#1: Muscle burns fat best, even at rest.
What’s the most effective form of exercise to improve your body composition? Strength training! Strength training helps you build muscle and lose fat simultaneously, which cardio exercise alone can’t achieve.
Strength training not only helps build muscle tissue and bone density, but there’s also a unique activity that happens within the muscle cells that cause our body to burn more fat long after we finish training. The contractile activity that occurs under load disrupts everything in a muscle cell. This disruption is actually a very healthy activity for the cell as it makes it stronger. After the workout, the cell’s nucleus needs to ‘reorganize’ itself; and to do this, it uses fat for fuel. A recent study found that resistance training regulates fat metabolism at a molecular level. Muscle is metabolically active (i.e., burning more calories at rest than fat). Researchers now have evidence that resistance training also initiates metabolic adaptations in fat tissue, an added, unique benefit for fat loss.
Exercise also improves the size and number of mitochondria in our body. Why is that important? According to Len Kravitz, PhD., “mitochondria are remarkably adaptable organelles within skeletal muscle that can impressively boost a muscle’s capability to burn fat, improve insulin sensitivity (and thus help to manage or prevent pre-diabetes or diabetes), minimize fatigue and enhance their own capacity to synthesize fuel for physical activity and exercise.” Kravitz also notes that these mitochondrial improvements are possible in both young and older populations: “mitochondria are most capable of improving their biological function and thus enhancing the quality of life of the exercising individual. It’s never too late to start moving.”
Building muscle also helps prevent/reverse metabolic syndrome, blood sugar regulation, immunity, and more. Strength training helps decrease visceral fat and reduces HbA1c levels while increasing the density of “glucose transporter type 4, improving insulin sensitivity.”
Consistent resistance training helps us walk faster, think better, and improve our movement control and physical performance — it can even help to reverse the aging process. And all of this contributes to our ability to maximize our fat-burning potential, among many other positive things!
And, after strength training, growth hormone spikes post-workout, promoting greater fat oxidation (‘burn’) long after the session ends. Research shows the average increase in resting metabolic rate is approximately 100 calories per day (and that’s not including calories burned during the workout and not just on workout days), with just two to three multi-set resistance training workouts per week. While that doesn’t sound like much, that adds to about ten pounds of calories annually. So please don’t get too hung up on the exact number of calories you are expending during a workout — it’s the potential of your body’s improved fat-burning-efficiency that matters most.
#2: Strength training reduces your risk of all-cause mortality.
Strength training helps you stay more robust, mobile, and overall healthier both now and into your golden years. Several studies show the benefits of regular strength training for older adults for “enhancing movement control, functional abilities, walking speed and overall physical performance.”
Even a single strength session can affect our immune system positively. Resistance training induces the release of myokines in the system (myokines produced by skeletal muscle protect and improve the functionality of many organs) and enhances white blood cell count. One of the essential factors for the immunity boost includes the recovery part of exercising (more is not always better). Not only does our body get stronger during rest and recovery times, but it also helps our immune system stay strong, so be sure to allow for adequate recovery time between workouts. You’ll know you are recovered if you feel good and energized – if you are still tired or very sore, add in more recovery time with rest or more gentle movement). Everybody is different, so be sure to always listen to yours!
Strength training also makes your nervous system stronger too. For beginners, the first few weeks of training are all about stimulating and strengthening the nervous system, the foundation for muscular strength. If you are just getting started with your weight training and aren’t seeing changes yet, don’t give up! So many positive improvements are happening under the surface that will lead to positive external changes with time (just like when you plant a seed – there’s so much underground work that has to happen before even a tiny little seedling can sprout through!).
And though aerobic exercise is often touted as the best for your heart, lifting weights also improves cardiovascular health. Regular resistance training lowers blood pressure, decreases LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and increases HDL cholesterol levels.
#3: A more muscular body = less fatigue and pain.
More muscle mass helps improve your blood sugar control, makes daily tasks and chores less taxing, and boosts your endorphins, all of which can help reduce feelings of fatigue.
Resistance training has also been shown to reverse specific aging factors in skeletal muscle. Stronger muscles can help reduce low back pain and ease the discomfort associated with arthritis and fibromyalgia. Developing stronger paraspinal muscles (the muscles that line and support the spine) are of particular importance for helping prevent lower back pain and are a muscle group we focus on regularly in our core strength sessions.
#4: Strength training prevents (and can even reverse) bone loss.
By strengthening bone mineral density, bone mineral content, and bone strength (in addition to the strength of your muscles, tendons, and ligaments), strength training can help prevent or even reverse bone mass loss.
Research shows that muscle loss is associated with bone loss. Adults who do not strength train regularly may experience up to a 3% reduction in bone mineral density every year of life. Ten million American adults are estimated to have osteoporosis, and almost 35 million have osteopenia, or insufficient bone mass, which can lead to a higher risk of fractures. Several studies indicate that exercise programs can prevent or reverse approximately 1% bone loss per year in women. Research reviews show that resistance training can help improve bone mineral density in both younger and older adults and that weight training may have a more potent effect on bone density than other types of physical activity such as aerobic and weight-bearing exercise.
#5: Lifting betters brain function, sleep quality, and mood.
Strength training can reduce your risk of cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. By regulating your mood, hormones, and circadian rhythms, strength training can also help you sleep better at night. A recent study found that strength training is even more effective at promoting better sleep than aerobic exercise alone.
Strength training helps promote self-esteem and feelings of positivity, tranquility, and revitalization. It can also reduce anxiety, depression, and tension in adults of all ages, making it a fantastic way to boost your mood and feel better.
Focus on the LIFT!
Other forms of exercise (such as aerobics, mobility work, etc.) offer plenty of health benefits and are an excellent part of a balanced exercise plan. But if your goal is to improve your health and longevity and reduce body fat, strength training should be a key component of your routine. Depending on your current fitness and activity level, goals, and preferences, general resistance training recommendations include strength sessions 2-4 days a week.
While other forms of exercise are great, strength training is the most effective use of your workout time. The great news is, with our strength programs, you can still reap the benefits of mobility and range of motion work with our weight-training-specific warm-ups. You’ll also experience a cardiovascular bonus effect as you begin to handle heavier loads safely. Recovery movement is built into our training schedule suggestions to help your body repair in between sessions, but you are always encouraged to add more rest as needed.
And it doesn’t matter when you start lifting — research shows that even those who start training later in life can still reap the benefits with an equal capacity to those with more exercise experience.