength training. In fact, a higher level of muscle mass has protective effects against most diseases including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. It is so important that some recent studies are suggesting that low fitness and low muscle mass are just as dangerous as smoking and obesity for your health – and so should be equally considered (and treated) by doctors.