Last time we introduced the idea of strength training to turbocharge your gym workout. In today’s article we’re going to look at five incredible benefits of Strength Training. But before we get there, let’s first talk about what it is.
What is Strength Training
Strength training is defined by the use of compound barbell movements and some kind of linear progression program to obtain better results over a long period of time. The moves themselves are the:
- low bar back squat
- overhead press
- bench press
Some people may argue for one or two more lifts. The snatch and clean comes to mind and that’s fine too. It won’t be something we’re focusing on in this article.
These four lifts, when done 2-3 times per week for 3 sets of 5 reps, depending on your age, where more weight is added each time at the gym constitute the basics of a strength program.
As you might guess, there are a million variations of this simple routine depending on your specific needs. Changes to programming, adding in accessory movements, and working in form variations are all really common. It’s likely you’ll mix up your routine over time. But when it comes to the fundamentals, those are they.
Now that you have an idea of how straight-forward the routine is, let’s look at the truly incredible benefits of this type of program. Strength training:
- is comprehensive
- improves your neuromuscular system
- produces growth hormones
- attacks the sick aging phenotype
- is incredibly dosable
Strength training is comprehensive
When on a strength training program you’ll rapidly see improvements in:
- body composition
When you train for strength, you’re training entire systems to get better at what they already do. All of the moments are functional. Strength training just puts them under a load. And because of the linear progression, the growth happens as soon as the second day of training.
Strength training improves your neuromuscular system
There’s a system in your body by which your brain sends electrical signals to your muscles through your nervous system to tell them when to contract and when to let go. This is known as your neuromuscular system.
Have you heard of “muscle memory”? Muscles don’t really have memory. What “muscle memory” is really describing is how fast electrical signals travel from your brain to your muscles. It really is true, the more you do something, the better you get at it.
When you first start a new endeavor, whether it’s strength training or picking up an instrument, your body doesn’t do a great job of doing what your brain wants it to. This is because of the speed of the electrical signals. In an untrained person, these signals move around 2 miles per hour. Every time that person practices, the signal gets faster. Up to 200 miles per hour in highly trained people! How’s that possible?
When you train a specific movement, like a squat, you’re training your brain to make a series of finely tuned movements by coordinating a large number of muscles and muscle groups. Each time you train you’re telling the brain that this is an important movement. In response, the body lays down myelin sheathing. Think of this as electrical insulation around a wire. The more the movement pattern is repeated, the more prepared the body adapts to be able to do that movement.
This is one of the fundamental differences between bodybuilding and strength training. The majority of bodybuilding movements are not functional. You’ll never find a real-world application for leg extensions. It doesn’t exist. Any strength gains that are made on that machine are attached to that specific movement. When it comes time to squat, the brain of the leg extension guy remains untrained to the movement.
The benefit of the four compound barbell movements is that they replicate things you do every day: pushing things, pulling things, squatting, picking stuff up off the floor. We incorporate all of these movements into into our daily lives in ways big and small, from opening doors and putting on seat belts to climbing stairs and putting overstuffed bags in the overhead compartment of an airplane.
Maintaining a healthy neuromuscular system is especially crucial the older we get. Degeneration of these neuromuscular pathways has been shown to be a significant contributing factor when an elderly person falls and breaks their hip.
Strength training produces growth hormones
One of the very rarely talked about benefits of strength training is hormonal. Specifically, growth hormones.
Growth hormones promote cellular survival. This is important because there’s a lot of evidence that pre-programmed cell death is one of the body’s mechanisms responsible for the degeneration of our bodies as we get older.
Strength training demands strong muscles, bones, and ligaments. These are produced only after the hormonal signals have been produced by the body telling the body to do so.
This may not seem like anything special to a 20 or 30-something, but for those of us in middle-age and beyond, this is the magic that arrests sarcopenia, fights neural degeneration, muscle atrophy, and osteopenia.
Strength training attacks the sick aging phenotype
The phrase “sick aging phenotype” comes from Jonathon Sullivan, a medical doctor in East Lansing, Michigan and a Starting Strength coach.
It basically means a person who looks old and sick. It’s a result of eating too much, not moving enough, and eating the wrong things.
It’s what leads people to be drastically overweight by middle age with signs of metabolic syndrome or with full-blown diabetes. It’s the slow downward spiral.
A sick body is a weak body. A healthy body is a strong body.
Strength training actively fights against the sick aging phenotype by providing the right stimulus to force the body to adapt to strength, rather than default to weakness.
The truly great news about this is that this works no matter whether you’re 18 or 90. If you’re already having trouble getting out of a chair or walking with a walker, it’s not too late!
Strength training is incredibly dosable
If there’s an obvious weak point in telling somebody to exercise for their health is that telling them that is incredibly imprecise. All you have to do is look around the gym and see what everybody is doing to see that there are almost as many interpretations of how to exercise as there are people.
Strength training is the only one that can start as light as a broomstick and progress at as little as a quarter pound until the lifter reaches the true limits of their potential. For most, that takes decades.
This makes it appropriate for all ages and strength levels.
When these five benefits are all combined, along with a proper diet and adequate sleep, it makes for an unbeatable fitness solution.
In our next article, we’ll look at the recovery demands of strength training. That’s eating and sleeping. Two of my favorite things!