by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist
Published in Lifestyle on 3rd December, 2018
What is strength training? The name sounds obvious, but there are some misconceptions. A lot of people confuse strength training with bodybuilding, which aims to build as much muscle to make you as "bulky" as possible, and while this can be done through strength training, this is not usually the outcome unless you put in a lot of time and effort.
Another common misconception is that strength training does not help you to lose any excess weight, and results in decreased cardiovascular function. These myths can turn people away from strength training, especially women, which is a shame because strength training can offer numerous benefits both mentall and physically for both genders.
Weightlifting is a type of strength training that helps you to become stronger and fitter while developing and toning your muscles using targeted exercises with weights added in.
Exercise in general is known to boost your mood and help combat mental illness. To quote legally blonde "exercise releases endorphins, endorphins make you happy" which, for the most part, is true. Any exercise, be it cardio or strength training will release endorphins and has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression as well as improve self-esteem.
This one should probably go without saying, but if you're doing strength training right, you should probably gain some strength. It's easy to let yourself go and get caught up with everyday life without ever thinking about your bodies ability to handle certain situations, and it's not until we need to lift heavy boxes or get out of a sticky situation that we release how important bodily strength is. Developing and maintaining strength and power can not only serve you well practically, but has been shown to help boost confidence and trust in yourself.
Strength training has now been shown to be one of the most effective forms of exercise, if you're looking to extend your life. It's been found that the more muscle mass we have, the less likely we are to die prematurely. These findings suggest that one of the key components to longevity is actually to build and maintain muscle mass for as long as possible. It's often after illness or in old-age that many weight-lifting fanatics have turned to strength training not only to regain health, but extend their health for much longer.
Generally speaking, more muscle = more strength, and this strength doesn't just benefit you in the gym. If you want to run for longer, swim faster or hike up the biggest mountains, you'll need strong, powerful muscles and strength training is one of the best ways to get exactly that. Not only that, but you'll also be less likely to injure yourself during exercise.
Strength training is not solely about weight loss, but it can and does help many to lose unwanted weight faster. Although cardio exercises can help you to burn fat, they often do very little to tone you up, develop muscle or maintain fat loss. Strength training on the other hand, helps you to build muscle, which increases your metabolism and thus results in more efficient fat burning. Ultimately your diet will be the most important factor in your ability to lose weight, but strength training will definitely help.
As mentioned above, strength training can help you burn fat, while also toning you up. Although aesthetics shouldn't be the factor we focus on, for many people it is important, and that's okay. Toning your body is most easily and effectively achieved through strength training. You can burn all the fat you want but if you haven't got any muscle to show through, you might not get the result you want. With strength training you can target specific areas of the body that you want to work on and develop them specifically.
A common reason that people stop going to the gym so much is because they feel like they aren't making progress quick enough. It's easy to get demotivated and demoralised when you don't have any tangible results to hand. Cardio workouts such as running or swimming will definitely help you to get fitter, but it is harder to track your progress.
Being able to run 5k a little easier than usual isn't as quantifiable as lifting a heavier weight or upping your reps. With weightlifting you can track your progress by taking pictures of yourself, recording what weights you are lifting or just by how easy it feels to complete a certain workout. Once you realise that you can easily lift that weight that once seemed impossible, working out gets all the more enjoyable.
Joint and bone problems just as arthritis and osteoporosis are on the rise. Bone density naturally decreases as we get older, leading us to develop "brittle bones" but it can be prevented or even decreased by the practice of weight-lifting. Strength training such as weight lifting has been shown to help increase bone density and thereby lowering the risk of fractures and breaks in adults.
It's well-known that if you are having trouble sleeping, exercise can help. Pushing yourself to the edge of exhaustion physically can help your brain to shut off and go to sleep. The results are often better in those who push themselves, but you don't have to be benching your bodyweight to reap the benefits of strength training for sleep. So long as you work up a sweat and can feel the effects of the exercise on your muscles, you should find sleeping just a little bit easier.
How do you actually start weightlifting? If you've never touched a dumbbell or stepped foot in a gym before, it can seem really intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. Half the work is getting over the fear of lifting weights. You don't have to start off heavy, in fact you don't even have to start lifting anything at all, many people start out with little to no weight added, just to get ready.
If you're nervous about heading into the gym, starting off at home can be very beneficial. If you're not ready to start doing barbell squats just yet, purchasing a 5 lb dumbell or some resistance bands can help you maximise the effectiveness of your at-home workouts, and prepare you for some more intense, in-gym training.
If you really want to dedicate yourself to strength training and developing your muscle, it's probably best to get yourself a gym membership, unless you want to invest in an at-home gym, which let's be honest, not many people have the money for.
The first and most important step in your training journey is to enlist some help. Even if you haven't got the money to spend on a personal trainer, most gyms will have trainers wandering around at some point that you can ask to teach you how to use a certain machine. Many gyms will also provide induction programs that teach you all about every machine and how to find the correct form to maximise your potential.