Strength training is a fundamental aspect of physical fitness that often gets overlooked. It is a crucial component of a well-rounded fitness program that offers numerous benefits, including building muscle, improving bone density, improving metabolism and boosting mood/ improving mental health.
Strength training, or resistance training, involves performing exercises that challenge your muscles to exert force against an external resistance. The resistance can come from various sources including dumbbells, barbells, weight machines or resistance bands. The goal is to progressively increase the resistance over time to stimulate muscle growth and improve strength. For increased functionality, we ideally want to be working through our full available range of motion. Sometimes injury will prevent this initially, but this is the ultimate goal.
Some of the key benefits of strength training include:
- Increased muscle mass: when we strength train, we create micro tears in our muscle fibres. This stimulates the muscle to repair and grow, resulting in bigger and stronger muscles
- Improved bone density: strength training is vital for maintaining and improving bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures, which is critical especially as we age. Starting younger helps us get ahead of the natural weakening of our bone that occurs with age, and continuing through our later years helps us fight this decline to remain strong and healthy.
- Improved metabolism: muscle tissue requires more energy than fat tissue. By increasing muscle mass through strength training, you can raise your resting metabolic rate which helps with weight management.
- Better mood: exercise, including strength training, releases endorphins which can improve mood and help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
Things to consider in a strength training program:
- Proper form: the most important thing with strength training is ensuring that you are completing exercises with proper technique to avoid injury and get the most benefit out of your exercises.
- Exercise selection: you want to include a variety of exercises to ensure you are working through different planes of movement and targeting different muscle groups. Variety will also keep your training interesting.
- Progressive overload: to continue seeing progress, you gradually want to increase your overall load. This can be done by increasing weights, increasing reps or sets or increasing time under tension. A simple way to progressively overload in by choosing a set of weights to complete your exercise. Once you can comfortably complete 10-12 reps at this weight it is time to increase your weights (these rep ranges may change based on your goals) until this new weight becomes easier.
- Frequency: consistency is important with any training program, but you also want to give your muscles time to rest between sessions. Depending on your other exercise modalities, 2-3 sessions per week can be a good place to start.
- Recovery: as discussed above, rest days and recovery time is important. You also want to ensure that your keep up good nutrition, good hydration levels, and that you are getting an adequate amount of sleep to optimise recovery.
In summary, strength training is an incredible addition to a healthy lifestyle. There are numerous benefits, both physical and mental. It can be scary when first starting out, but seeking advice from a trained health professional can give you the confidence you need to start smashing your strength goals!
~ Lucy Hayes, Physiotherapist