Why Is Strength Training Important?

The Cup-Liquid Strength-Conditioning Analogy
Weightlifting

CC 713 Avenue

I’ll let you in on a little secret.

The whole reason I ended up as a fitness coach or strength and conditioning coach, or trainer is quite simply because strength, resistance training and weight training are transcendent in their ability to help people achieve awesome stuff.

It doesn’t matter what physical objective you want to hit; Improved sport performance; Improved body composition; Improved productivity/energy; Improved health profile; doing some strength training a couple of times a week or more can help you with that.

It has allowed me to work with a variety of different people from a variety of different background and I’ve yet to find any particular objective where strength training 2-4 times a week didn’t yield a huge benefit to a person.

People ask me all the time, why they should do it? Here’s why…

For Healthy Living

The ability to produce force is paramount as we age.

Newer research tends to indicate that things like hand strength and general muscle strength are metrics with some of the highest correlation to human longevity.

In other research, the ability to produce explosive power is associated with the reduction of “intrinsic fall-risk factors in older adults.

Let’s not forget that having some muscle mass also statistically makes you less likely to develop clinical conditions like obesity and diabetes.

It seems only natural that if we lose muscle mass and strength as we age, then combating this loss with strength and resistance training is a practical approach in prevention.

I know most of us don’t necessarily think of ourselves as 70, but when you are, if you’ve spent some time doing some strength training weekly for many years you’re more likely to be independent.

There is ne’er an activity out there that seems to have more associative benefit with health at this moment in time than strength training, not even aerobic training.

Strength training makes everything easier because it lowers the percentage of nervous system activity you need to complete everyday repetitive tasks.

If you can lift 200 lbs and your groceries weigh 40 lbs, then lifting your groceries will be significantly easier than if you could only lift 100 lbs.

I liken it to a comparison of glasses full of liquid. If you have a 12 oz glass (representing your strength capacity), and an activity requires 12 oz of work, then you’re at 100% capacity.

You’re probably going to zap yourself out quickly.

If you have a 16 oz glass though, and an activity requires 12 oz of work, well that’s only 75% of your capacity. Which scenario is likely to be easier?

Oh you’re so smart…

Be the 16 oz glass instead of the 12…

The Cup-Liquid Strength-Conditioning Analogy

For Fat Loss

Anecdotally the leanest people on the planet (bodybuilders and sprint-based athletes) are heavily involved in weight training.

Scientifically speaking, muscle is a far more metabolically active tissue (by comparison to fat, AKA: adipose tissue), which increases your basal metabolic rate, which in turn, increases your requirement for calories in a day.

The more metabolically active tissue you have — and in our case, we don’t mean bodybuilder huge… — the more calories you will burn at rest, effectively creating the negative energy balance necessary for weight loss, even if you don’t change your caloric intake — but I recommend that you do make nutritional changes in conjunction with training for optimal results.

When we look to research we find that neuromuscular training is a completely different stimulus on the body by comparison to energy system work, which is why you’ll find fitness coaches typically recommending at least a day off between bouts of resistance training as it pertains to the same body parts.

The rationale is that your muscles — and other cells, like an increase in the density of your bones, or changes to your nervous system which will be forming new connections or strengthening existing connections — undergo microtrauma, or damage at a cellular level, which requires a fairly extensive recovery or rebuilding process to occur.

This process requires additional calories/energy, and amino acids, which are the basic components of proteins and essentially the building blocks of the body.

Unlike low level energy system training (think aerobic energy expenditure like jogging) your body will continue to utilize high amounts of energy in order to help your body recover from your resistance training session.

So although often times you will not utilize as much energy in a resistance training session (depending on how you do it), as you might in the same amount of time doing a more aerobic activity like jogging, the body will continue to use fuel for significantly longer by comparison.

We can measure this process via Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), which is used to measure the length of this rebuilding process. The EPOC of a well planned resistance training session, can last upwards of 36 hours post-workout, while something like jogging is minimal, maybe only a few additional hours post-workout.

More intense interval styled energy system work, falls somewhere in the middle.

All in all, resistance training, getting strong, almost seemingly as a by-product of the training alone, can lead to improved body composition profiles.

It also improves blood sugar and hormone management as a big plus in the controlling your weight department after you’ve lost all the fat you want to.

i.e. an even sexier you, not that you need it!

A very recent meta-analysis (March 2015) analyzed the effectiveness of of hypocaloric (energy negative) diet alone, diet plus resistance training, diet plus cardiovascular endurance training, and diet plus resistance training with endurance training. What did they find?

“First, hypocaloric balance is necessary for changing body composition, but the effectiveness for establishing imbalance does not equate with the effectiveness for body compositional changes, or any biomarkers associated with metabolic issues. With analysis showing that there is a necessity to include exercise in combination with diet effectively elicit changes in body composition and biomarkers of metabolic issues.

More importantly, the combination, resistance training (RT) was more effective than endurance training (ET) or combination of RT and ET, particularly when progressive training volume of 2-to-3 sets for 6-to-10 reps at an intensity of ≥75% 1RM, utilizing whole body and free-weight exercises, at altering body compositional measures (ES* of 0.47, 0.30, and 0.40 for loss of BM, FM, and retention of FFM respectively) and reducing total cholesterol (ES = 0.85), triglycerides (ES = 0.86) and low-density lipoproteins (ES = 0.60). Additionally RT was more effective at reducing fasting insulin levels (ES = 3.5) than ET or ET and RT.”

*For those that might not know ES = Effect Size

Basically resistance training in combination with dietary changes was by far the best option for weight loss.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, was the a negative energy diet alone was not particularly effective in creating body composition changes or changing biomarkers of metabolic issues (like insulin sensitivity).

Just goes to show you that diet might not actually be 80% of the equation as is so cliche in today’s diet/exercise culture…

Performance Improvement

This doesn’t even begin to describe the research supporting improvement in performance environments where we know that strength training improves nervous system efficiency and thus improves performance, even in endurance-oriented sports like running or cycling.

This is perhaps our longest held understanding of strength training and why it’s been a staple of sports performance improvement since the 50’s.

Of course, this bodes well for the sport of life too.

Need to help your buddy move a couch and you know how to deadlift 315 lbs with good technique?

Then moving that couch will be a piece of cake, and your body won’t hurt quite as much after the few beers you get as payment.

There has undeniably been a huge focus on aerobic and energy system training as they pertain to health (and don’t get me wrong, looking after your ticker and cardiorespiratory system is important still) but what many weekend endurance athletes tend to forget is that aerobically based sports are more physically demanding on the body than you might realize.

An activity like jumping can place strain of up to 9x your own body weight on the joints, while sprinting can be 6x your body weight, and light running (jogging) can be 2-3x your bodyweight.

Think of that amount of strain for hundreds of repetitions, not just the few hundred or so in any strength training session.

Of course this tends to be made worse in sports that are highly repetitive and don’t get enough amplitude, or difference in movement.

At least with power sports like soccer, hockey and even baseball you’re in a proprioceptively rich environment, and as such your body avoids more of the overuse patterns that come from running straight ahead for 10k a few times a week.

Think at how well professional baseball manages pitchers these days, 5 days rest, 100 pitch max count typically, they’ve got great data on what the repetitive action of pitching can do to the human shoulder.

Well we know what happens to distance runners, rowers, cyclists and swimmers too, they develop overuse injuries in the same way.

Strength training can serve to protect people from these kinds of overuse injuries in repetitive endurance sports by providing more proprioceptive rich training and providing some balance to otherwise unbalanced repetitive systems of movement.

Neuromuscular training is often far less strenuous on the actual joints, and there is not as much room for technical errors due to fatigue, which more adequately prepares the body for high repetition, low weight activities in particular.

It also seems to be far more forgiving to our fascial tissues, which may contribute to improved performance but also reduced pain in the long run. By comparison, most energy system activities, do not translate as well to the development of a necessary strength base.

You get far more of a waterfall effect with strength training than any other type of training we know of as of yet.

Just saying…

So I guess the bigger question should really be, “why shouldn’t you strength train?”

Summary

Strength training just might be one of the ‘healthiest‘ most productive forms of exercise anybody could participate in so if you’re looking for a Cole’s Notes Version of above; Here’s a list of the reasons you should highly consider adding strength training to any fitness routine:

  1. It tunes the nervous system to function more optimally
  2. It has a very low injury potential relative to chaotic and unpredictable sports
  3. It reduces injury potential (particularly as we age – think fractures and the risk of falling)
  4. It is naturally very low volume relative to endurance sports (which tend to yield a lot of overuse injuries because of a lot of repetition)
  5. It has a big bang for the buck – less time invested with better results for your ‘health’
  6. It has more waterfall effect carry-over to other ‘sports’ and ‘activities of daily living’ than do other physical activities (including aerobic, cardiopulmonary and cardiorespiratory benefits) you could do…
  7. Strength and Power production have some of the highest correlation to quality of life as we age (they are also among the best longevity predictors)
  8. It improves metabolic pathways (like insulin sensitivity, glucose/blood sugar control, etc… and in fact I’d argue this is it’s main use case for weight/fat loss)
  9. It maintains proper mobility/flexibility when done through full ranges of motion in a variety of planes
  10. It improves aerobic and anaerobic energy system development (output)
  11. It increases coordination (concretes good movement patterns)
  12. It improves and maintains good posture (both static and dynamic)
  13. It combats sedentary life from a variety of angles (heart, lungs, flexibility, posture, etc…etc…)
  14. If you work at a desk or in another job with a very low amplitude (variety of positioning throughout the day) it serves to give your tissues more adequate amplitude throughout the week
  15. It improves brain function (through increased oxygenation and glucose uptake)
  16. It maintains (and increases if you like…) muscle mass
  17. It increase force production and consequently performance in everyday life
  18. It’s one of the most complete methods of training for nearly any objective
  19. It’s tears can cure cancer…(and that last one is totally a joke…in case you didn’t get it…)