“A strong body makes the mind strong.” – Thomas Jefferson
Strength is incredibly good for you, for all kinds of reasons. Building lean muscle raises the metabolism, so you burn more of the calories you eat. It improves body composition. It helps you lose fat. Recent scientific evidence suggests it might even help fend off dementia.
Yet, according to a 2012 study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, only about 9% of Americans lift weights. That’s a pretty dismal number.
Why aren’t more people strength training?
There is still an age-old misconception that lifting weights is just for muscle-obsessed narcissists. This is a myth worth busting right now. Whether you are a man or a woman, young or old, beginner or athlete — you can strength train, and you should. If you want to lose weight and build long, lean muscle tissue, you should strength train. If you’re an athlete at any level, you should be strength training for improved performance. If you’re a parent, you should be strength training to stay active with your kids (and look great for your spouse). If you want to stay mentally sharp, you should be strength training. If you’d like to be able to learn new skills and pastimes, and make sure your body doesn’t get in the way, you should be strength training.
What is strength training?
In the simplest of terms, it’s the process of exercising to get stronger. Strength enhances our fundamental physical abilities, speed and power, so we can run faster and jump higher. It also helps build the skills required for specific activities such as swinging a baseball bat or performing a crow pose in yoga class. No matter the exercise or sport, without a foundation of strength to build upon, you will never reach your full potential.
Strength training takes a variety of forms, but the most commonly known is resistance training. This is the act of performing exercises with varied levels of resistance that make the movements more challenging. Most often, this means lifting weights.
Simply put, it’s really good for us to pick things up and put them down on a regular basis Human beings have been lifting heavy things since the beginning of time. But since most of us don’t rely on our ability to lift heavy things for our day-to-day survival, it’s important that we find new ways to keep our bodies strong. A proper, well-balanced strength-training program should carefully calibrate exercise selection and progression, in order to build muscle evenly and reduce risk of injury, while helping you work toward your goals. Technology is making it easier to design strength regimens that precisely suit the body and fitness objectives of each individual, and evolve dynamically with the person as they grow stronger (the Koko system is built to do exactly this).
Here’s some of what goes on under the hood when you make strength training a regular part of your life.
- METABOLIC BOOST: Building strength, and in turn muscle, boosts metabolism, allowing our bodies to burn calories more efficiently. We burn approximately 6-7 calories per pound of muscle per day while at rest, versus only 2 calories per pound of fat. So the more muscle we have on our bodies, the more easily we shed fat. Health begets health!
- FLEXIBILITY & BALANCE: A well-designed program will work opposing muscle groups – known as the agonist and antagonist. Think biceps and triceps. When the muscles on the front of the upper arm (biceps) are exercised, the muscles on the back of the upper arm (triceps) are stretched. Good strength training will also improve balance, allowing you to hold that tree pose or reach a jar on a high shelf without falling over.
- INJURY PREVENTION: Injuries happen – whether it’s a twisted ankle in a pick-up basketball game or a back spasm brought on by an over-exuberant sneeze. But strength training helps prevent these mishaps because, beyond building strong muscle, it helps strengthen bones and connective tissues like tendons and ligaments. This makes you more resilient and less susceptible to injuries of all sorts.
Bottom line: Strength is where true physical fitness – and all the good things that flow from it – really begins. So what are you waiting for?
Michael Wood, CSCS
Chief Fitness Officer, Koko FitClub
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About Michael Wood, Chief Fitness Officer
Michael Wood, CSCS, is Chief Fitness Officer at Koko FitClub, driving the development of integrated strength and cardio training and nutrition programs for Koko members nationwide. A nationally acclaimed fitness expert, Michael has conducted research as a Senior Exercise Physiologist at the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory at the Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and has lectured at Boston University and the University of Connecticut. He has been named Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston” Personal Trainer, and made the Men’s Journal “Dream Team” list of the nine best trainers in the U.S. Michael and his family live in North Attleboro, MA.