Everybody should strength train. There is no other exercise mode that can give you as many amazing physical, mental, and overall health benefits as weight training.
By lifting weights you will learn who you really are and what you are capable of. Challenging your body is an exceptional method for developing the strength of your mind. As you discover the depth of your drive, you learn to persevere and overcome failure—we all have rough days in the gym, but those are the ones that make a difference.
By lifting heavy stuff, you will change your life for the better and develop self-confidence. Having physical strength gives you a reassuring sense of your place in the world: Knowing that chin-ups are effortless, or that you can full squat more than your body weight has a remarkable positive effect on your identity.
Now, the most important thing is that you choose a form of exercise that makes you happy so that you will stick with it. That said, let me try to convince you to give weight lifting a shot with these 10 amazing benefits.
#1: Weights Change Your Body Composition For the Better
The best way to develop a lean physique is by pairing diet and weight training together. Whether you say your goal is to get “cut,” “big,” or “toned,” lifting weights and eating a clean diet is the easiest way to achieve that.
For instance one study showed that 28 untrained slightly overweight men who performed a hypertrophy-style program 3 times a week for 8 weeks lost 3 kg of body fat, which equaled a decrease in body fat percentage of 13 percent. They also gained 3 kg of lean muscle compared to a control group that had no changes in body composition.
#2: Weight Training Will Help You Lose Fat
The conventional wisdom that pushes aerobic exercise as the solution to obesity dismisses the overwhelming benefit of building muscle. More muscle equals more calories burned at rest. For instance, a large review of published research shows that weight training leads to an average loss of 1.7 kg of fat in both normal and over-weight individuals, while preserving lean mass and metabolic rate.
One study that elaborates this effect tested what happens when you go on a diet and lift weights: Twenty untrained obese women who did hypertrophy-style circuit training for 12 weeks lost 14.5 kg of body fat. They increased the amount of calories their bodies burned at rest by 63 calories so that they had a resting metabolic rate (RMR) of 1,800. The study also used showed what happens when you choose aerobic exercise on a restricted calorie diet: Those women lost 12.8 kg body fat and dropped 4 kg of muscle, which unfortunately reduced their RMR by 210 calories to a measly 1,358 a day! Yes, that is right, the aerobic work worsened their resting metabolic rate!
#3: Lifting Preferentially Builds Fast-Twitch Muscles That Raise Metabolism
Everyone knows about the basics of how building muscle keeps you lean: First, there’s the afterburn effect of exercise, which lasts for as much as 38 hours after your workout. Second, the more muscle you’ve got, the more you can eat due to the higher metabolic cost of maintaining that muscle. Third, lifting induces the secretion of fat-burning, muscle building hormones to help you get (and stay) lean and cut.
You probably didn’t know that the metabolic advantage you get from weight training is more specific: Lifting heavy loads in short bursts favorably builds the most forceful Type II muscle fibers, which have the highest metabolic cost. Building the fast-twitch muscles exponentially raises your metabolism more than if you did the same amount of low-force producing work, as is typical of aerobic cardio.
Researchers from Boston University explain that “the Type II muscle fibers have a previously unappreciated role in regulating whole-body metabolism through their ability to accelerate the energy burning processes in remote tissues.”
Remember, due to the size principle of muscle fiber recruitment, working the most powerful Type II fibers requires that all the lesser fibers be trained in a cascade fashion, making heavy load training all the more beneficial.
#4: Weights Enhance The Nervous System & Gene Pathways
Strength coaches have known for decades that lifting weights train the central nervous system so that you react faster, have a quicker first step, and are able to apply greater force into the ground. Building your neuromuscular strength means your body works more efficiently.
The effect of a strong neuromuscular system extends to all ages and is a primary predictor of longevity and well-being. Additionally, emerging evidence shows how weight lifting upregulate genetic pathways that prevent aging, rebuild damaged tissue, burn energy, and use oxygen. The effect is better brain function and coordination of movement for the young and old alike.
#5: Strength Training Increases Endurance In Athletes & Regular Folks
Strength training has been repeatedly shown to decrease body fat percentage in elite endurance such as cyclists and distance runners (a Danish study saw national team cyclists lose 2 percent body fat after 16 weeks of training), and everyone knows that when it comes to fat, a lighter athlete is a better athlete.
This leads to a boost in the body’s maximum capacity to transport oxygen, as well as an amplified adaptive signaling in the muscles for increased work capacity and speed (those Danish cyclists performed a 5-minute time trial 5 percent faster and a 45-minute trial 8 percent faster than a control group.
#6: Strength Training Decreases Blood Pressure & Improves Heart Function
Weight training dramatically improves heart function. It has repeatedly been shown to decrease blood pressure—a review found that across 8 trials, systolic blood pressure (SBP) decreased by an average 6.2 mmHg. This is clinically significant since it is more than double the benefit of the typical blood-pressure lowering medications.
Weight training also enhances arterial function and decreases inflammation—one review showed older women who weight trained had lower C-reactive protein, an oxidative stress marker that causes an inflammatory status. The combined effect of lower SBP, less inflammation, and better blood flow will reduce cardiovascular disease risk by more than 14 percent.
#7: Strength Training Improves Sleep & Reduces Chronic Pain
A recent intervention study showed that in healthy older men who did a hypertrophy-style program improved their quality of sleep by 5 percent and they woke up fewer times during the night. Researchers suggest the long-term effects of better sleep are profound since it influences glycemic control, diabetes risk, body fat gain, and inflammatory status.
Of interest, a series of studies show that in older folks over age 50, strength training can reduce pain perception by 43 percent by causing adaptations that raise the pain threshold.
#8: Strength Training Prevents Disease, Particularly Cancer & Diabetes
Doctors who specialize in treating diabetes use diet and exercise, and practical reports show that weight training and other anaerobic exercise modes like moderate interval training are most effective. Strength training has a dramatic effect on blood sugar function and insulin health. Building muscle increases your lean tissues’ receptivity to insulin, and increases the muscles’ demand for glucose, thereby pulling it out of the bloodstream. This contributes to better body composition and diabetes prevention.
Strength training has also repeatedly been shown to correlate with lower risk of a number of cancers. For instance, teen girls who weight train experience the greatest reduction in breast cancer risk later in life, but the benefit for cancer prevention extends to women of all ages.
#9: StrengthTraining Improves Hormone Levels & Reproductive Function
Weight training has a much more potent effect on hormone function than simply the increase in testosterone that men experience after a workout. Building lean muscle from a 12-week training program improved the metabolism of estrogen in young women, which is noteworthy because a better elimination of estrogen means less cancer risk and lower body fat.
Everyone knows training increases growth hormone and IGF-1, both of which correlate with leanness. Lifting also lead to better regulation of the hormones related to hunger and energy use. It fights oxidative stress from cortisol and related tissue-degrading hormones that have the side effect of damaging reproductive health if they are persistently elevated as well.
#10: Lifting Heavy Builds Bone
Weight training is overwhelmingly the best activity to build bone mass and density. Studies show former elite athletes who included weight lifting as part of their workouts have much stronger bones as they age. This translates into a 50 percent lower chance of fracture in men, and a 20 percent lower fracture risk in women.
To build bone you want to regularly train in the hypertrophy and strength ranges, while including cycles in which you lift maximal loads—that’s the most weight you can lift for just a rep or two per set. Plyometric, pounding exercises, and wearing a weight vest are also ideal for bone development.