11 Things Strength Training Does for Your Body
The first thing we think about when we want to build a huge set of biceps or obtaining the elusive six-pack is to hit the gym. You are lifting so you can build bigger muscles.
But what if your main objective isn’t to be a mass monster? Did you know that strength training benefits more than just your muscles? Michael Rebold is the director of integrative exercise sciences at Hiram College in Ohio. He notes “a lot of people believe that if they don’t want to look like a bodybuilder, they shouldn’t perform resistance training.”
He goes on to say “so the only form of exercise they do is aerobic, and then they wonder why they are having trouble making any significant improvements in their health.”
In order to build muscle, you need to eat plenty of protein and maintain a calorie surplus. You have to lift heavy, lift consistently, and lift often — always pushing yourself to a new level. You need to maintain a minimum level of intensity and nutrition… and that doesn’t happen on accident.
Before you decide that lifting weights “isn’t for you,” I invite you to check out 11 benefits of strength training.
11 Benefits of Strength Training
#1 – You’ll Have Lower Abdominal Fat
Harvard researchers followed over 10,500 men over the course of 12 years. This study was published in 2014 in the research journal Obesity, and they found that strength training is more effective at preventing an increase in abdominal fat over cardiovascular exercise.
"When people incorporate strength training into their exercise routine, they not only burn calories, but increase lean muscle mass, which stimulates the metabolism," Rebold says.
Your muscle mass is a major determinate of your basal metabolic rate. Your basal metabolic rate is how many calories your body burns at rest. So, as you have more muscle, your body will burn more calories at rest.
#2 – Your Blood Sugar Levels are More Controlled
A 2013 review published in the journal BioMed Research International suggests that lifting weights not only builds strength, but also improves our body’s ability to take in and use glucose.
"In your muscle cells, you have these transporters that pick up glucose from the blood and deliver it to the muscle cells," Rebold says. "Strength training improves their functioning to pick up a lot more glucose from the blood and into muscle, thereby decreasing blood sugar levels."
Resistance training is something that anyone with Type 2 diabetes should look into due to its ability to control your blood sugar levels.
#3 – You Will Enjoy a Healthier Heart
Visceral fat — or the fat that surrounds your organs — build up over time. This visceral fat is also around your heart. This is why it is important to reduce or prevent more excess abdominal fat.
Fortunately, strength training helps with that.
Although, studies suggest that strength training also directly impact the heart, too. A study published in 2013 in the Journal of Applied Physiology demonstrates that young men who regularly strength train have a better-functioning HDL cholesterol, when compared to those who do not lift.
Strength training positively affects your HDL, or good cholesterol, and improves blood pressure and triglyceride levels similar to cardiovascular exercise.
A 2015 study published in The Lancet medical journal suggests that grip strength — a marker for total-body muscle health — more accurately predicts death from heart disease than blood pressure does.
#4 – There is a Reduced Cancer Risk
Visceral fat, or the fat that surrounds your organs, increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
But did you know it also promotes cancer development? Research from the journal Oncogene published in 2017 suggests that visceral fat cells produce high levels of a cancer-triggering protein called fibroblast growth factor-2, or FGF2.
A study published in 207 in Therapeutic Advances in Medical Oncology suggests that muscle mass is a strong predictor of cancer treatment outcomes. Muscle wasting is a common complication of cancer treatment and is also associated with a higher risk of chemotherapy toxicity, faster tumor progression, and lower survival rates.
#5 –Stronger Mental Health
Have you ever heard of the “runner’s high?” Runners who push themselves to a certain level of intensity experience a high after they are running. Your body produces “feel good” hormones and you can feel them.
Strength training also improves symptoms of clinical depression and anxiety. These exercise-triggered endorphins play a role, but strength training allows you to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles in a controlled environment.
Consistently going to the gym and lifting builds a mental resiliency and carries over into other parts of your life.
A study published in 2014 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology suggests that using low to moderate weights that are lighter than 70 percent of what you can lift for one rep has the greatest effects on anxiety.
You don’t have to kill yourself lifting, but fighting through the challenges can provide marked improvements in your mental health.
#6 – Lower Injury Risks
Having a solid muscle base is important for all movement, balance, coordination, and injury prevention. “If your muscle is too weak, it puts more stress on its connecting tendon and can result in tendonitis,” according to Dr. Adam Rivadeneyra, a sports medicine physician with Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, California.
Strength training also increases the number of and the diameter of collagen fibrils in your tendons. This increases their strength and helps to prevent injury, according to a study published in 2015 in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, which is a publication of the International Federation of Sports Physical Therapy.
#7 – You’ll be More Flexible
When you think of flexibility, you think of Yoga and sitting in a stretch position, right? Results from a 2017 study in the journal Isokinetics and Exercise Science suggests that strength training improves the flexibility of men and women.
An older study published in 2006 in the North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that eccentric strength exercises may provide the biggest benefit — improving hamstring flexibility twice as effective as static stretching.
The eccentric part of your exercise is the part that emphasizes the muscle lengthening rather than shortening. For example, the lowering phase of a squat and the lowering phase of the bench press.
Mobility is extremely important. Taking your joints through their full range of motion during strength exercises can increase the range of motion over time.
#8 – You’ll Have Higher Self-Esteem
We all know that exercise and lifting weights changes you physically, but what about mentally?
A study published in 2015 in the Journal of Extension took middle-aged and older women and proved that consistent strength training improves body image and perceived physical appearance — no matter your actual aesthetic results. Along with a boost in your mental health and energy levels, you will feel a sense of accomplishment.
These are all factors that can improve your overall body image.
#9 – You Fight Osteoporosis
A strong body has strong bones. Lifting weights significantly increase bone mineral density.
Any weight-bearing exercise in which you are standing and gravity pulls down on you stresses and strengthens your bones and muscles.
Every time we contract a muscle, it pulls on the bone that it is attached to. This stimulates the cells within the bone to produce structural proteins and helps shuttle minerals into the bone.
For the greatest results, prioritize exercises where you stand and bear weight like a squat or lunge. A study published in 2014 in the Journal of Family and Community Medicine suggests just 12 weeks of lifting weights with squats can increase your lower spine and femur bone mineral density by 2.9 to 4.9 percent, respectively.
And that’s after only 12 weeks.
#10 – You’ll Live Longer
Even if you are going through hell right now, you want to live longer. One of the best things about lifting weights is that it can help promote a longer life.
A study published in 2015 in The Lancet found that grip strength accurately predicts death from any cause. Another study published in 2017 in the Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care suggests that your body mass index, or how much lean muscle mass you have, is a better measure of a person’s overall health.
#11 – You’ll Have Boosted Brain Health
Lifting weights can help improve your brain power throughout your life. The effects, though, are much stronger in older adults that are suffering from cognitive decline.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics found that men and women between the ages of 55 and 86 with a mild impairment performed resistance training twice per week. After six months, they significantly improved their scores on cognitive tests. On the other hand, when participants stuck to stretching and not lifting, their cognitive test scores declined.
Many professionals believe the key is to get the blood flowing. As you lift weights, your blood pumps and shuttles oxygen, blood, and other nutrients to the brain.
In this study, the adults lifted at around 80 percent of their one rep max. This roughly equated to the amount of weight the participant can lift for eight times without losing good form.
Wrapping It Up
It doesn’t matter if you are an 80-year-old woman or a 25-year-old man, lifting weights can and will improve more than just your muscles.
Increase your bone density, improve your mobility and flexibility, reduce your risk of heart disease, and improve your longevity with lifting weights. You don’t have to have a goal to be a powerlifter to reap the benefits from lifting weights.
Learn how to properly lift, get into the gym, and start enjoying a life filled with a healthier body, mind, and spirit.