5 Things You Should Know About Strength Training

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
August 19, 2022
rear side view of woman lifting weights with both arms

If you have gym rats in your life, they’ve probably flexed on the benefits of strength training:

  • Improved energy
  • Greater stamina
  • Better physique

But strength training has benefits you might not realize.

Strength training in an umbrella term for a type of physical activity that makes your muscles work against some sort of resistance to facilitate muscle contractions, building muscle strength, size and endurance. 

How Can I Improve My Strength Training?

Most people know these benefits, but the most important thing to know about resistance training: It has serious implications for your overall health. 

  • Resistance training burns calories even after you stop exercising. Studies have shown that resistance training increased resting metabolic rate (the calories you burn when you are resting or inactive) for several days after exercise. Strength training is more effective than aerobic training in increasing resting metabolic rate.
  • Strength training helps reduce fat in your abdomen. We tend to add weight to our midsection as we age, which increases our risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and come cancers. But men who spent 20 minutes a day lifting weights had less of an increase in abdomen fat than men who did 20 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, according to one study. 
  • Resistance training also keeps you agile, reducing risk of falls, especially as you age. In one study of nearly 24,000 older adults, participants were 34% less likely to fall if they participated in an exercise program that included balance, resistance and functional training.
  • It’s also good for your heart. Lifting weights for under an hour a week may reduce your risk for heart attack or stroke by 40 to 70 percent. These benefits are independent of aerobic exercise.
  • Weight training also helps you manage your blood sugar. One study found that it reduces liver fat, improves glucose levels in people who are obese or have type 2 diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity
  • Resistance training also boosts your mood and reduces symptoms of depression.
  •  It can also help your brain. Numerous studies have shown benefits to memory, cognitive ability and even may protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease. 

Still, where more than 53 percent of Americans get the recommended amount of aerobic exercise each week, only 23 percent get the recommended amount of aerobic and resistance exercise each week. That means a lot of Americans aren’t maximizing their chances of reducing disease risk and living longer, fuller lives. 

Whether you’ve tried strength training and given up or never tried it at all, what’s holding you back? Here are five common things that people don’t understand about strength training. 

1. Strength training doesn’t limit your flexibility.

For years, many shied away from strength training out of concern it would “tighten them up.” However, that’s just a myth. One of your fitness goals should be good flexibility, i.e., the ability of joints to move through an unrestricted, pain-free range of motion. Of course, stretching helps improve flexibility, but so can strength training. Strengthening muscles help improve their structure, helping them stretch further. 

2. Strength training doesn’t cause women to look bulky.

When women say they don’t want to lift weights, many cite bulking up as a concern. However, bulking up is the result of testosterone, a hormone and natural anabolic steroid that fosters muscle growth. Men have plenty of testosterone, which is why they’re able gain a lot of muscle mass. However, women have about seven times less testosterone than men. They don’t have enough to bulk up. Strength training has the opposite effect on women: It helps them “lean out” by burning calories, developing muscle and losing fat. 

3. Resistance training can raise your heart rate.

Raising your heart rate during exercise helps burn calories, deliver oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood throughout your body and lower cholesterol levels. Aerobic activities such as running, fast walking, swimming, hiking and cycling are typical go-to activities to raise your heart rate. However, strength training also works well, particularly if you’re doing a quicker paced circuit. No, it doesn’t provide the same cardio benefits as jumping rope or running, but as you lift weights, your muscles will produce carbon dioxide (as a byproduct), requiring you to breathe heavier to take in more oxygen. In turn, your heart beats faster to circulate the oxygen via blood to the working muscles. 

4. You may not burn a lot of calories during a resistance training workout, but you will continue burning calories after your workout.

If you’re trying to manage your weight, you probably prefer high calorie burning fitness activities. Makes sense – more bang for your buck. And when it comes to calorie burning, strength training tends to take a back seat to aerobic activities. But what you may not realize is that after strength training, you’ll continue burning calories for about 24 hours after your workout, even at rest. Colloquially, it’s called the afterburn effect. In scientific terms, it’s excess post-exercise oxygen consumption and its process of restoring your body back to its pre-workout state. The process occurs after any activity intense enough to raise the metabolic rate, however, it’s most often associated with strength training.

5. There are many types of resistance training.

There are many activities that are considered strength training. Lifting free weights (dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells) and using weight training tools (medicine balls and sandbags) are probably the first that come to mind, and they’re very effective. If you think they’re boring, work with a trainer to set you up on a program with goals. If you don’t like working out on your own, take a sculpting class which incorporates hand-held weights, resistance bands and tubing. 

Have musculoskeletal issues? Try plate-loaded, selectorized or hydraulic machines that allow you to control your range of motion and work one group of muscles at a time. Pilates machines are great if you’re looking for a lighter workout. Body weight training such as calisthenics, mat Pilates and some forms of yoga also work well. 

And lastly -- if you’re up for it – try military-inspired suspension training, one of the most popular types being TRX. Remember, before you begin any workout, consult your physician. They can guide you as to the most appropriate activities and intensity level for you, your condition and medications. If you don’t have a primary care physician, consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician to customize a wellness plan. Find an MDVIP affiliate near you and begin your partnership in health »

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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