Strength training, also known as resistance training, is a type of exercise that involves using weights or other forms of resistance to challenge your muscles. While many people associate strength training with bodybuilding and bulging muscles, the benefits of this type of exercise go far beyond just looking good. In fact, strength training has been shown to have numerous health benefits that can improve your overall quality of life.
Here are 7 benefits of strength training that demonstrate why lifting weights is essential:
What Is Strength Training?
Strength training is a type of exercise intended to help increase muscular strength to enable the body to perform daily tasks, prevent injury and improve overall health. Strength training is one of four types of exercise—in addition to flexibility, endurance and balance—and consists of exercises like push-ups, pull-ups and lifting weights.
“Strength training can consist of various techniques, including machine-based training, free weights, plyometrics and complex and functional training, such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and sprint interval training (SIT),” says Marc Matarazzo, M.D., a board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and related injuries at The Center for Bone and Joint Surgery of the Palm Beaches in Florida.
Benefits of Strength Training
Strength training provides a range of mental and physical health benefits. Below are some of the most noteworthy benefits of strength training, according to experts.
Increase Muscle Size and Strength
Strength training can help increase muscle size and strength, says Dr. Matarazzo. It also helps increase power—the combination of speed and strength—and can help the person training perform better in sports or other physical activities.
Research also shows strength training can lead to more significant muscle growth (hypertrophy) when combined with a proper diet and adequate rest.
Improve Cardiovascular Health
Strength training can help improve cardiovascular function by strengthening the heart and lungs, as the heart is a muscle that requires regular exercise to stay healthy and strong, says Dr. Matarazzo.
Regular strength training can help increase aerobic capacity, meaning a person can navigate more physical activity for extended periods of time without feeling fatigued. Research suggests strength training can reduce resting blood pressure, cholesterol levels and risk of cardiovascular disease as well.
Increase Bone Density
Strength training can increase bone density and decrease overall bone loss by helping to stimulate bone growth and increase the strength of existing bones, according to Dr. Matarazzo. For optimal results as it relates to bone health, research suggests strength training at least twice each week.
Bone density, which refers to the amount of minerals in the bones, is important for preventing fractures and other bone-related diseases like osteoporosis. People at higher risk of bone-related diseases, such as post-menopausal women or people who smoke tobacco products, should consider adding strength training to their exercise routine.
Stabilize and Protect Joints
Joint health is essential for maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle. Knees, hips and shoulders are all vulnerable to injury and disease, such as osteoarthritis—especially as people age. Strength training can help increase the stability and strength of the joints, which can prevent injuries and improve overall function, according to Dr. Matarazzo.
Strength training can also help improve posture and balance as the joints become stronger, adds Kellie Middleton, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Northside Hospital in Atlanta.
Reduce Body Fat
The reduction of body fat is another benefit of strength training, especially when combined with aerobic exercise and a balanced diet, says Dr. Middleton. Research suggests strength training helps the body burn calories during and after exercise, a process referred to as post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), enabling the body to burn more calories throughout the day. Research also notes exercises like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and sprint interval training (SIT) may be more effective in activating EPOC.
What’s more, strength training can help reduce body fat by increasing a person’s metabolic rate. Since muscular tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue, people with more muscle tend to have a higher metabolic rate. This increase can affect body composition as well.
Support Mental Well-being
According to 2021 research in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, strength training can help improve mental health by decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Strength training can be a powerful form of self-care, says Luke Zocchi, author and head trainer at Centr, a digital health, fitness and mindset program. The mind-body connection used in strength training can increase feelings of self-confidence, improve mood and boost brainpower, he says.
Improve Sleep Quality
Research suggests strength training can also help improve sleep quality, which is essential for physical and mental well-being and may help reduce fatigue and increase energy levels throughout the day.
Regular strength training can also help the body adjust to a regular sleeping pattern and improve stiffness and aches that can cause sleep disturbances, according to Danielle Gray, trainer and founder of Train Like A Gymnast, an online platform and community for former gymnasts, dancers and cheerleaders.
Strength training should not be performed within 90 minutes of going to bed, as intense workouts may make it harder for some to fall asleep, according to research.
How Often Should You Strength Train?
How often a person should train depends on their individual needs. Most adults can aim for two days of strength training per week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), completing a total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
“A person should strength train two to three times per week with at least one day of rest between sessions,” says Dr. Middleton, who also suggests targeting all muscle groups during the week, starting with the larger muscle groups like the back and chest.
Risks of Strength Training
While strength training is considered relatively safe and effective by experts, its risks typically lie in the area of improper form, according to Nico Gonzalez, a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and pilates trainer at Balanced Body Education in Cincinnati.
Form, or technique, refers to the position and movement of the body when performing an exercise. Poor or incorrect form can lead to injury. Additionally, it’s important to increase intensity and the amount of weight used over time for optimal results and health benefits.
“Without following some basic rules, one can harm their low back, neck, shoulder, knees or ankles,” says Gonzalez. “Individuals who have any type of physical impairments should consult with their physician before starting any resistance training.”
Gonzalez emphasizes that “quality trumps quantity” in any exercise routine, and the focus of exercise should be proper form and safety. Strength training can provide numerous health benefits when done correctly, and training with a qualified exercise professional or fitness instructor can help ensure safety and effectiveness.
Is Strength Training Safe?
Strength training is considered a safe form of exercise when done properly. However, it’s vital to understand the proper form and safety guidelines to maximize the benefits of strength training while minimizing potential risks and injuries.
Before beginning a strength training routine, consult your health care provider to ensure it’s safe for you. Start slowly and gradually increase intensity and weight over time, focusing on proper form and technique to reduce the risk of injury. With these safety tips in mind, strength training can be an effective way to improve physical and mental well-being.