Why You Should Start Strength Training As Soon As Possible

Have you been avoiding lifting weights?

For many people, strength training (or resistance training, weight training, lifting weights--all words which can be used interchangeably) can be very intimidating or unappealing.

You may not know how to lift, so you choose to skip it. Or you may think that cardio is the best way to burn calories and lose weight, so you choose to focus on that instead. Or you may think that you need to have a ton of equipment or a gym membership to actually be able to do any strength training. Or maybe you think that you have to already be in shape before you can even think about lifting weights.

If that’s you, then you’re missing out! Strength training has huge benefits that far outweigh (pun intended…) the perceived barriers to doing it.

Weight training will help you lose belly fat, combat stress, reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer--and on top of all that will make you smarter and happier.

In this article, I’ll outline some of the amazing benefits of strength training for both your body and brain, and then I’ll debunk some common myths surrounding resistance training. My goal is for you to be more confident than ever to embrace weight training and to start reaping tangible results.

The Incredible Benefits of Strength Training

1. Strength Training Burns More Fat than Cardio

You’ve probably been told that doing lots of cardio is the best way to lose fat, but it turns out that weight training can be even more effective.

In one study, researchers at Penn State University put overweight study participants on a reduced-calorie diet then divided them into 3 groups: 1 group didn’t exercise at all, 1 group did cardio exercise 3 times a week, and 1 group did combined cardio and weight training 3 times a week. You may be surprised that all three groups lost about the same amount of weight overall, around 21 lbs (indicating that what we eat has more to do with weight loss than exercise alone, but I digress).

However, the interesting thing is that the non-exercise and cardio groups both lost only about 15 lbs of fat with the remaining 6 lbs coming from muscle loss, whereas the weight lifting group lost almost all 21 lbs of pure fat. That’s 40% more fat loss!

These results are consistent with other research done on lifting weights as well, which shows that on average the weight loss of dieters who don’t do any strength training is about 75% from fat and about 25% from muscle loss. So while the scale will show the same number, your body composition will vary dramatically when you’re resistance training as opposed to just dieting or just doing cardio alone.

What this means practically speaking is that by strength training you will not only weigh less, but your muscles will also appear more defined and it will be easier to keep the weight that you’ve lost off over time since your muscle mass will be greater.

2. Strength Training Burns Calories Even When You’re Not Exercising

Yes, you can be burning more calories while you’re sitting on your couch, sleeping, or doing just about anything else when you’ve invested a little time in strength training!

This is because of what’s happening in your body when you lift weights (or doing any kind of resistance training--bodyweight included). When you force your muscles to exert effort by strength training, you cause tiny tears in your muscle fibers. Your body will then undergo a process called muscle protein synthesis that uses amino acids to repair and reinforce the muscle fibers. This not only makes you stronger and more resistant to fatigue over time, but this repair work takes energy. And, energy expenditure = calories burned.

This afterburn can last for quite some time after you’ve finished your workout session too. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that when study participants did a total body workout that consisted of only 3 big muscle exercises, that their metabolisms were elevated for 39 hours afterward.

3. Strength Training Makes Your Bones Stronger

We all lose bone mass as we age, which is why suffering a fracture in your hips and vertebrae is such a risk as we get older. This kind of injury can be devastating. In fact, according to one UK study, 50% of older women who break a hip during a fall never walk again.

Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to strengthen your bones and make fractures less likely. While we tend to think of resistance training as something that only benefits our muscles, A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that 16 weeks of strength training increased hip bone density and raised blood levels of osteocalcin (a marker of bone growth) by 19%.

4. Strength Training Reduces the Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

In one study at the University of Michigan, people who did 3 total-body weight training workouts each week for 2 months decreased their diastolic blood pressure by an average of 8 points. That may not sound like much, but that’s enough to reduce the risk of stroke by 40% and the risk of heart attack by 15%.

5. Strength Training Helps Prevent Diabetes

Lifting not only fights fat (which in itself puts you at an increased risk of developing diabetes) but also will improve your sensitivity to the hormone insulin. Insulin is responsible for keeping your blood sugar under control, which in turn lessens the chance that you’ll develop type 2 diabetes.

The great news is that strength training will also help you if you already have type 2 diabetes. Austrian scientists found that study participants who already had type 2 diabetes and began lifting weights were able to significantly lower their blood sugar levels over the course of their 4-month study.

6. Strength Training Reduces the Risk of Cancer

One way that resistance training helps your body is by lowering oxidative cell damage. When cells are damaged, it can lead to cancer. A study out of the University of Florida showed that people who did 3 strength-training workouts a week for 6 months had way less oxidative cell damage than a control group that didn’t do any strength training.

While it may not be a guarantee that you’ll never get cancer, it doesn’t hurt to give your body all the advantages it can get when it comes to preventing the cell damage that may lead to cancer.

7. Strength Training is a Great Way to Manage Stress

This is true for a few reasons. One is that when you’re lifting weight or doing any kind of resistance training, you really need to focus intently on what you’re doing with your body to prevent injury and to do the moves correctly. You’ll also likely be pairing your breathing with your movements. Typically, you exhale during the hardest part of the move (one tip is to always focus on the exhale--then the inhale will happen automatically).

This focus on the body and breathing allows weight training to be extremely meditative, even if it doesn’t always look like that from the outside. When your brain is forced to pay such close attention to what your body is doing, it literally can’t be stressing out about anything else at the same time, which allows your workout time to be a great break from the other stressors you might be facing.

Another way that strength training helps manage stress is by lowering levels of stress hormones like cortisol in your body. A Texas A&M study found that people who had more muscle mass had lower levels of stress hormones than participants who weren’t as physically fit.

Finally, according to a Medical College of Georgia study, regular strength training will allow your blood pressure to return to normal faster after you experience a stressful situation. Stress is inevitable, but your body will be equipped to handle it better and return to normal faster when you have more muscle mass.

8. Strength Training Makes You Happier

All exercise is good for boosting your mood, but a University of Alabama at Birmingham study found that performing 3 weight workouts a week for 6 months significantly improved participants' scores on measures of anger and overall mood. The practical benefit here is that you’re much less likely to lash out at your spouse and kids when you’re working out regularly!

But the benefits of strength training on your happiness aren’t just limited to helping a run-of-mill bad mood either--a University of Sydney study found that regularly lifting weights significantly reduces symptoms of even major depression. The researchers in this study reported that 60% of the participants who had clinically diagnosed depression had a marked improvement in their symptoms. This outcome is similar to the effects of taking antidepressants!

Fortunately, these results aren’t just limited to one study. A meta-analysis of 33 clinical trials (over 1,800 subjects) published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2018 found that people who performed resistance training showed a significant reduction in symptoms of depression.

9. Strength Training Will Help You Sleep Better

Not only will strength training help you to fall asleep faster and sleep longer, but the overall quality of your sleep will improve as well. You don’t have to take my word for it though--this is what a team of Australian researchers found when people performed 3 total-body weight workouts each week for 8 weeks. Specifically, study participants had a 23% improvement in sleep quality.

10. Strength Training Will Make You More Productive

The reasons for this are multifaceted, including an increased ability to focus after exercise, which undoubtedly leads to greater productivity. Whatever the mechanisms for how strength training increases productivity, it’s clear from the research that it does. One UK study found that workers were 15% more productive on days that they exercised.

This may not seem like much, but consider what this would actually equate to in the hours that you work. In theory, at least, you could accomplish in 6 hours and 48 minutes what would normally take you 8 hours to do. Considering that you can reap these benefits from something as quick as a 15 minute or less workout, then strength training is a remarkably efficient use of your time!

11. Strength Training Reduces the Risks of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

One way that strength training does this is by reducing the blood levels of homocysteine, which is a protein that's linked to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Another way is by protecting at-risk regions of the brain. Lifting weights for 6 months has been found to help protect areas of the brain that are vulnerable to Alzheimer’s for up to one year later. A team of researchers at the University of Sydney found that strength training was able to protect sub-regions in the hippocampus that are particularly at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. In this study, the control group (no strength training) had 3-4% shrinkage in the hippocampus subregions over 18 months, while the strength training group saw only 1-2% shrinkage or even none at all in some areas.

And while this may seem small, the implications that resistance training has the potential to slow down or even halt the progression of neurodegenerative disease is nothing short of remarkable.

12. Strength Training Makes You Smarter

Strength training has been found to increase overall cognitive function. Brazilian researchers have found that people who performed resistance training for 6 months had better short and long-term memory, improved verbal reasoning, and a longer attention span. All of these benefits help you to learn more easily and retain information better.

In addition to these benefits, exercise is the most effective way known to science to boost Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) in the brain. BDNF is sometimes affectionately referred to as “miracle-gro” for the brain and not only does it enhance plasticity in the brain, but it also helps the brain to develop new connections (signaling pathways), repairs failing brain cells, and protects healthy cells.

There’s also research that indicates that in addition to BDNF helping our brains to work better, it also protects against neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s as well as psychiatric diseases like depression (BDNF signaling is often reduced in these diseases).

Busting Some Strength Training Myths

While all of the amazing benefits of strength training may have you ready to run out and join a gym today (or at least to pick up some dumbbells the next time you’re out), you may also still have some reservations.

Let’s tackle some of the common myths and misconceptions that surround strength training.

Myth #1: Women Shouldn’t Lift Weights Because Then They’ll Get Big Bulky Muscles

This is just not true! Even lifting heavy weights is very unlikely to cause a woman to develop a “bodybuilder” physique because truly, women don’t produce as much testosterone as men and therefore will not be building bulky muscles unless they’re really trying to.

For those women out there who are bodybuilders, you’ll know that it didn’t happen by accident. In order to build that kind of big muscle mass, women need to eat a very specific diet and practice advanced lifting techniques that are actually designed to increase muscle mass and bulk. So unless you’re deliberately going out of your way to eat and lift in a way that will cause you to dramatically gain muscle mass, the chances are good that you just won’t.

For the vast majority of women, you can lift even very heavy weights and your muscles will remain lean and toned--and you will not in any way resemble Arnold Schwarzeneggar.

From my personal experience, I can tell you that the times when I’ve been at my strongest (lifting the heaviest weights in my workouts) I was also at my lightest body weight and wearing my smallest sizes. This will likely be true for you as well.

Myth #2: I’d Have to Go to the Gym to Do Any Strength Training

Great news: you already have everything you need to start strength training right now. Yep, you have this beautiful body that God gave you and you can use it to do a lot of resistance moves without lifting a single weight.

If you would like to invest in weights, you really don’t need much to be able to do a full-body workout from home. I’ve literally used a set of 5 lb, 8 lb, and 12 lb dumbbells to do just about every weight workout I’ve done from home for the last 10 years. I’ve had no problem maintaining a strength training routine with very limited equipment, and you may be surprised how much you can do to strengthen your body with next to nothing.

The upside to not having to go to the gym for busy moms is that you can pretty much get a 15-30 minute strength-training workout finished in about the same amount of time as it takes to get all your kids dressed, their shoes on, and strapped in their car seats!

Myth #3: Cardio Burns More Calories than Strength Training, So It’s Better for Weight Loss

While it may seem like cardio is burning more calories, especially if you’re wearing a fitness tracker to monitor calories burned, in the long-term strength training is actually burning more calories well after your workout is complete (see benefits #1 and 2 above). Also, you know now that strength training is burning more pure fat and less muscle, which is helping you appear even slimmer and to fit into your clothes better (win-win).

Finally, there’s no reason to separate the two! If you perform high-intensity strength training with little to no rest between sets, you’ll likely be doing both cardio and strength training at the same time, maximizing the impact.

Myth #4: I’m Not In Good Enough Shape to Lift Weights

The truth is that you can ease into strength training no matter what your current level of fitness. While it’s always a good idea to get your doctor’s approval before starting any exercise program (especially if you’ve never done one before or if you have health concerns) starting where you are right now is a great option.

You can either use no weights or do fewer overall repetitions of a movement or take longer rest periods between moves (or do all of the above) and you’ll still reap benefits and start to see results. Over time you’ll get stronger and more capable. This is true of so many things in life, but it definitely applies to weight training. Just start. You’ll get better.

Myth #5: I Don’t Have Time to Strength Train

As I mentioned above, you don’t have to even leave your house to strength train, so you could do it in your PJs if you wanted to--you don’t even have to take the time to get dressed or drive anywhere if you don’t want to! (Though I do recommend investing in attractive workout clothes that you feel good about wearing--it just makes it more fun.)

Also, you don’t need an entire hour or more to get a great workout in. In fact, a team of researchers at the University of Kansas found that just doing a 15-minute total-body workout 3 days a week was enough to double a beginner’s strength. Not only that, keeping the workouts short helped the 96% of the study participants to stick with their training regime for the entire 6 months of the study, whereas most people tend to quit a new workout routine within a month.

So, in just 45 minutes a week, you can be reaping some of the truly incredible benefits of strength training! I hope this article has helped to inspire you to add more strength training to your workout routines.

As always, I’d love to hear from you! Let me know in the comments below how your own efforts to incorporate more strength training are going. If you’d like some ideas of workouts you can do from home, comment below and I’ll write a future post with at-home workouts.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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