The positive effects of endurance training on our health and fitness are well known and often discussed in scientific literature and on mainstream media. Jogging, swimming and biking are commonly recommended activities to stay healthy; unfortunately, the same cannot be said for resistance training. Despite a growing body of evidence which indicates that resistance training should be part of a balanced training programme for men and women of any age, there is a distinct lack of recommendations to the general public to partake in strength-based work.

Too many people still miss out on the incredible benefits of resistance training because of myths and misconceptions. Being afraid of looking “bulky” or relying on cardio as the only effective way to lose body fat are common mistakes. Muscle development (hypertrophy) as seen in body builders is only achievable with extreme levels of intensity, very strict diets and specific training regimes; there’s more than resistance training to that. Ladies in particular naturally lack the testosterone levels required to develop big muscles, therefore, a significant increase in female muscle size is generally not an issue. A regulated increase in muscle mass on the other hand is part of what we often call “toning”, and that’s what we should aim for.

While strength training in itself burns fewer calories than cardio, it’s been proven that a slight increase in lean muscle mass enhances metabolic function and increases basal metabolic rate. In other words, a person with more lean muscle mass will burn more calories, even at rest. Combining strength training with cardio dramatically increases our ability to burn unwanted fat.

For the older person, after the age of 30, humans lose approximately 1% of their muscle mass per year and it’s around the same age that they reach their peak bone mass before gradually start losing bone density.  More and more studies suggest resistance training can prevent or significantly delay this decrease as well as the onset (and severity) of some of the most common health issues experienced in adult life.     

Some of the other benefits one can expect from a well-designed resistance training program are:

-        Improved body composition (lower Body Mass Index and reduced visceral body fat)[1];

-        Improved glucose homeostasis and insulin sensitivity[2];

-        Reduced blood pressure[3];

-        Improved immune system efficiency[4];

-        Healthier bones, joints and connective tissue (reduced risk of injuries)[5];

-        Increased bone density (reduced risk of osteoporosis)[6];

-        Decreased stress

-        Better sleep

 Resistance training also positively affects metabolic functions associated with diabetes, heart disease, and cancer[7].  Some of these benefits are: 

-        Lowered risk of insulin resistance;

-        Increased resting metabolic rate (more calories burned when not exercising);

-        Improved glucose metabolism (higher energy levels and less more effective weight management);

-        Reduced gastrointestinal transit time;

-        Reduced risk of certain types of cancer (colon and breast)

Overall, physical fitness and optimal health are a complex combination of many different parts of which strength training is an integral component.  Balance, strength, coordination, reaction time, body awareness and mobility are just some of these factors which can be improved by a well-prepared strength programme. All these skills, competencies and benefits of strength training positively affect the quality of our life as they are all required to efficiently deal with everyday activities.

[1] Harmon-Brown C, Wilmore JH, The effects of maximal resistance training on the strength and body composition of women athletes; 1974.

[2] Poehlman ET, Dvorak RV, DeNino WT, Brochu M, Ades PA, Effects of Resistance Training and Endurance Training on insulin Sensitivity in Nonobese Young Women: A Controlled Randomize Trial; 2000.

[3] Cornelissen VA, Fagard RH, Effect of Resistance Training on Blood Pressure: A <eta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials; 2005.

[4] Nieman DC, Pedersen BK, Exercise and Immune Function; 1999.

[5] Stone MH, Implications for Connective Tissue and Bone Alterations Resulting from Resistance Training Exercise Training; 1988.

[6] Layne JE, Nelson ME, The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: a review; 1999.

[7] Hass CJ, Feigenbaum MS, Franklin BA, Prescription of Resistance Training for Healthy Populations; 2012.