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The five forgotten benefits of being strong

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Posted by Christian Finn of Muscle Evo under Weight Training (Strength Training) on 12 July 2012 at 11:00 PM


Tribesports are honoured to welcome Christian Finn of MuscleEvo.net as our first Featured Expert. Christian holds a Masters degree in Exercise Science, is a certified personal trainer and has been featured on BBC TV and radio, as well as in Men's Health, Men's Fitness, and other popular fitness magazines. He's written up 5 forgotten benefits to being strong.


There are at least five good reasons to incorporate strength training into your current exercise routine:

1. Whatever your sport, be it running, cycling, swimming or a bit of everything, being strong will make you better at it.

Walk into your local gym and tell the instructor that you’re a runner. Chances are you’ll be given a programme designed to improve your endurance. It will almost certainly involve light weights and lots of repetitions.

The problem is that any form of endurance activity involves literally thousands of repetitions. There's no way you can replicate that in the gym. The best way to build endurance for running, cycling, or swimming is to go running, cycling and swimming.

Then you use the gym to improve the qualities that aren't built as part of your normal training. As an example, when you're on your bike, each pedal stroke uses a certain percentage of your maximum strength. As you get stronger, the percentage of that strength used on each pedal stroke goes down.

In this way, strength contributes to your endurance by improving the efficiency of each pedal stroke. It means being able to do the same amount of work with less effort, or more work with the same amount of effort. Being strong makes you more economical.

You can also forget about the myth that strength training will make you “muscle bound” and inflexible. Simply lifting weights through a full range of motion can improve your flexibility as well as, or even better than, typical static stretching [4].

2. You will build a core of steel 

Contrary to a lot of the training advice out there, you don't need to do anything on a Swiss ball, a wobble board or any of the various balance devices in your local gym to strengthen your "core" muscles. 

And the core is a lot more than just the abs. It's the collection of muscles that help to stabilise the spine. For our purposes, let's define the core as the muscles of the trunk and hips — basically, anything that isn't the head, arms or legs.

Someone who can perform a standing overhead press with their bodyweight and deadlift twice their bodyweight will have developed a very high level of core strength simply by focusing on getting stronger in both exercises.


In fact, core muscle activation that is similar to or higher than that achieved by exercising on an unstable surface can quite easily be achieved with ground-based free-weight exercises like squats and deadlifts [1].

Outside of a rehabilitation setting, much of what passes for core training represents wasted time that could be much better spent getting stronger, fitter or leaner.


3. Strength training will improve your appearance

Let’s face it; the vast majority of people who take up exercise are not doing so because of their health. They are doing it because they want to look and feel better. And that is exactly what strength training is going to do for you.

If you’re a woman, you are no doubt concerned that even the thought of pressing, pulling or squatting a heavy barbell will turn you into the female equivalent of the Incredible Hulk.

Testosterone is the main reason this isn’t going to happen. Where size and strength are concerned, testosterone is undoubtedly the “King Kong” of all the anabolic hormones. And women don’t have as much of it as men.

But the relatively small amount of muscle you gain will make a big difference to the way you look. Muscle takes up a lot less space than fat. So instead of getting bigger, the exchange of fat for muscle will make you look smaller and shapelier.


If you’re a guy, strength training will leave your clothes feeling tighter in all the right places, especially across the chest, shoulders and arms. As your back and shoulders get broader, you'll create the illusion of a narrower waist. Not only will you feel strong, you will look it as well.

4. As well as looking better on the outside, you will become healthier on the inside

Some people appear perfectly healthy from the outside. But on the inside they display early signs of insulin resistance along with a cluster of characteristics that can increase their risk of type II diabetes and heart disease [2].

As the name suggests, metabolically-obese, normal-weight individuals have a normal weight based on traditional criteria. However, their blood sugar and insulin levels are far higher than would be expected based on their weight alone. They look fit on the outside but are fat on the inside.

And you won’t be surprised to hear that one of the best ways to beat metabolic obesity is with a combination of strength and endurance training [3].

Both forms of exercise improve insulin sensitivity. But each one works in a slightly different way. When you train with weights, you gain muscle. And it's this extra muscle that helps to clear any excess sugar from your blood.

Endurance training, on the other hand, enhances glucose uptake independently of changes in muscle mass, increasing both the number and function of glucose transporters. These help to transport sugar from the blood into the muscle.

5. You will be able to quantify and measure your progress

Once you’ve moved past the “overweight beginner” stage, most body fat tests are pretty useless at detecting changes in body composition. This makes it hard to tell if what you’re doing is actually “working” as well as you’d like it to. 

Training for strength is a lot more satisfying, mainly because your progress is a lot easier to quantify. Strength training produces measurable results. You are able to see the progress you’re making in the form of more weight on the bar.

This will give you a totally new sense of focus and direction. You’ll feel motivated… driven… like your hard work is finally paying off. Going to the gym will be something you are excited about. Each workout will become a challenge to be conquered rather than another chore to add to your ever growing to-do list.

The terms “strength training” and “resistance training” are often used interchangeably. But they’re not the same thing. Strength training isn’t strength training unless it’s making you strong.

References

1. Behm DG, Drinkwater EJ, Willardson JM, Cowley PM. (2010). The use of instability to train the core musculature. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 35, 91-108

2. Dvorak, R.V., DeNino, W.F., Ades, P.A., & Poehlman, E.T. (1999). Phenotypic charcteristics associated with insulin resistance in metabolically obese but normal-weight young women. Diabetes, 48, 2210-2214

3. Poehlman, E.T., Dvorak, R.V., DeNino, W.F., Brochu, M., & Ades, P.A. (2000). Effects of resistance training and endurance training on insulin sensitivity in nonobese, young women: a controlled randomized trial. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 85, 2463-2468

4. Morton SK, Whitehead JR, Brinkert RH, Caine DJ. (2011). Resistance training vs. static stretching: effects on flexibility and strength. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25, 3391-3398

For muscle building tricks, fat burning techniques and personal success secrets for building the body you want, sign up for Christian's free Muscle Evo newsletter.

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