5 Little-Known Benefits of Strength Training

Most of the real benefits from including weights in your fit routine have nothing to do with aesthetics.

March 12, 2015
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There's no two ways around it: Strength training is critically important to your health, not just for building toned, defined muscles. It’s as important as choosing not to smoke, eating healthy whole foods, going for an annual doctor’s visit, and flossing your teeth. It’s something you’ll want to make a part of your lifestyle permanently, not just for a month before the start of bikini season. 

Check out these five little-known benefits of strength training:

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1. Weight Loss That Stays Off 
Building lean muscle is the most effective way to lower your body fat and stay trim for life. To understand how muscle works its magic, it helps to know a little about the tissue itself. For one, it’s more densely packed than fat; flab takes up about 18 percent more space on your body. So the more muscle you have, the leaner your body will look simply because it’s more compact. The second reason more muscle is better for weight loss: Muscle is more metabolically active than fat. In other words, it requires significantly more calories of energy to maintain than fat does. So more muscle means more calorie burn around the clock. Strength training, therefore, offers a double-barreled benefit for trimming down, which was apparent in a study published by the American College of Sports Medicine. The study showed that women who strength trained two to three times a week gained 2 pounds of lean muscle and lost 3.5 pounds of fat over the course of just 2 months.

More: Is Yoga As Good as Strength Training?

2. A Decrease in Belly Fat 
Strength training is becoming increasingly important in the war against obesity as researchers continue to show evidence of resistance exercise’s powerful impact on fat reduction, particularly in the abdominal region. Studies of women who have taken up strength training show a reduction of intra-abdominal fat (the most dangerous fat, which forms around your abdominal organs). What’s more, research suggests that regular strength training can help women avoid weight gain as they get older. In a study at the University of Minnesota, two groups of overweight women were monitored for 2 years. Those women who did twice-weekly strength-training routines of 10 exercises targeting the major muscle groups gained 67 percent less abdominal fat than another group of sedentary women who did not strength train.

3. A Faster Metabolism 
Building more lean muscle mass delivers a dual impact on the number of calories you burn while doing nothing, what’s referred to as your resting metabolism. First, as you’ve already learned, more muscle requires more energy for simple tissue maintenance. Second, every time you strength train, your workout causes microtraumas, or tiny tears, throughout your muscle tissue that require lots of energy for repair and rebuilding. Studies by Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., of the American College of Sports Medicine found resistance training stimulates increased muscle protein turnover, elevating the resting metabolic rate of beginners by an average of 5 percent for 3 full days after a weight-lifting workout. Westcott’s research suggests that strength training regularly may boost your resting metabolic rate by up to 9 percent, enough to burn 100 extra calories per day! Cardio-only workouts burn calories initially while you are working out, but they don’t deliver the kind of afterburn that strength training does. 

More: Why Every Runner Should Adopt Some Sort of a Strength Training Routine

4. A Younger Body 
After age 30, everyone starts to lose 3 to 8 percent of her muscle mass every 10 years, and that percentage increases to as much as 10 percent starting in the fifth decade of life. No wonder we put on weight as we age. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that for every pound of muscle a person loses, she will typically gain a pound of fat! The type of muscle we lose plays a significant role in how quickly we show the signs of aging. There are two types of muscle fibers -- fast-twitch and slowtwitch. Slow-twitch muscles are responsible for endurance and fast-twitch for generating power. We lose significantly more fast-twitch muscle fibers as we age, which is important to know because fast-twitch muscles are the ones we need for sports performance and for pushing ourselves out of a chair. Fast-twitch are known as the longevity muscle fibers; you need them to stay strong and active as you age. So how do we save them? By using powerful movements during strength-training workouts.

5. Improved Mood 
Balance your hormones each time you pick up a barbell. Strength training has been associated with a substantial decrease in monthly hormone fluctuations. Weight training reduces cortisol, a stress hormone in your bloodstream that quickens your heartbeat, feeds your brain extra oxygen, and unleashes energy from fat and glucose. While elevated cortisol levels can be good in a pinch, tapping your cortisol bank can cause unrelenting stress and leave you feeling tired. Incorporating resistance training and short bouts of cardio will better manage your cortisol levels to prevent spikes that leave you feeling spent. Similarly, testosterone plays a crucial role in your energy levels and hormone balance. Too little can leave you feeling sluggish, depressed, and disinterested in your significant other. Lifting weights lights up natural testosterone levels in your body, which can improve your sex drive, muscle strength, bone density, and metabolism. Improving your mood could be beneficial to your career, too. Research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that workers were 15 percent more productive on days they made time to exercise, and they were 15 percent more tolerant of their coworkers.

Adapted from Women's Health Lift to Get Lean