“You will put on 10 pounds of muscle with this new strength training exercise!” “Drop 5 pounds in 4 days with this never before seen strength training technique that will tone you whole body at the same time!”. If you’ve ever stayed up later than 11 pm and flipped on the TV, you probably have heard things like these.
But cheesy infomercial quotes aside, there are a lot of things people don’t know about strength training. Some think of bodybuilders in a gym lifting heavy iron with veins popping out their necks. Others might imagine the harsh physical training that Navy Seals officers are put through during hell week.
While both of those scenarios can include forms of strength training, they are not what strength training represents.
So what does it mean to strength train? What can it do for us? Is there a specific way to train that can get us to our goals faster? And what about strength training for females?
We’ll answer all of these questions and more in a bit, but let’s see what strength training is first.
All About Strength Training
Strength training is exactly as it sounds, training to gain strength. Technically any exercise, workout, or other forms of activity that increases our strength can be considered strength training.
But training for strength has evolved into a category of its own.
As you have read in my calisthenics and weightlifting article, these 2 forms of working out has taken the world by storm over the past few decades.
Throughout years of experimentation, observation, and scientific studies, the best ways and methods of training for strength has been narrowed down to a few principles. Any workout or exercise that incorporates these principles can be used for strength training.
The basis of these principles will be discussed later.
As far as the reasons why we want to strength train, there are numerous benefits that comes with it. Some people do it just to look good naked. While others are after optimal health. Then you have those that want to be as strong as they possibly can be.
All of these can be obtained with strength training (in addition to eating and living right). Let’s go into details on some of strength training’s benefits.
Improve Bone Health and Density
Over two dozen studies within a time span of 10 years have shown that resistance strength training improves the health and density of our bones.
The increase in bone density is more profound in strength training than it is in aerobic exercise. It is also more site specific, meaning that when we target a certain area to strengthen, the effects are greater than that from aerobic exercise¹.
Another interesting note the study points out is the use of high intensity strength training and how it has the added benefit of muscle strengthening and mass increase. This is different from high intensity interval training and will be discussed in the later sections.
With the number of cases of osteoporosis and other joint problems, it’s good to know that medication is not the only thing that can help us when we experience these problems. Just by implementing strength training in our daily routine, we get stave off different bone diseases and even strengthen our bones.
Decrease Risk Of Injury
Having stronger bones definitely plays a part in lowering our risk of injury. But strength training does more to help in this regard.
As mentioned before, strength training when done with high intensity, can help increase muscle mass and strength. This makes it easier to do our everyday tasks such as climbing the stairs or picking things up off the floor.
And of course, by targeting certain muscles during strength training, we use the right muscles for the right task.
Deadlifts teach us how to lift with out posterior chain instead of using purely our backs. Next time we have to pick up something heavy from the floor and there’s no dolly around, we’d know how to do it without blowing out our backs.
This also attributes to proper form. Learning to use the right muscles helps our form in certain tasks. Running is a prime example.
A lot of people with little glute and hamstring development ends up being quad dominant runners. This is okay for acceleration and explosiveness, although it’s still not sustainable nor efficient, but a definite no-no for top-end speed.
That’s one of the reasons a lot of athletes pull their hamstrings when running. It’s not necessarily they didn’t stretch enough. The load being put on the hamstrings are more than what it’s used to.
So if we strength train our glutes and hamstrings, we would have better running form. I can personally attest to this since I feel my glutes activate a lot more during my runs ever since I include targeted glute strengthening in my workouts.
It Feels Good!
Who doesn’t love the rush of endorphin that we can after a good workout session? This can come from aerobic training as well, but strength training includes the benefits we just talked about.
Some people are not used to aerobic activities and their workouts may be limited to strength training only. They can still get the same benefit of this hormone from strength training.
Even on days where we don’t feel like working out, or maybe we’re feeling tired. Strength training actually gives us more energy after we’re done, and we feel much better than we did before!
It is because of this that a lot of people get “addicted” to working out.
Sidenote: There is a healthy level of working out, and then there’s a point where it can be unhealthy for us. If it’s taking over other responsibilities in our lives or making us neglect important things that we’re suppose to do, then we should dial it back. Or if we get to the point of rhabdomyolysis, then we definitely need to stop and go to the hospital. But we should see signs of overtraining WAY before we reach that point.
Lose Weight And KEEP It Off
Now the benefit that a lot of us have been waiting for… weight loss.
A paper written in 2012 by Dr. Wayne Westcott of Quincy College found that strength training is very effective in fat loss. But it doesn’t end there.
The resting metabolic rate of test subjects increased by 7%, and lean mass increased by over 3 pounds within 10 weeks of strength training. But there’s even more interesting findings from this study².
Strength training can help prevent and possibly treat type 2 diabetes.
It had a positive effect on all the parameters that relates to type 2 diabetes. Here are just a few:
- Lower visceral fat (organ fat)
- Lower HbA1c
- Increase density of GLUT4
- Improve insulin sensitivity
These are all the major players when it comes to diabetes prevention and control. Strength training alone were able to improve all of these parameters.
By reducing resting blood pressure, strength training helps with lowering triglycerides and low density lipid cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) and increase the “good” cholesterol.
Triglycerides, cholesterol, and diabetes management are all the biggies when it comes to weight loss. These are all directly improved with strength training. Now throw in the right nutrition and sleeping patterns, you’d have no choice but to burn off the fat!
It’s easy to get a few things wrong with strength training. With the media and how strength training is portrayed, ideas and images mentioned at the beginning of the article fills a lot of our minds.
Hopefully, a lot of the information discussed so far has cleared up some of the misconceptions.
But one of the still persists, even with all the research that has been done on strength training.
“I don’t want to get all big and bulky like those bodybuilders on TV!”, “The veins and striations are so gross on those muscles, I don’t want that!”, “It’ll only make me bigger and slow me down, I need speed for my sport!”.
Hopefully, you were able to answer the last one there with what you’ve just read a few minutes ago.
As for “afraid to get too big”, let’s think about this for a minute.
The bodybuilders and big muscular, veiny guys and gals you see on TV didn’t get that way with a couple weeks of strength training 2 or 3 times per week. They definitely didn’t get that way by spending a hour, maybe 2 at most each time working out.
The only way we’ll end up with their physique is if we eat, train, and sleep like them. And even then, most of us without the right genetics won’t come even close.
Those guys train because it’s their job. They put in just as much work, if not more, as we do at our jobs that helps us pay the bills. But they also put in work when it comes to nutrition, sleep, and recovering from workouts. It’s their overall lifestyle that got them to that physique.
If it was as easy as some of us think to put on that much muscle, bodybuilding wouldn’t be much of a sport would it?
So don’t worry, do ALL the strength training you want. Unless you plan to be a bodybuilder, you will not end up looking like them.
Train For Our Goals
It’s time to repeat a common theme here on athletic mindset: what is your goal?
With strength training, our number one goal should be to increase our strength. So the next question we need to ask is what we’re increasing our strength for.
The answer to that will affect the way we train, recover, and how we change up our training.
Remember those principles I talked about before? The ones that forms the basis of strength training and any exercise and workout can be considered strength training as long as these are followed?
Well, here they are.
High Rep Low Weight
This is the type of training that gives bodybuilders their big muscles. Typically with this type of training, a high rep scheme at over 20 reps is used. On the last set, the exercise is usually performed to failure.
The aim of this is to damage the muscle fibers so much that it grows back much bigger in size. An increase in muscle size typically equates to increase in strength, although it’s not always linear. That means we may need an increase of a certain amount in order to see a noticeable increase in strength.
Without boring you with the geeky stuff, the “fill” of the muscle is what changed the most with this type of workout. The strength also increases, but definitely not as much as the size of the muscle.
Low Rep High Weight
This is the time of training that I absolutely LOVE. It sounds like I’ll be bias, which I admittedly may be a bit. But as for strength training, low rep and high weight is where it’s at!
Instead of increasing the “fill” of the muscle (as much), the effect of this training focuses on the density of the muscles. And because of the heavy weight, the neuromuscular connections are also improved, meaning that our brain and muscle communication becomes more efficient.
Lifting something heavy has the effect of mental toughness as well. Some of us can lift much more than we realized, it’s just that we never tried it before. Heavy weights can teach us that we are more capable than what we’re comfortable with.
Sidenote: When I say lift or heavy weights, it applies to calisthenics too. See my article on how to make calisthenics “heavy”.
I get questions like: “You’re doing a lot of sets and only a few reps each? How does that get you stronger?” They might just be trying to use the squat rack and indirectly complaining about how long I’ve been on it. But I answer this question with a simple concept.
If we’re trying to get stronger to lift 700 pounds, would we lift 50, 100, or 150 pounds over and over for as many times as we can? Or would we try a higher weight closer to our max lift like 250, 300, or 350 pounds and do a few times, rest, and repeat? Which do we think will help us get closer to our 700 pound goal?
Lifting light weights over and over until exhaustion will teach us to do the same exact thing, lifting lights weights over and over.
Just by the nature of high weight, low rep training, we’re constantly increasing the weight we lift as we get stronger. It’s inevitable that we increase the weight to whatever goal we have set for ourselves as long as we’re consistent with training.
Which One’s Better?
The big question.
Those of you following my site should’ve seen this from a mile away. It all depends.
Simply put: low weight and high reps=size, high weight and low reps=strength.
So as far s strength training goes, high weight and low reps is better, and I’m not just showing my bias here.
You’ll get both size and strength with both types of training, but the results will be emphasized differently.
But wait, what about articles like this that says light weights and heavy weights both produce the same strength benefit?
If you read the article, it points out that both test groups lifted to the point of exhaustion.
This is not what usually happens with a heavy weight, low reps type of training. This training should be using such a high weight that we can’t do any more than 3 to 5 reps with. The study sues a weight that can be lifted for as many as 12 reps!
And second, the heavy weight, low reps training group should not be going to the point of exhaustion. That basically makes that type of training the same as low weight, high reps. The muscles are simply exhausted to the point of failure in both groups.
The key is not to exhaust the muscles with this type of training, but rather teach them to lift almost max loads that it can handle repeatedly, over and over, with full rest in between.
But regardless of which method you choose, you’ll be losing weight effectively as long as you stay consistent with it!
Not Gender Exclusive
I hope you see by now that I haven’t mentioned gender at all in this article. That’s because strength training is for both men and women.
Most fears that women have with strength training is looking like the Hulk. But don’t worry, that won’t happen unless you really, really try to look like that. And as said earlier, it’ll be hard even then unless you have just the right genetic makeup.
So put some strength training in your workout! There’s no reason to not have it in our daily routines. Lift something really heavy for a few reps, with good form of course, and see how much fat you lose and stronger you get!
- “The Effects of Progressive Resistance Training on Bone Density: A Review.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 22 July 2016.
- “Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 22 July 2016.
- “Light Weight Workout Builds Strength Just as Much as Heavy Weight Routine.” Nature World News RSS. N.p., 15 July 2016. Web. 22 July 2016.