Resistance training is often heavily linked to either physical performance in sports and aesthetics, it is often regarded as an activity not for the general public. This could not be further from the truth. In this article I will walk you through the plethora of reasons why you should do resistance training.
At Programme, we strive to improve the health of our clients, helping them lead healthier lives while feeling empowered by their movement practice. For us resistance training is far more than just strength and hypertrophy, it’s about all the other benefits these adaptations bring with them to improve overall health.
Before we look into these benefits, we first need to define what resistance training is and differentiate it from other activities.
Resistance training is not cardiovascular training, it is not HIIT and it certainly isn’t yoga or pilates. Resistance training is the act of moving your body against a load (bodyweight, free weight, resistance band etc). This act creates the physiological adaptations that are specific to resistance training, strength and hypertrophy. These adaptations can only be sustainable made through resistance training alone. None of this is to take away from the importance of cardiovascular training, yoga, pilates etc, it is just to outline that these behaviours do not create the same adaptations, they simply cannot be pitted against each other.
So what is strength and what is hypertrophy? Strength is the amount of force a muscle can exert against a load. Hypertrophy is muscle gain, the act of increasing the size of the muscle groups you are training. If you have done resistance training consistently you will be able to see these adaptation take place, you’ll be able to lift more weight and your muscle will grow.
This is great, and can be a very fun experience, but unless you want to be a powerlifter (testing your max strength) or a bodybuilder (building as much muscle mass as possible while remaining extremely lean) then these adaptations can seem a little unnecessary and un-motivating to many general health practitioners. Let’s walk through why these adaptations are important for all of us.
Resting metabolism is the amount of calories you use while at rest, therefore an increase in muscle mass will result in a higher resting metabolism. Resistance training through gaining muscle can increase resting metabolism but also the acute act of physical training and recovery from training has been shown to increase resting metabolism up to 9% in untrained subject. This all means that you will use more calories throughout the day while at rest, helping you prevent weight gain.
Muscle loss can occur for numerous reasons, it occurs through sarcopenia when we age, which literally means age related muscle mass. As we pass 50 years old muscle loss declines 5-10% each decade. This is why so many elderly people hard frail. This loss of muscle mass can dramatically increase the risk of falls and general morbidity. Another form of muscle loss can occur after a sever injury or illness, this can leave someone of any age frail and injury prone. Resistance training in both instances can be very effective at reversing this muscle loss. Through performing 2-3 sessions of resistance training per week will result in lean weight gain.
Having increased body fat increases the chances of development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease through elevated plasma cholesterol, plasma glucose and resting blood pressure. Resistance training and weight gain through resistance training has been shown also to result in reduction of fat tissue. Fat loss is a multidimensional topic that is heavily reliant on nutrition, but it is sure that resistance training should be part of any long term, sustainable weight loss plan.
Ageing is often a time when our physical activity slowly begins to decline over time, which can make day to day tasks much more challenging. This decline can be helped by doing consistent resistant training, not only increasing your activity through the actual process of the training session, but increasing the likelihood of attempting other physical activities. Although this is true of elderly individuals especially, resistance training can be part of building a health active lifestyle, making doing sports and going hiking far more approachable when you’re in great physical condition through resistance training.
Age associated declines in insulin sensitivity (which increases the chances of getting type 2 diabetes) have been shown to be prevented by resistance training interventions. This is likely because of the effectiveness of resistance training on reducing abdominal fat, but also due to its high levels of energy utilisation to perform the sessions, especially when they are higher volume, higher intensity sessions.
It is not known for its cardiovascular benefits, but resistance training can be very effective at improving some aspects of the cardiovascular system, notably resting blood pressure. Studies have shown that consistent resistance training performed over an extended period of time (2+ months) can reduce blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic.
Adults who do not perform resistance training have been shown to have a reduction of 1-3% of bone mineral density every year of life. Resistance training can help prevent loss of bone mineral density, but also help increase it. The loading of the bones through lifting weights is therefore extremely beneficial for our health.
Chronic pain such as lower back pain and fibromyalgia have been shown to be both prevented by and improved through regular resistance training. These problems are becoming more and more prevalent in our inactive society, making systems to counteract them extremely important, another excellent reason to build a resistance training practice.
Rates of depression and anxiety are becoming a growing issues in our modern societies. Obviously these mental health issues have very complicated symptoms and treatments and to think that resistance training is going to be the silver bullet that solves them would be extremely reductionist. That being said when it comes to combatting anxiety and depression we need all the tools possible at our disposal, and resistance training has been shown to be one of them.
Doing hard, challenging things that require consistency and sustained effort is an excellent way to prove to ourselves we are an efficacious person. We are capable of creating a plan and executing it. Changing our self concept is a very challenging thing to do, yet resistance training has been shown to improve self esteem throughout a large number of populations.
Mood is often not discusses as a benefit of exercise, obviously this is a very short term impact as mood is impacted by a large number of factors, but consistent mood boosts through resistance training can have a huge impact on the feeling tone of your day. Performing resistance training multiple times a week can therefore have a huge impact on your mood throughout your week. This can be very motivating, especially for the younger generation of people performing resistance training as it can be hard to perform activities that have a benefit on such a long time scale. Mood is a benefit right now, right after the session you can feel an impact.
Sometimes the best reason to do anything is the pure joy of doing the activity. Some of the activities you love doing will have health benefits, some wont. If you can learn to love resistance training, the endeavour and effort the process of getting strong requires you can easily put yourself in a place of great health going forward but you can also find flow through the process.
I hope this has motivated you to start lifting weights, there really is no activity that can replicate these health benefits. Building a movement practice that includes resistance training and cardiovascular training is one of the best things you can do today to build towards a healthier version of yourself.
If you enjoyed this resource you can find more below or try Programme, a fitness app that plans every workout for you – based on your progress, equipment and lifestyle.
This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.