It is well-established that repeated physical activity is an important part of living a long and healthy life (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018). Thankfully, there are many options. Running, swimming, pilates, yoga, and playing recreational sports are all popular ways that people can stay physically active. These activities vary in the specific physiological demand and movement pattern of the body. However, they all have one thing in common. Performance in all of these activities is increased by a properly applied strength training (aka resistance training) program. In other words, strength training will make you a better swimmer, a better runner, and a better athlete in general. You could say that it is a healthy performance booster (especially for those who don’t do strength training often).
What exactly is muscular strength and how can we measure it?
Muscular strength is defined as the maximal amount of force that a muscle can exert in a single contraction. Strength can be measured in several ways, but in practical terms, strength is the amount of weight you are able to lift for a given exercise. For example, If you can deadlift 225 pounds for one repetition, that is a measure of strength, specific to that exercise.
A good strength training program involves many exercises that are functional movements (squats, deadlifts, overhead press, etc) that utilize all muscle groups of the body. It is important that exercises are completed with correct form, the correct amount of times per week, and with the correct amount of weight. It is also important to not overdo it! Let your muscles rest between lifting days.
Why is it good for us to be strong?
Stronger people live longer. Research shows that mortality rates are lower for individuals that are stronger (Metter et al., 2002). This is especially true for people over 60 years of age.
Greater strength levels increase performance in all physical activities. Yes, even long distance runners should lift weights if they want to improve their running performance. The reason is because strength training improves physiological factors in the body that increase our bodies ability to do other types of physical activity. Namely, the amount of fuel we have available for exercise (glycogen storage), our ability to tolerate intense exercise (buffering capacity), and how much energy we are using during exercise (STØREN et al., 2008). These physiological factors are important for many types of physical activities but often those activities will not improve physiological factors as significantly as resistance training. If you can perform activities at a higher level, you can burn more calories for a longer period of time. Through strength, we can achieve a greater performance in all physical activities we do, resulting in a greater level of fitness.
Strength training reduces chances of injury. It strengthens not only muscles, but tendons, ligaments and bones. All of which are important for staying injury free, allowing you to participate in many physical activities safely. For example, many people that run to excess can develop stress fractures in the bones, shin splints, or tendonitis. However, if you add strength training to your exercise routine, your chances of sustaining an injury are reduced.
Strength training is an important part of living a healthy life because it helps you to live longer without injuries, and improves performance in all other movements that you do. The long distance runner who is trying to improve his/her time should do resistance training. The recreational basketball player that is trying to play an entire game without sitting out should do resistance training. And even just the average joe that is trying to live longer and stay healthy should do resistance training.
U.S. department of health and human services. (2018, June 21). 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/report.aspx
Metter, E. J., Talbot, L. A., Schrager, M., & Conwit, R. (2002). Skeletal muscle strength as a predictor of all-cause mortality in healthy men. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 57(10), B359-B365.
STØREN, Ø., Helgerud, J. A. N., STØA, E. M., & Hoff, J. A. N. (2008). Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 40(6), 1087-1092.