Strength Training

What is Strength?

There are many ways to develop strength and many different types of strength.

The words ‘strength’ and ‘muscle mass’ are sometimes used interchangeably in discussions on the health benefits of resistance training.

Strength and muscle mass do not have a totally linear relationship.

Bigger muscles generally are stronger, but not always.

It is possible to be strong without being bulky.

Is a person who can balance their whole weight on one hand stronger or weaker than someone who can pull a truck?

This is a comparison of two different types of strength: Relative strength vs absolute strength. There are others e.g. Speed strength, starting strength, (we won’t get into the weeds of this here).

Your body type and training methods will determine your results in terms your physical appearance and abilities.

Which type of strength do you want to pursue?

General Strength

It is possible to become very good at a specific demonstration of strength but to be relatively fragile and prone to injury when doing lower intensity general activities. Who wants to be ‘gym strong’ if you can’t throw a frisbee in the park without straining something.

This is a problem of over specialised training. Unfortunately many people jump into specialised training too soon, perhaps inspired by the feats of professional athletes.

Inspiration is great, but specialisation without building a general base is a quick route to imbalance and injury.

Resilient – able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. Strong, tough, hardy.

General strength could be defined as resilience.

General strength should provide ‘carryover’ – that is, make you more resilient and able to carry out a variety of activities.

General strength should be your starting point and the ‘hub’ you can return to if you venture out too far on the ‘rim’ of specialisation.

Why Strength Train?

1. Appearance

Opinions vary on how the ideal physique looks.

A common objection to starting strength training goes something like: ‘I want to be toned not big and bulky’.

Very few people become bulky by accident. There are exceptions, but unless you are already involved in high level sport you are probably not one of them.

Wherever you prefer on the spectrum of ‘long lean muscles’ to ‘I want to look like the hulk’, either physique is a favourable balance of muscle mass to fat mass. None of it happens without strength training. 2lb dumbells lifted for 1000 reps might cause a nasty muscle burn but wont build or even maintain strength or muscle mass.

Sprinter vs Distance Runner
A body built from short, high intensity and a body built from endless, moderate intensity.

2. Age Related Sarcopenia

As we age we loose lean tissue unless we are regularly doing some type of activity that maintains it. This activity could be training or a physically demanding job. The process of muscle wasting can begin as early as your 30’s and from your 50’s it can be as much as 3% per year. Inactive individuals may have lost 50% of their muscle mass by their 80’s. It is mainly type II ‘fast twitch’ muscle fibres that are lost. These are the strongest muscle fibres we have and are recruited in heavy lifting or explosive movements. Age related sarcopenia is often accompanied by increased fibrous and fat tissue accumulating in the muscle.

3. What Lean Tissue Does

Other than the obvious benefits to strength lean muscle has numerous other effects on your health:

i. Decreased risk of disease

Loss of lean tissue is associated with acute and chronic disease including insulin resistance (which can lead to Type II diabetes), fatigue, falls, mortality and rheumatological conditions.

ii. Increased Metabolic Rate

Loss of lean tissue is associated with a lower basal metabolic rate (BMR), the amount of energy your body uses at rest, as lean tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue. If your BMR is falling and you continue to consume the same number of calories it is likely you will gain fat.

iii. Decreased Risk of Falls

Speed of reflexive contraction may help prevent falls in older people. Falls in the elderly are closely associated with shortened life span.

Leg strength in particular is a an indicator of future health and risk of dying. One study has shown leg strength to be independent of cardiorespiratory fitness as a predictor of health into older age.

iv. Keeps Bones Strong

Strength training increases bone mineral density especially heavy or fast lifts.

v. You will feel strong

You’ll look and feel better.

You won’t embarrass yourself opening a jar or have to ask for assistance to carry your shopping.

You are less likely to get sand kicked in your eyes.

What to do

Calisthenics, barbells, kettle bells, dumbbells, isometrics, they all work, and all have their advantages and disadvantages. If you have time constraints a simple program using only your own body and some small, inexpensive, portable pieces of equipment can be effective and very time efficient.

Start here with this free general strength program.

RESEARCH

  1. Sarcopenia in older adults
  2. The relationship between energy expenditure and lean tissue in monozygotic twins discordant for spinal cord injury
  3. The Effects of Exercise on Falls in Elderly Patients
  4. Mortality, disability, and falls in older persons: the role of underlying disease and disability.
  5. Falls among older persons: a public health perspective
  6. Association between muscle mass, leg strength, and fat mass with physical function in older adults: influence of age and sex
  7. Body Composition Remodeling and Mortality: The Health Aging and Body Composition Study
  8. Lower thigh muscle mass is associated with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality in elderly hemodialysis patients
  9. Association between muscular strength and mortality in men: prospective cohort study
  10. The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: a review
  11. Exercise and bone mass in adults