If you're sticking to healthy weeknight meals, hitting up the elliptical machine regularly, and yet, you're just not seeing the results you thought you would—there could be something critical missing. And that something is strength training.
Strength training isn't just for gym rats and Schwarzenegger-wannabes. Regular weight training can benefit just about everyone in myriad ways. We're talking better sleep, less stress, and more energy. Read on for the top reasons that lifting weights goes way beyond getting buff.
1. Rev up your metabolism.
After a few dates with some dumbbells, both guys and gals will notice an increase in resting metabolic rate. Effect of acute resistance exercise on postexercise oxygen consumption and resting metabolic rate in young women. Osterberg KL, Melby CL. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 2000, Aug.;10(1):1526-484X. Strength training increases resting metabolic rate and norepinephrine levels in healthy 50- to 65-yr-old men. Pratley R, Nicklas B, Rubin M. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 1994, Jun.;76(1):8750-7587. And with the right diet, routine lifting may help you lose weight more effectively than cardio alone.
2. Build muscle.
Whether the goal is strength gains or weight loss, there’s a lifting regimen that will deliver optimal results. And, as you get older, strength training can help combat the natural decline in muscle and bone density (HIIT training may be especially effective at fighting osteoporosis). The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: a review. Layne JE, Nelson ME. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 1999, Mar.;31(1):0195-9131.
3. Prevent injury.
Lifting weights is key to staying injury free. In addition to muscles being stronger, studies show that resistance training can lead to stronger ligaments and tendons (those are the tough connective tissues that hold bone to bone or muscle to bone, respectively), meaning you're less prone to tears or other injuries in everyday activities.
4. Increase flexibility.
Over time, resistance training may help improve flexibility. In one study of sedentary women, moderate strength training did just that—no down dog required. Influence of moderately intense strength training on flexibility in sedentary young women. Santos E, Rhea MR, Simão R. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2011, Feb.;24(11):1533-4287.
5. Get stronger bones.
If chugging glasses of milk just isn't your thing (hello, Paleo fans!), weight training may be just the fix you need. Lifting will help bones toughen up, which can lower the risk for fractures. Muscle training for bone strength. Suominen H. Aging clinical and experimental research, 2006, Jul.;18(2):1594-0667.
6. Jump-start power.
7. See results... fast.
One final physical incentive? Strength training can offer speedy results. It only takes two to three weekly sessions (for less than a month) to see muscles shape up. Not interested in bench pressing 200 pounds? Not to worry: Lifting lighter weights can also be effective at building muscle—as long as you're still causing muscle fatigue.
8. Get strong anywhere.
9. Up that I.Q.
Turns out, hitting the books might not be the only way to give your brain a boost. Any exercise will help keep your brain healthy, but researchers found that resistance training resulted in beneficial cognitive functioning in older adults, while multiple studies have found similar results in animals.
10. Amp up productivity.
11. Beat boredom.
12. Fight the blues.
Life got you down? Research suggests resistance training can release feel-good endorphins to help keep anxiety at bay, and may even help fight depression. Resistance exercise and plasma beta-endorphin/beta-lipotrophin immunoreactivity. Elliot DL, Goldberg L, Watts WJ. Life sciences, 1984, Mar.;34(6):0024-3205.
13. Boost self-esteem.
Lifting can help improve a person's perceived body image. Effects of weight training on the emotional well-being and body image of females: predictors of greatest benefit. Tucker LA, Maxwell K. American journal of health promotion : AJHP, 1994, Sep.;6(5):0890-1171. And while we don’t have a study to back this up, we think it feels awesome to track progress and see strength gains week after week.
14. Perk up that attitude.
Unhappy at work? Studies show lifting can have psychological benefits, including feeling more positive at the office. Psychological and physical benefits of circuit weight training in law enforcement personnel. Norvell N, Belles D. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 1993, Aug.;61(3):0022-006X. (And if that still doesn’t work, here are three other ideas on how to handle a job that’s totally stressing you out.)
15. Cut down your cancer risk.
16. Protect the heart.
17. Improve cardio strength.
18. Catch zzzs with ease.
There are many well-known remedies to help us fall asleep— like sipping herbal tea and taking a hot shower. And while exercise in general has been shown to help make snoozing a breeze, studies suggest weight lifting in particular can lead to a better night’s sleep. The effects of a session of resistance training on sleep patterns in the elderly. Viana VA, Esteves AM, Boscolo RA. European journal of applied physiology, 2011, Nov.;112(7):1439-6327.
19. Get better in bed.
An all-around stronger body can boost stamina and give you extra energy when you need it most. (Let's face it: Panting isn’t always sexy.)
Originally published December 2011. Updated April 2016.