Strength training in America has long been thought of as the pastime of gym-rat bodybuilders, teenagers, and frat bros, or simply something we should do as summer approaches to look good on the beach. Time and time again, the media depicts well-built individuals as unintelligent, self-absorbed, and vain, leading many to view weights as a waste of time. Although our antiquated ideas of strength development are slowly changing, studies conducted by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (among others) indicate that six in ten American adults still do not participate in any form of resistance-based exercise. This staggering majority of Americans live without knowing the true potential of their musculoskeletal system and likely do not understand the multiple ways in which strength training can improve their lives. If you are a member of this majority, I outline below my choices for the 5 most important benefits of resistance training in an attempt to connect to your inner bro, and convince you that strength training is in fact a no brainer.
Strength training not only has a profound effect on your muscles, but your brain as well. With instances of depression and other mental health disorders more prevalent than ever, strength training can be an important tool in regaining control of your mind.
Strength training has a dual mental effect. The feeling of lifting weights and pushing through your final repetition on a difficult set is satisfying and can generate a feeling of empowerment in the lifter. In addition to this feeling of accomplishment, strength training, like other forms of exercise, leads to the release of endorphins which boost mood and combat other stressors in your life. So, if you like happiness, grab a barbell.
Though many associate weights with getting big, jacked, yoked, etc, resistance training can make weight loss goals much more achievable. Resistance training essentially builds muscle by providing a stimulus through the breaking down of muscle fibers while in the gym. With recovery, the body repairs the muscle and builds more to better handle the stimulus placed upon it. So, what does that have to do with dropping those extra pounds? Contractile tissue (muscle) is approximately 2.5 times more metabolically active than fat, meaning that it requires more energy at rest. Therefore, the more muscle a person builds the more food their body will need to maintain its weight, meaning you just might be able to have that extra serving at dinner and still fit into your pants.
Along the line of the weight loss benefits of contractile tissue, people who lifts weights tend to have less body fat and more lean tissue than sedentary individuals at the same weight. There is a big difference between a six-foot-tall 180lb man at 12% body fat, and the same frame at 30% body fat. Weight training is actually much more effective than steady state cardio (which you should also be doing) for achieving favorable body composition due to its muscle building stimulus.
As we age, our risk for chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and many others increase. Luckily, resistance training combats many diseases which can rob you of your quality of life. By providing a stimulus to your body to retain and even build new lean tissue, resistance training decreases risk for insulin resistance related to diabetes and intense training sessions will also strengthen your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. However, your muscles are not the only thing that gets stronger. Bones that bear load during training also experience significant increases in density and thus resistance to injury and osteoporosis. Programed resistance training also has been shown to improve posture and is thus beneficial for chronic back and neck pain. So, if your reading this hunched over at your desk, maybe hit some deadlifts after work.
Exercise and resistance training in general can be intimidating to people who do not have a background in athletic activity, have body image trouble, or simply do not know where to start. However, there are more resources today for novice lifters than ever before when it comes to technique, programing, managing fears and expectations, and other gym related knowledge. With a simple YouTube search, anyone can access information from credible trainers and coaches, and personal training services are available at almost all gyms. By getting rid of this intimidation factor through education, my hope is that you will discover the joy of progressing towards a stronger and healthier version of yourself by pumping some iron!