Resistance training. Most of us know what it is, it’s a fancy word fitness folk use when then want to make “lifting weights” sound more glamorous than it really is (other acceptable fancy names are: strength training, body building or lifty-lifty the heavy-heavy). It’s sweaty, it’s hard, and if you’re not careful, it can cause injuries. But in spite of these oh-so-negative selling features, resistance training is one of the best things you can do for your body. Let’s take a look at the what’s and whys in an easy to digest “Ten things” list.
1. Muscle size and definition.
Let’s start with the easy one. When you lift a heavy weight, you cause micro-tears in the muscle – literally tiny tears in the muscle fibers. Your body then responds to these injuries by sending amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) to repair and fill in the tears, over time enlarging and defining the muscle (this is called hypertrophy). While tearing any part of you sounds like a bad idea, micro tears in muscle aren’t a bad thing. The growth signals that your brain sends to deal with these micro injuries have a host of other side benefits other than just repairing the muscle.
2. Improves physical function.
Remember the growth signals previously mentioned? These signals can slow down and reverse the effects of inactive aging. This isn’t just me, the fitness guy talking, it’s actually backed by research by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). We’ll talk more about this in point #8. In fact, there are numerous studies the NCBI has done regarding how strength training improves physical function that include:
3. The afterburn effect.
There’s a little phenomenon called “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” (EPOC) that occurs with most forms of exercise – including weight training (another fancy term). In a nutshell, when you exercise, your body requires energy to perform. In order to create that energy, your body burns a chemical called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). Your body replenishes it’s stores of ATP by oxidizing lactic acid (which it makes by breaking down glucose) – but it needs oxygen to do this.
When exercising hard, over a longer time period (as you do in resistance training), your body burns more ATP than it has available to the muscle being used, so it needs to create more – but it can’t do this solely while you’re working out. It creates what is known as an oxygen debt. This debt forces your body to continue to create ATP even after you’ve left the gym. The replenishing of ATP can last for as long as 10 hours and can burn an additional 150 – 200 calories according to a Runner’s World article. Some studies indicated a greater afterburn effect from lower body exercises than upper body exercises, so don’t skip leg day!
4. Boosts metabolic rate
We’re going to reference the first point here. Remember the micro-tears we talked about? Well it turns out that the process to repair them is energy intensive and can increase your resting energy expenditure significantly (5%) for up to 72 hours after a workout. Additionally, muscle requires more energy to maintain than other tissues – such as body fat. This results in yet another boost to the metabolism.
5. Increased bone density
Not only have studies shown that weight training can slow bone loss, some have also shown that it can increase bone density. According to a study by the NCBI:
“Although specific mechanisms via which exercise improves bone health are not fully elucidated yet, it is widely accepted that mechanical load induced by exercise training increases the muscle mass, produces mechanical stress in the skeleton, and enhances the osteoblast activity. However, not all exercise modalities are equally osteogenic. For exercise training to elicit an osteogenic effect, the mechanical load applied to bones should exceed that encountered during daily activities.”
Layman’s interpretation? “We’re not sure why, but adding weight (over and above what the body experiences daily) to the skeleton seems to trigger the bones to grow denser and stronger.”
They go on to state:
“Prolonged aerobic training (e.g., swimming, cycling, and walking) is widely beneficial to all body systems, but there are clinical evidences suggesting that none of these activities provide an adequate stimulus to bones.”
6. Reduces Blood Pressure
While resistance training can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure, evidence supports that over the long term, it actually causes a reduction in blood pressure. Again, our friends at NCBI have research indicating that resistance training can significantly reduce blood pressure in hypertensive (a person with high blood pressure) and normotensive (a person with normal blood pressure) older women. The study references systolic blood pressure differences before and after a 10 week resistance training program. Specifically: −7.83 ± 5.70 mmHg vs 3.78 ± 7.42 mmHg for the hypertensive women and −8.58 ± 5.52 mmHg vs 5.71 ± 3.84 mmHg for the normotensive. While the study was performed on women, other studies have been performed with both men and women in the groups indicating that this is a cross gender effect.
7. Improves Blood Lipids
First, let’s define blood lipids. A lipid is a fancy name for “fats or fatty acids” in the case of blood lipids, we’re talking about any fatty substance in the blood. This includes good and bad cholesterol and triglycerides. A high level of cholesterol can cause fat deposits on your artery walls, causing buildup and increasing your risk for heart disease or heart attack.
Studies have shown that resistance training can significantly decrease your cholesterol and body fat percentage as well as a decrease in LDL to HDL cholesterol ratio. While not a cure-all, the indications are that you can decrease your bad cholesterol levels by adding resistance training to your lifestyle.
8. May stop some of the effects of aging
As amazing as it may sound, there are studies suggesting that resistance training may stop some of the effects of aging. Aging is associated with oxidative stress brought on by mitochondrial dysfunction. While the effect of resistance training on mitochondrial function directly is unknown, measurement of muscle biopsies and urine samples in one study suggested that regular resistance exercise decreases oxidative stress to DNA, and may improve function in daily activities.
Additionally, resistance training increases cytochrome oxidase activity in older adults. If you’re like me, that meant exactly nothing, but another study (I’m falling in love with NCBI!) explains that cytochrome oxidase activity has been observed to decrease with age. So while resistance training may not specifically make you wake up younger tomorrow than you were yesterday, the implications seem to be that certain elements associated with aging can be slowed through regular weight training.
9. Increases the strength of connective tissue and tendons
Tendons connect muscle to bone, and ligaments connect bones together, and fascia (as we’ve discussed in “Is foam rolling really a great recovery tool?“) holds everything together. All are pretty important parts of a working body and all can be strengthened through resistance training. Connective tissues take longer to respond than muscles, but they are strengthened by resistance training nonetheless.
10. Improves your quality of life
Maybe this last one’s a cop-out, but based on all of the above, and the psychological benefits of exercise that we didn’t even touch on here (more on that in “The Psychology Behind Exercise – The Positive Benefits of Eating Right and Starting a Fitness Program.” if you’re interested), it’s easy to understand how strength training can improve your quality of life. Ease of movement, stronger health profile, psychological benefits, aging benefits, it’s crazy NOT to consider adding some form of resistance training to your life – the benefits are too immeasurable.
Know someone who might like this article? Please share it with them, or via your social media network, it helps the blog out, and you never know who you might be responsible for motivating to live a healthier lifestyle!