When “strength training” comes up in conversation, oftentimes people conjure up images of freakish looking men and women wearing almost no clothes with biceps the size of most people’s thighs, massive gorilla-like chests with a Barbie-sized waist, veins the size of garden hoses and the consumption of massive amounts of protein powder. Oh yeah, a spray on fake tan and oil that makes them shine and glow and look somewhat sub-human might also pop into mind.
While it is true there are bodybuilders who are trying to build massive muscles (and I have nothing against that!), strength training is something everyone should do for optimal health and well-being. Unless you have freakish genetics, you will not become some massively muscle-bound man or woman!
If you are new to strength training and not sure where to start, be careful where you seek out information on beginning a training program. The internet, social media and other forums are FULL of programs which will likely leave you somewhat confused about how to start. More often than not, these programs will include way too much volume (sets and reps), train you too many days of the week, take up too much time and require too much fancy equipment.
If you are an average man or woman and not sure where to begin, simple bodyweight training is a great place to start prior to progressing into any program using weights and/or machines. I’m not against using weights or machines when starting a program, but I’m just saying it’s not absolutely necessary. If you really want to get strong and learn how to functionally use your body, start with bodyweight training! Not only will it get your functionally strong and fit, it is also possible to build some muscle as well. Click here for a link to the Primal Essential Movements—this is a great place to get started.
The purpose of this post isn’t to decipher the various workout plans, but rather to explain the benefits of strength training, regardless of what type you choose. That being said, here are a few general suggestions about strength training:
- 2-3 strength training sessions a week is plenty to achieve huge benefits
- Whole body training sessions will give you the best bang for your buck
- High volume of sets is not necessary for great results and will put you at risk for injury. 5-10 sets per WEEK per body part should be plenty for strength and for building muscle.
- Lots of reps are not necessary either. The more reps, the more stress on your joints. 6-12 reps per set is plenty.
- Workouts, from warm-ups to finish, should be completed EASILY in under 45 minutes. It’s even possible to get a great workout in as little as 10 minutes!
- Technique is everything! You should have control over the movement at all times and not push to failure. Using poor form and pushing to failure will set you up for injury. It’s just not worth it!
- Remember, the benefits of strength training occur during the RECOVERY, not during the actual exercise! The movements simply stimulate the muscle. Proper recovery, which includes nutrition, sleep, rest and stress management (to name a few) is of paramount importance to maximize gains and to refresh the body for the next session. “More is better” is usually not true for most people.
What are some of the benefits to strength training?
- Aesthetic: it helps you tone your muscles and improves your physique. Nothing gets your physique in better condition than strength training. That’s right, cardio ain’t got NOTHIN’ compared to strength training. If you strength train plus eat the right nutrition, your body will TRANSFORM!!
- Functional: doing things with your body is so much easier when you are lean and strong. From carrying your kids, carrying groceries, mowing the grass, doing landscaping, climbing a fence, etc. It’s all much easier if you have a strong body
- Improves blood sugar regulation and can help prevent chronic disease: the more muscle you have and the more you move your muscles the more glucose (sugar, carbs) your muscle will uptake, keeping it out of circulation. This will help keep insulin levels lower over the long-run (which is a good thing as high blood sugar and high insulin is linked with lots of health problems). This means that strength training can help prevent diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other chronic diseases.
- Improves your mood. If you’ve never done strength training then you will understand what I’m saying after you try it for the first time! Strength training improves mood and lowers depression by releasing endorphins (“feel good” chemicals produced in the brain)
- Protects bone. The more muscle you have and the stronger you are the more your bones and joints will be protected.
- Protects you when you fall. Imagine if everyone did regular strength training while they aged. As we age, after the age of 30-40 or so, we experience progressive sarcopenia, which is muscle loss. We can minimize this through proper nutrition and exercise. What is a common problem for elderly people causing a multitude of issues from bruises, broken bones (think broken hips), brain bleeds and even death? FALLS! Why not enter your golden years with the strongest body possible to:
- Catch yourself and protect yourself better when/if you fall. If you are strong and have muscle you might be able to minimize the bad effects of a fall. This will keep you out of the hospital and out of the nursing home and help you stay independent!
- Not fall in the first place! If you are strong and functionally fit you will have better balance and strength so if you trip on a rug, you might have the balance and coordination and strength to catch yourself and stay upright!
I hope you found this helpful and I hope I have convinced you to consider starting a strength training program. Start out “low and slow” and build up from there. Keep it simple and don’t get overwhelmed. It is also acceptable to try and find a reputable trainer who knows how to work with beginners.
Thanks for reading!
In good health,