Strength training science

I have mentioned the importance for strength training in previous posts. Today, I wanted to discuss some of the literature that supports strength training.

What are the benefits of strength training?

  • Strength training burns calories, builds lean muscle and reduces body fat levels.
  • Strength training increases energy, stamina and muscle performance.
  • Strength training helps us maintain better posture and build bones.
  • Strength training decreases the risk of chronic diseases.
  • Strength training helps lower blood sugar in the body.
  • Strength training lowers cholesterol in the body and helps protects against heart disease.
  • Strength training help improves mood and memory.

Let’s break down those benefits of strength training

Increase cardiovascular strength

The American Heart Association recommends strength training to decrease the risk of heart disease.

Another study showed multiple health benefits of strength training exercise “it has also been inversely associated with age-related weight and adiposity gains, risk of hypertension, and prevalence and incidence of the metabolic syndrome”.  This article also suggested that, “Physical fitness is one of the strongest predictors of individual future health status.”

Other studies showed that strength training decreased the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and cancer.

Strength training and diabetes 

Several studies suggest that diabetes can be better managed when strength training is added to the treatment regimen. One study suggested increased skeletal muscle, better glucose transport and improved mitochondrial function. These changes can help improve prediabetes and diabetes management when combined with diet and medication. Additional studies are needed to show if strength training alone can reverse diabetes.

Cleveland Clinic also supported that additional studies were needed to demonstrate strength training’s ability to reduce insulin resistance.

Does strength training help with aging?

As we age we lose muscle. The lose of muscle will increase risk of falls and fractures. This is an important point if you are older trying to lose weight.  Dieting will cause us to lose fat but we also lose muscle mass when we are dieting. This is why it is important to perform strength training exercises when dieting. The goal is to preserve lean muscle mass.

As we age our bones also thin. Strength training can help build bones and decrease the risk of thin bones.

Can strength training help with hormone imbalance?

Yes. Strength training will release human growth hormone.  This hormone will help build muscle and burn fat.

Strength training can help increase testosterone in men. Any exercise can increase testosterone levels but it only for short periods of time. One study showed that strength training can increase testosterone more so than other types of exercises

Any forms of exercise can help alleviate hot flashes.

Healthier mind and strength training

Exercising including strength training can help decrease the risk of depression.  It is important to note that strength training is not a cure for depression. You need to be followed by a professional if you feel your depression is worsening. Strength training as well as other forms of exercise can help improve your mood and should be considered along with behavioral therapy.

One study showed improvement in older adults after 10 weeks of resistance training. Another study suggested that high intensity interval training which I have discussed in previous posts offered an advantage over lower intensity workouts.

Some studies show reversal of mental decline when strength training is incorporated into one’s routines.  

A study in journal of Gerontology  tracked the health of more than 150 pairs of twin sisters and followed them for over 10 years. The twin who had more leg power at the start of the study sustained improved mental cognition longer.

Here is a You Tube video that reviews some strength training exercises that have been shown to help increase memory.

It is important to be strong not just lean. Weight management and weight loss are important but it is also important to have a strong body.

Strength training with heavy or lighter weights

Are there better results with strength training when you lift heavier weights?

Researchers at Ontario’s McMaster University  suggested there was no difference, “We found that loads that were quite heavy and comparatively light were equally effective at inducing muscle growth and promoting strength,” says Cam Mitchell, one of the lead authors of the study and a PhD candidate in the Department of Kinesiology.”

This study broke down the participants into 3 different groups,

The three programs used in the combinations were:

– one set at 80% of the maximum load
– three sets at 80% of the maximum

– three sets at 30% of the maximum

Strength training with lower weights may be an easier workout for older individuals who can still reap the benefits.

Strength Training Definitions

Strength or one rep maximum is the maximum amount of weight that you can lift one time.

Muscular endurance refers to how many times you can lift a sub-maximal weight over a period of time. Muscular strength and endurance are related, but aren’t the same. Muscular endurance is important for everyday tasks.

Specificity  Is exactly as it sounds, you train specific muscles. For example, if you want to get stronger hips and legs, you should do squats, not push-ups. Similarly, if you want to become a better runner,  you need to practice running.

Overload is when you push yourself beyond your usual activities.  To increase your strength or endurance, you need to train by pushing your muscles to do more than what they’re used to. You can overload your muscles by lifting a challenging weight load, doing a lot of repetitions and sets, or increasing how many times per week that you train.

 Repetition refers to a single rendition of an exercise. For example, pressing two dumbbells straight above your head and then lowering them back down to your shoulders constitutes one complete repetition of the dumbbell shoulder press. Some weight lifters use 4 second repetitions. Two seconds to lift the weight, stop the motion, and two seconds to lower it.

Range of motion abbreviated as ROM refers to performing your exercises through the fullest range of motion (ROM) possible of your working joints to stimulate the muscles most effectively. Movement speed should be slow and controlled.

 Failure refers to the point that you can no longer perform the exercise with good form. To achieve overload, you need to take your muscles to failure. For instance, when you can’t complete the full range of motion or lift your fist all the way up one more time when performing biceps curls, you can’t do one more rep. This is the time to end your set.

Recovery refers to the period you need to rest. When your muscles reach failure at the end of a set, you need to recover or rest before you can challenge that muscle to work again. This is also referred to as the rest period. Similarly, after you’ve worked a muscle group in your workout, you should consider allowing that muscle to recover for at least 48 hours before you train it again.

Set refers to a group of consecutive repetitions that you perform without resting. When you’ve done 12 repetitions of the dumbbell shoulder press to failure and then put the weights down, you’ve completed one set. If you rest for a minute and then perform 12 more repetitions, you’ve done two sets.

Strength training routine

This term encompasses every aspect of what you do in one strength training session, The routine includes the type of equipment you use, the number of exercises, types of exercises, sets, and repetitions you perform. The results of your routine will differ depending on what routine you choose.

Strength training progression

Overloading your muscles by lifting a weight to muscular failure stimulates your muscles to get stronger. It is important to change up your routine and find new ways to challenge your muscles.

Strength training while using multiple muscles at one time

Short of time, no problem. Consider strength training exercises that work a few muscles at one time.

strength trainingHere are some exercises that you can do that focus in on different areas of the body.

  • Legs exercises include,

squats, lunges, leg extensions, leg curls, leg press

  • Shoulders exercises include,

presses, dumbbell raises, side laterals.

  • Chest exercises include,

bench press, flyes, dips


  • Back exercises include.

pull-ups, rows, deadlifts, lat pull-downs)

  • Arms exercises include,

ez-bar curls, barbell curls, dumbbell curls

  • Abdominal exercises include,

hanging leg raises, incline crunches


Strength training and a workout partner

Accountability is important with anything that takes effort. One of the best motivators is somebody else with a like goal that wants to accomplish what you want. When you do not feel like strength training on a particular day this person might just pull you along. When you feel like quitting for the day even though you have not finished your routine, a workout partner can motivate you to reach your goals. If are both a little competitive that might not be a bad thing either. You can use each other’s energy to push yourself.

Strength training and a personal trainer

There are a number of different reasons to get a personal trainer. Strength training is work, a personal trainer can keep you accountable and guide you in the right direction. Motivation is extremely important in the beginning. Personal trainers can help push you and adjust your program for progressive resistance and growth. A good personal trainer can also help design a program and nutritional plan that meets your needs. A personal trainer can also critique your form and positioning while weight training which can give you maximum benefit in the shortest period of time.

Strength training and weight loss

High intensity interval training is by far the fastest and most efficient method you can use to shed the pounds. Combining strength training with cardio will enhance and boost your metabolism beyond what either of them can do alone. Strength training will increase fat burning both during and after a workout.

Strength training and nutrition

You will consume more calories when strength training.

Protein needs will also increase when strength training. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, “we need to increase our protein intake. Around 50 years of age, we need to increase the protein in our diets to one gram per kilogram of our body weight to maintain muscle mass. People that exercise regularly also need to eat more protein than the recommended daily intake.”

How much protein do you need when you are strength training?

According to The American College of Sports Medicine,

“it is recommended that a person that lifts weights regularly or is training for a running or cycling event eat a range of 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight. Consequently, the same 75 kilogram individual should increase their protein intake to 75 grams (300 calories) to 128 grams (512 calories) in order to gain muscle mass. This level of intake can generally be met through diet alone and without additional protein and amino acid supplementation”.

How many calories do I need a day?

This is a rough estimate.

Maintenance 15 – 16 calories per lb. of bodyweight

Weight Gain 18 – 19 calories per lb. of bodyweight

Fat Loss 12 – 13 calories per lb. of bodyweight

People who have more lean body mass or muscle will burn more calories then this estimate.

Strength training and belly fat

In order to show off the abdominal muscles, you must get rid of the layer of fat that is covering them up. Many people will train their abdominal muscles and do all kinds of cardio but forget that nutrition plays such an important role in getting rid of belly fat. You must know how many calories a day you need to eat and what to eat in order to get your nutrition on track and working for you. Going to the gym more often, doing more cardio and  strength training will do you no good if you fail to eat healthy.

Tips for those who are new to strength training

Keep an accurate diary.
Set healthy and manageable goals for yourself.

Listen to music, it is motivating.
Be proud about the progress you make.
Make a strong commitment towards lifelong changes, not short term goals.

Strength training classes

Many people want to workout but feel lost or have no structure.  If you don’t know where to begin and you like the idea of instruction, a class may help you focus in on your goals with structured objectives in mind. In addition, if you don’t like working out alone, a class might be an option to increase socialization while doing something good for yourself. Weight training has many benefits yet many people believe that strength training will cause you to bulk up which is not the case 

How often should we perform strength training?

Cardio is important but strength training is equally important,  “A 12-week training program comprising of resistance or combination exercise, at moderate-intensity for 30 min, five days/week resulted in improvements in the cardiovascular risk profile in overweight and obese participants compared to no exercise. From our observations, combination exercise gave greater benefits for weight loss, fat loss and cardio-respiratory fitness than aerobic and resistance training modalities. Therefore, combination exercise training should be recommended for overweight and obese adults in National Physical Activity Guidelines”.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 2-3 sessions a week in addition to 150 minutes of cardio exercises.

 What are your thoughts on strength training?

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