Strength training, or resistance training, is any form of exercise in which your muscles are working against a resistance to produce force. While there are many different variations of resistance training, people tend to love it or hate it. For those of you who are nervous about strength training, here is a basic overview of why you should do it, how to start a strength training program to strengthen your muscles, and why it’s not as daunting as you might think!
Just like cardiovascular endurance and flexibility, musculoskeletal fitness is an important part of overall health. Of course strength training can increase strength and build muscles. But it does so much more than that! Here’s why strength training is so important:
Your body has two main kinds of muscle fibres: type 1 fibres, which are used for long endurance activity, and type 2 fibres, which are used for activities that require strength and speed. For the majority of your life, unless you’re a speed or strength based athlete, you primarily rely on your type 1 fibres. Think all of your activities of daily living such as walking, chores, cooking, etc. Even going for a run is mostly using these type 1 fibres unless you’re doing speed work.
To strengthen your muscles is more intense and requires more force from our muscles than we would need during light to moderate intensity aerobic activity. By doing strength training, you’re engaging and strengthening type 2 muscle fibres as well as type 1 fibres. This develops your total muscle strength and prepares your body for situations when you have to pick up the pace – like the final kick when the finish line comes into sight, or sprinting for a bus.
Strength training also increases muscle mass and improves body composition. This boosts your metabolism, as muscles are the tissue in the body that burn fat most easily. Strength training also helps prevent injury, improves bone health, and makes all of your exercise and activities easier and more efficient!
Finally, mTOR is a protein that is produced during a strength session that stimulates the production of new muscle. It activates fat, liver, and brain cells and increases your general health by making you stronger and more efficient. But it is also believed that mTOR can help prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease – suggesting that strength training is as important for our health as cardiovascular activities!
So how do you actually start a strength training program?
A common misconception is that strength training means doing max bench presses at the gym. However there are so many variations of strength training to strengthen your muscles, so you can choose a variation that works best for you. If you don’t have access to a gym or you don’t have weights at home, that’s okay too! There are many exercises that can be done using only your body weight. Or you can get creative – for example, using soup cans as dumbbells, or adding heavy books to a backpack for lower body exercises.
In terms of workouts, you can do anything from really low weight and high repetitions to increase endurance, to really heavy weight and low repetitions to increase muscle mass (and everywhere in between). You can also combine strength and aerobic training into a circuit workout that will keep your heart rate high the whole time. To do this, pick as many exercises as you want and then perform them in sequence with minimal rest. You can keep the weights light (or use no weight) so that your heart rate stays constantly elevated. For example, you could do (1) push-ups, (2) squats, (3) lunges, (4) back extensions, (5) lat pull-downs, (6) rowing, (7) abdominal crunches, and (8) step-ups. Do each exercise for 45 seconds and then take 15 seconds to change stations. Work your way around the circuit 1 to 3 times to create your circuit training session.
The key is to start slow, see what you like, and then build from there. And it’s always a good idea to get advice from a Certified Personal Trainer or Registered Kinesiologist before performing an exercise you’ve never done before.
This week’s challenge: Add one strength workout into your week!
This week your challenge is to incorporate one strength session into your weekly routine if you don’t already.
Remember that strength training to strengthen your muscles doesn’t mean just doing bicep curls and squats at the gym. You can change it up to suit your needs! Do 10 pushups a few times per day. Or every time you get up from your desk, do 20 body weight squats. Whatever works for you with the equipment, space, and time that you have!
If you’re looking for a quick workout, check out this cardio + strength circuit. It doesn’t require any equipment and only takes 20 minutes, so you can do it in between meetings, before lunch, or after work.
Have fun! Let us know if you have any questions or need any additional guidance.
Greg Wells is the CEO and founder of Wells Performance, a global consulting firm on a mission to elevate how we live our lives at work and in life. He has worked with some of the highest-performing individuals on the planet, including Olympic and world champions and elite organizations including General Electric, BMO, Deloitte, KPMG, BMW, Audi, Sysco Foods, YPO and Air Canada. He is also committed to inspiring children and young adults, working with school boards and independent schools around the world.