Ranging from supercharged calorie burn to offsetting memory loss, the health benefits of strength training go way beyond flexing bigger biceps and posing for poolside pics.
To get the lowdown on all things strength training, we chatted with Chris Tye-Walker, CSCS, a Master Trainer, fitness host, and the West Coast Head Trainer for Barry’s Bootcamp.
Also known as resistance training, strength training helps develop strength, muscle mass, and endurance. It involves using either your body weight or physical weights, such as dumbbells or kettle bells.
To this question, Chris answers with an emphatic yes.
While some people believe that cardio is the best or only workout that burns fat, Chris admits that he geeks out on busting this common exercise myth. And while he doesn’t advise skipping your go-to running or spinning routine, he suggests at least giving more weight—pun intended—to strength training.
When you strength train, “your main goal is to tear the muscle fibers. In doing so the muscle will rebuild stronger,” he begins. “The energy the body uses to repair the muscle is [from] the fat that lives around it. So with the correct weight-training session, your body will burn calories for up to 72 hours after training, as it’s repairing the muscle. The benefits here are that the muscle develops to be stronger, and you’ll become leaner as the fat burns.”
Fat loss aside, there are various benefits associated with strength training. Best of all, they’re not only limited to your physique, but also extend to your mind and overall health.
Here are some of the top health benefits of strength training.
Piggybacking off the section above, Chris further details the the extra calorie burn you experience even after you complete your strength training session.
“This increase in metabolism is a process called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC),” he begins. “When you strength train, your body requires more energy. The harder you work, the more energy it needs, which in turn burns more calories both during and after you’ve completed your session.”
Next, the desire to change your body composition is a common reason why many people work out. That said, strength training is a valuable method to reach this goal.
As Chris explains, you need to have a calorie deficit to lose weight. In other terms, “calories consumed need to be less than the calories burned to shred stubborn pounds. (It takes a 3,600 calorie deficit to lose one pound.) So if you’re burning calories after your workout, that’s going to assist hitting that deficit, and this is how you’ll change your body composition.”
Simply put, think of your time strength training as a great investment that’ll yield weight loss results even while you rest.
Now, when it comes to internal health, resistance training is a great way to protect your body from both injury and wear-and-tear from aging.
“Bone mass density is a huge benefit of strength training, as well as improving stiffness of connective tissue,” Chris begins. “This basically stops bones from breaking as easily, as well as helps prevent having tendon issues. So as we age, strength training will assist in keeping us from fractures and dislocation that occur from falling.”
This health benefit of strength training is especially important from middle-age forward, as we naturally lose one percent of bone mass per year after age 40. It’s also pertinent for people who are less active or lack adequate nutrition.
Still on the topic of pro-aging, it turns out that this type of workout not only strengthens your body, but also your mind—even into advanced years.
A 2014 study of 100 adults aged 55 to 86 found that those who strength-trained twice weekly showed significant improvements in cognitive function within 18 months.
Wondering how? A follow-up study two years later showed that resistance training may thicken the gray matter in the brain in a region typically concerned with cognitive ailments.
In all, it appears that as you strengthen your bodily muscles, you also have the added health benefit of building brain cells.
Last but not least, as you achieve your body composition goals, your mood and self-esteem should get a natural boost, as well.
Chris says that these benefits are his favorite byproducts of working out. In particular, he cites “the workout high when you crush your morning class or strength session that sets you up for a successful day.” Credit this workout high to endorphins, natural opiates produced by the brain that are associated with reward, improve your mood, and reduce pain.
This feel-good rush isn’t only chemical, but also applicable to your daily doings. Chris believes that when you’re proud of your physical accomplishments, your confidence and comfort in your own skin trickles down to other parts of your life.
“The personal win that my clients experience allows them to be a little more free, open to meeting new people, and self confident,” he shares. “That, for me, is everything.”
To reap the impressive health benefits of strength training, you don’t have to become The Hulk 2.0 or limit yourself to basic barbell moves.
Instead, Chris recommends interchanging strength training sessions with other forms of exercise you like best, whether that be cardio, yoga, or any other type of movement.
If you’re interested in guided group workouts, he cites the recent popularity of boutique strength-training gyms and classes led by certified trainers. Luckily, many of them now offer streaming fitness classes you can do at home—some of them even in real time.
Here, Chris outlines different types of strength training modalities to chose from:
For an effective resistance workout, Chris recommends performing compound exercises, which work multiple muscles simultaneously. He notes that they’re particularly efficient if you’re short on time or can’t make it to the gym.
Luckily, he says, “many of these compound moves can be completed with your body weight. For example, a squat, lunges and step-ups all work your lower body; they activate your quadriceps, glutes, and calves. Then, a variation of pushups work your upper body muscles like the chest, triceps, and abs.”
To take things up a notch, simply grab dumbbells and add extra weight to your compound exercise moves. “For example, turn your squats into a squat and press, or your lunges into a lunge curl,” he suggests.
As far as time commitment goes, Chris suggests strength training in any form three times a week.
“Sessions can vary from 30 minutes of HIIT training to an hour of slightly slower-tempo work,” he begins. “As your muscles start to develop and get used to this style of training, your resistance to fatigue will increase. This will make your training duration increase, as well as the amount of load you can lift.”
From there, you should begin to feel and eventually see great results.
Chris says that results are dependent on how consistently and hard you train. However, he tells his clients to dedicate six weeks to any goal, then reassess progress at the end.
Additionally, know that results often go beyond mere physical markers such as lower BMI and pounds/inches lost.
“It’s always fun to challenge yourself to do some sort of benchmark test at the beginning of a new cycle of training, then repeat it at the end to see our improvements,” he shares. “So many benefits are ones we can’t see. I’m a whole-body trainer; it’s not just about aesthetics.”
While many of us break a sweat with physical goals in mind, the health benefits of strength training go well beyond getting lean, cut, and shredded. Fortunately, while these goals can be part of the total package, Chris concludes that “you’re going to have many other adaptations that happen while undergoing a strength program.”
His final word of advice before hitting the weights is to start with a plan. Set goals, find workouts you can enjoy and stick to, and stay the course.
For more fitness inspo from Chris Tye-Walker, catch up with him on Instagram.