Everyone has unique goals that motivate their fitness habits. However, whether your goal is to lose weight, run faster, improve your health, feel better, or simply look better, everyone should add some sort of strength training to their fitness regiment. I know it can seem intimidating at first, but you don’t need any equipment to get started and we have plenty of tools to teach you how to get a fast and effective strength training workout (even in your own home).
Let’s start with the goal of improving your physique. It’s the most common starting point for a lot of people and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be the best looking version of you that you can be. Lots of people start with cardio or diet to improve their looks, and while it will help you get rid of extra fat, it’s not going to reshape your body. I always tell my strength-training-averse clients that if you don’t mix resistance training into your fitness plan, you’ll look exactly the same as you do now, only smaller. Stronger muscles are what put all the right curves in all the right places (for both women and men). We naturally respond to muscles. We see muscles on others as a sign of strength, health, and vitality. I’m not talking about crazy body builder muscles, I mean the increased muscle mass our bodies were designed to hold with a little bit of effort. Everyone has a different potential for muscle growth, but anyone can grow enough to shape their own bodies into their best possible versions.
Raise your metabolism
One of the big reasons why we gain fat as we age is because we tend to lose muscle. Muscle is the engine that makes our body move and more muscles mean more fuel is needed each day. In contrast, as you lose muscle, your daily required calories drop and the excess energy you eat is simply stored as fat. You can reverse this trend with a little extra muscle.
Improve balance and coordination
People tend to improve their strength quickly in the early phases of a new resistance program. It’s not because they suddenly grow a bunch of new muscle fibers (that takes time), but rather it’s because their bodies quickly adapt to use their muscles more effectively. Not only does your body become better at coordinating different muscle groups to work together, but it gets better at recruiting more muscles fibers within each muscle. Like I’ve said before, our bodies are lazy (efficient). They like to use as little energy as possible to make sure we don’t starve to death in our “food-scarce environment.” One of the ways it does this is by contracting just a small portion of the fibers in each muscle. This keeps the energy burn low and also leaves some fibers waiting as back up in case the active ones get too tired. The problem is our lazy bodies eventually forget how to use them all together to really move some weight (like our own bodies). This retraining of muscle fibers improves your strength, coordination, and balance. Your body learns to work together better as a cohesive whole. It can improve your performance in nearly any sport and for the aging population, it can decrease your risk of falls by as much as 40 percent.
Makes life easier
All that improved strength, coordination, and balance makes the little activities of daily life (getting in and out of chairs, walking up and down stairs, picking things up off the floor, playing with your kids, and on and on) so much easier. As I said above, our bodies are lazy and encourage us to move as little as possible. Unfortunately, just as the muscles immobilized in a cast will atrophy and shrink when you break a bone, inactivity will cause you to get weaker. As we get weaker, simple things become harder to do. In response, our bodies encourage us to do less and less of those simple tasks which then makes us even weaker. It’s a vicious cycle that a lot of people fall into without ever realizing it. Inactivity is a killer and weak muscles will make you far more likely to sit more and move less. Your subconscious can be a powerful de-motivator, but strong muscles silence that nagging little voice in your head that tells you to sit down and not get back up.
Strengthen your bones
Inactivity not only weakens our muscles, but our bones as well. Conversely, exercise strengthens both muscle and bone. There is plenty of evidence to show that higher impact activities like running and jumping strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis, but low-impact strength training can also help. a recent study discovered that muscle contractions during strength training released a signaling molecule called irisin. This myokine stimulates the nearby bones to strengthen in order to support the increased muscle mass. We’ve long known that resistance training strengthens bone, but we never knew why. Ultimately it makes sense for your body to strength both in response to exercise or we would all be snapping our own bones every time we hit the gym.
Reduce your pain
Your muscles support and protect your joints. As we get weaker, more and more force is applied to the joints during simple movements causing pain (and possibly injury). Strengthening your joints’ support structure removes a great deal of joint strain and slowly helps those constant aches and pains fade away. Resistance training also improves your pain tolerance which means even before those pains fade away, they will be less bothersome.
Improve your blood pressure
Your blood vessels are actually composed of a type of muscle called smooth muscle. Unlike skeletal muscle, you do not have any voluntary control over it, but it is still designed to contract and relax to aid in certain bodily functions, like controlling blood pressure. People get chronic high blood pressure when the smooth muscle in their blood vessels loses it’s ability to contract or relax. They ultimately become stiff and increased blood flow from the heart causes unsafe amounts of pressure.
Ironically, exercise helps fix this problem by temporarily causing high blood pressure. The pressure during exercise can be 10 to 15 times higher than it is when your muscles are resting. Dealing with this increased blood flow keeps the blood vessels elastic and healthy as they expand to allow more blood through to working muscles, and contract to direct blood away from unessential systems like your digestive tract. Adding resistance training to your fitness regiment can reduce your resting blood pressure and keep your blood vessels healthy.
Improve blood sugar control
Sugar is an important fuel source for our cells, but having it linger in your blood vessels too long causes problems. A small percentage of the sugar floating around in your bloodstream bonds to your blood cells and gets stuck there until the cell dies and is replaced 3 months later. If the amount of sugar floating in your blood is too high for too long on too many occasions, you can eventually build up a rough sandpaper like shell on top of your blood vessels. This sandpaper then courses through your body, shredding blood vessels and capillaries as it goes. This is what diabetes is, but even healthy-looking people can become pre-diabetic as they thicken the candy shell on their blood cells with too much sugar.
Insulin is the primary hormone that pulls sugar out of the bloodstream, but too much sugar in your system can cause you to become insulin resistant. Your cells basically ignore the signals from insulin and just leave all the excess sugar floating around in your system. Resistance training, however, improves your insulin sensitivity by removing sugar from the blood through another mechanism. Without getting too technical, insulin causes your muscle cells to grab sugar from the bloodstream and pull it into the cell. Resistance training triggers this same response from active muscle cells without the need for insulin. So not only are you pulling more sugar out of your system, but the absence of insulin means your cells will be more receptive to its signal in the future and any sugar you do consume right after strength training won’t put you into fat-storage mode. That’s why I frequently recommended carbs after your workouts (even for those trying to lose weight) during our Fueling Workouts series.
Heal your liver
Diabetes is one of the dangers of too much sugar. Another common ailment is fatty liver disease. While most sugars trigger an insulin release, fructose in the ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup does not. It is processed instead in the liver into glycogen if needed or fat if the glycogen levels in your muscles are topped off (which they typically are in almost everyone). A lot of this manufactured fat stays in the liver causing damage and eventually leading to cirrhosis and liver failure. Fatty liver disease has actually replaced alcoholism as the leading cause of liver damage and liver transplants. A recent study found that resistance training 3 days a week reduced the amount of fat stored in the liver even when the participants’ overall body weight did not decrease. They found that cholesterol levels were reduced by resistance training as well. Even when you can’t see the difference yet on the outside, resistance training reverses a great deal of damage inside your body that can help to significantly extend your life.
A simple starting point
If you’re wary to get into strength training, start small with any of our Easy Series of apps. They’re quick, effective, and can be done with a limited amount of equipment (or none at all). For best results, rest the muscles you worked at least a day before exercising them again. Resistance training actually causes microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. Your body then heals these tears and builds more muscle fiber as an adaptation to prevent this from happening in the future. The takeaway here is that you have to heal. If you work the same muscles over and over each day, then all you’re doing is breaking them down without giving you body a chance to build them back up. You don’t need to rest completely the next day, but you should do something else. So if you worked your lower body one day, try working your upper body the next day. If you do your whole body one day, do cardio the next day instead. Give it a try and remember, we’re here to answer any questions you may have. Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or post your questions here in the comment section.