I used to naively equate exercise with cardio. And that’s precisely why I’d spend my workout time solely on the treadmill or on the pavement, running to sweat it out—and running was all that I did (and I thought I was a workout queen). Now I look back and shake my head, because we all know that cardio is merely one slice outta the whole pie of what healthy fitness encompasses.
Another slice that’s equally important? Strength training. Which isn’t just pumping weights—it’s essentially anything you do that works on strengthening your muscles with either machines, weights, or your own bodyweight. “Strength training is training where you use resistance to burn calories, improve your cardiopulmonary health, and build muscle,” explains Kit Rich, celebrity trainer and founder of KICHGO. So that even includes what you do in Pilates and sculpt classes, too.
Some people shy away from it though because they just prefer avoiding the weights rack or think their cardio is enough, without realizing that building muscle is key to a strong (ahem) fitness game. “Strength is the foundation for all other physical endeavors,” says Eric Johnson, co-founder of HOMAGE fitness. Besides getting stronger, though, there are a slew of other reasons why strength training is key, which you probably don’t even realize. Below are the unexpected reasons to incorporate it into your sweat regimen, stat.
The benefits of strength training that extend way past getting stronger
1. Improves imbalances: If you think about it, cardio workouts like spinning or running work only certain parts of your body—intensely. So with a strength training regimen, you get to strengthen other muscle groups to balance everything out, says Rich, which means you’ll improve your performance in your cardio workout of choice.
2. Increases your metabolic rate: When you strength train, you’re feeding your muscles—which results in more muscle fibers, according to Johnson. “The addition of more muscle on one’s frame actually increases your metabolic rate, or the amount of calories you burn in a resting state,” he says.
3. Gain more mobility: Your joints get perks from the strength work, too. “You can actually improve your joint mobility and overall flexibility by strength training,” says Johnson. “Proper strength training will improve the stability of certain joints and muscles, which allows your brain to know that you are safe.” What happens from that is that your nervous system can release its lock on the joints, resulting in an increased range of motion. “For instance, if the core and lumbar spine has more stability, the hips will be in a better position to move without compensations,” he says.
4. Prevent more health risks: With stronger muscles, Rich says that you’re able to fight the potential onset of osteoporosis. “Strength training improves muscle mass and prevents bone loss, which also helps with preventing falls,” she says. It’ll improve your heart health, too. A recent study found that those who strength train reduced a certain fat around the heart that’s associated with coronary artery disease—which cardio alone doesn’t do.
5. Gain more confidence: Working out releases endorphins, of course, but Johnson points out that strength training will literally boost your mood and likely your confidence as well. “Confidence and strength tend to have a direct relationship in their growth,” he says. “When one is capable to physically lift more weight or even just control their own body weight, their mental strength increases as well. The fear of physical incapability begins to diminish.” Well, he has a point—when I can lift heavy boxes and schlep them to my apartment all on my own, I feel pretty damn proud.
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