Whether you’ve just curiously peeked in on a boot-camp class at your gym or haven’t missed a Saturday morning CrossFit® WOD in months, odds are you’ve crossed paths with strength training at some point.
Maybe you’ve felt too intimidated to give it a go, maybe you’ve never fully committed because you were told lifting is a ‘guy thing,’ or maybe you’re already a weight room regular. Whatever the case may be, the non-negotiable truth is this: If you’re not strength training, you need to start.
“No matter how old you are, strength training should start today,” says Krista Scott-Dixon, Ph.D., Lean Eating Program Director at Precision Nutrition and founder of Stumptuous. “Honestly, no, you don’t have a choice—you have to do this work. Otherwise your risk of frailty and mortality later on is so significant—and none of us want to be stuck on the toilet when we’re 80.”
Whether that means lifting free weights, practicing yoga, taking a TRX class, or doing bodyweight exercises, strength training has an immense ability to shape your health, confidence, and more. Still, if you’re not convinced a stronger body is something you need (and deserve!), here are seven significant benefits of strength training we guarantee you won’t want to pass up on.
1. You’ll Slash Your Risk For All Sorts Of Health Conditions
Aerobic exercise (a.k.a cardio) has long been the poster child for improving health, but strength training offers some serious health perks, too.
Take heart disease and type 2 diabetes, two conditions that plague the U.S., for example. Research published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise followed more than 35,000 women over more than a decade and found that women who reported any strength training had a 30 percent lower rate of type 2 diabetes and a 17 percent lower rate of heart disease—regardless of their cardio habits.
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Strength training can reduce blood pressure by as much as 20 percent and improve blood flow, especially when performed for at least 30 minutes three times a week, according to a study out of Appalachian State University.
And when it comes to keeping your blood sugar healthy—or improving it if it’s already out-of-whack—strength training works its magic in a couple of ways. First, with testosterone: “We all produce testosterone when we strength train,’ explains Jacqueline Crockford, M.S., C.S.C.S., exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “Testosterone helps our insulin response, which regulates our blood sugar levels.” (If the T-word’s got you nervous that you’ll turn into the Hulk, keep in mind that women have about a twelfth of the testosterone that guys do.) Strength training’s other blood sugar perk: It boosts GLUT transporters, which are basically the delivery men that help transport glucose from the blood into our cells, says Scott-Dixon.
2. Your Body Will Be Generally Better At Life
When you strength train, you put controlled stress on your body—and in turn, your body responds to that stress. Your muscles grow stronger, the tissues that create and connect your joints adapt, your connective tissues become more pliable, and the cartilage that cushions your joints becomes cushier—and you can move more efficiently, explains Crockford.
Think of it this way: “When you put a bar on your back and squat, it takes a ton of coordinated work from your body so you can move through your hips, knees, and ankles—while managing your spine—to squat down and stand back up without falling over,” Scott-Dixon says. The more you train the parts and systems of your body to work together like this, the more effectively you can be a human being moving around in the world. Everything from opening jars to carrying groceries to charging up the stairs to keeping your dog from pulling you around becomes easier, she says.
3. You’ll Boost Your Metabolism
Our metabolism determines how many calories our body needs, and the only way we can really increase it is with strength training, says Crockford. You see, your muscles require a lot of energy, so the more muscle mass you have, the higher your ‘resting metabolic rate,’ or number of calories your body burns through just to be alive every day. You’ll need more calories on top of that depending on how much you move and demand of your body throughout the day, but that resting metabolic rate accounts for up to 70 percent of your total, Crockford explains. So the higher your resting metabolic rate, the more calories you automatically burn every single day.
And get this, not only does strength training affect how many calories your body uses, it also affects where they go. “If I do a tough workout and squat my face off, I deplete nutrients in my muscles and create micro-damage that needs to be repaired,” says Scott-Dixon. “So if I go eat a plate of pasta and steak afterward, those carbs and protein go to my muscles.” When you strength train consistently, your body responds to food differently, so what you eat goes toward supporting and building your inner engine—instead of being stored as fat.
4. You’ll Keep Weight Off Easier Than You Would With Just Cardio
So, as you’ve probably guessed, revving your metabolism and changing how your body uses food mean big things for your weight. “The more calories we burn at rest, the easier it is to manage our weight long-term,” says Crockford. So by building muscle and boosting your metabolism with strength training, you can end up burning through far more calories than you would by just slaving over cardio.
When you strength train consistently over time, you may even to able to eat more and continue to get leaner, adds Scott-Dixon. Just imagine it: Less time spent cardio-ing your life away and freedom from stressing about calories!
5. You’ll Reshape Your Body
Focusing on strength training instead of just cardio can have another huge body benefit: It can completely transform your shape. “You can do as much cardio as you want, but you can’t have a sculpted or toned look without muscle,” says Crockford. Whether you want defined shoulders, striking abs, or firm thighs, strength training is how you get there.
We all respond to strength training (and build muscle) a little differently, but “strength training will make you the best version of yourself,” says Scott-Dixon.
6. You’ll Age Better
One of the biggest struggles women face as we age: declining bone density, which often worsens during and after menopause. “Our bone density tops out somewhere around age 30, so we want to build up as much density as we can until then and continue to maintain it from there,” says Crockford. And one of the biggest things we can do to improve and maintain our bone density is, you guessed it, strength training.
A review published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Medicine concluded that by supporting bone density, increasing muscle mass, and improving strength and balance, resistance training helps decrease our risk for osteoporosis, a condition marked by low bone density that increases chances of frailty and fractures as we age. “Strength training is hugely important for younger women, as is to continue strength training through menopause,” says Crockford.
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In addition to doing our bones some serious good, strength training also benefits something we often overlook when it comes to exercise: our brain. “When we exercise, we produce chemicals and hormones that help develop new pathways in the brain,” explains Crockford. This improves our cognition and memory—especially as we age.
7. Your Self-Confidence Will Skyrocket
We could go on and on about the physical benefits of strength training, but perhaps one of its greatest powers is its ability to completely change our sense of self and increase our confidence.
“Every woman I’ve worked with—even if they’re apprehensive at first—has gained confidence and independence through strength training,” says Crockford. “It has a profound effect on who they are as people.”
Scott-Dixon agrees: “When we feel physically stronger, not only are healthier, but we’re more capable human beings. We feel able to exert our will in the world, to be assertive, to ask for or demand more.” In that, strength training can transform how you feel about your inner and outer strength, capacity, and capability—and who doesn’t want that?