If you exercise regularly, you probably have some goals in place when it comes to your health and fitness. Drop some weight, shed some fat, lower cholesterol, etc. And while there’s nothing wrong with these goals, we’re gonna fill you in on a little tip.
They need to take a backseat to getting stronger.
Why? Well, we’re glad you asked.
Getting stronger brings with it a myriad of positive benefits that will make achieving your other goals even more attainable. Muscular strength is the foundation on which all other health and fitness qualities are built. So it doesn’t matter if you want to improve endurance, lose weight, or finally rid yourself of nagging joint pain… getting stronger will help. So it goes without saying, but if you’re lacking in the strength department, you’re not as healthy as you think you are.
But first, let’s clarify some things.
When we say you need to be strong, we don’t mean you need to be competing with the likes of these monster-like human beings.
As impressive as their levels of strength may be, these guys and gals are on the far end of the maximal strength spectrum. You don’t need to be quite that strong, although more power to you if you are!
No, no, my friend. When we say you need to be strong, we mean you need to be strong relative to your bodyweight and the types of activities you typically participate in. You need to be strong enough to handle whatever life throws at you so you can take care of business and remain pain free in the process.
As an absolute bare minimum, ‘strong enough’ would probably entail that you are more than capable of handling your own bodyweight in a number of movements and scenarios. This means things like squats, lunges, pushups, planks, and chin-ups can be completed without any sort of overwhelming strain. (Side note: we realize upper body movements are more difficult for women, but there’s still no reason as to why women can’t and shouldn’t be able to perform a few strict pushups or one chin-up).
If completing these bodyweight movements is difficult, we have two possible harsh realities you need to hear.
You’re weak and/or you’re overweight.
Sorry, we did say they’d be harsh! But struggling to move your own bodyweight is a pretty clear indication that you when life throws some difficulties your way, you’re probably going to struggle with them.
So just why should increasing strength be a top priority? Let’s run through the reasons.
Increased resting metabolism.
Muscle is a metabolically active tissue when compared to fat. What this means is that muscle burns energy (calories) by simply existing, whereas fat does not. And while it might not be a staggeringly high amount of calories burned, it most certainly does raise your resting metabolism. This means the more muscle mass you carry on your frame, the more calories you burn at rest. And there’s no better way to add lean muscle mass than to strength train.
And when you stop to think about how often we aren’t active (sleeping, commuting to work, watching a movie, in work meetings, etc.), this little metabolic boost is huge in terms of helping you stay lean and healthy. Think of lean muscle mass as a solid financial investment that slowly earns you more money over time without doing any extra work.
This leads into our next point quite nicely which is…
Improved ability to maintain a healthy weight.
However, what most people fail to realize is that as you strength train, you may actually gain weight. This might scare some of you, but trust us, it’s not a bad thing at all. Muscle is more dense than fat, so it takes up less volume on your body than fat does.
Take a look at this picture. It terms of weight, both the fat (left) and muscle (right) weigh the same, but the muscle takes up considerably less space. So if you can imagine this on your body, more muscle would no doubt lead to a heavier bodyweight, but you won’t be any larger. In fact, you’ll likely drop a couple pant and shirt sizes while still weighing more.
So as we tell all of our clients here at Grit, stop concerning yourself with how much you weigh. Be more concerned with your body composition (what percentage of your weight is muscle vs fat).
Increased bone density.
You ever head of Wolff’s law? We doubt it, so let us fill you in. Wolff’s law states that in a healthy individual, bone will adapt to the stresses placed upon it. Because your muscles are firmly attached to your bones via tendons, when muscles contract under a load (strength training), this stress is transferred to the bone itself. Because of this, not only does the muscle increase strength, but your bones become stronger in the process as well.
This is HUUUUUGE when it comes to maintaining your quality of life as you age because brittle bones can become a serious concern. Aiming to get stronger will absolutely help combat this issue. Sounds like a win win to us!
Listen, don’t sit there and tell us that you wouldn’t mind looking a little more muscular if you’re a guy or adding some curves in all the right places if you’re a lady. Even if your goal is strictly non-aesthetic, like increasing your bone density, it’s sure as hell not a bad added bonus.
Training to improve strength will likely, although not 100% guaranteed, result in some added muscle mass. How much will vary for every individual, but it’s a safe bet that you’ll add some quality lean muscle after a few months of dedicated strength training. This means percolating pecs, a bubbly booty, or whatever else drives the opposite sex crazy. Plus, when coupled with a clean diet, you’ll drop body fat while slowly adding muscle, completely transforming your body in the process.
Everyone wants to look better naked… some of us are just too bashful to admit it 🙂
Improved joint health.
Joint health is pretty damn important regardless of age, but it’s importance is only amplified as you get older. Anyone older than 30 is at the unfortunate mercy of father time. Because of this, you might experience more frequent aches in your joints from time to time. Now of course there are many factors as to why this happens, such as genetics, prior injuries, diet, etc., but you can bet your bottom dollar that maintaining a decent level of strength well into your golden years will help preserve the overall health of your joints.
Decreased levels of strength can cause compensatory tightness elsewhere in the body, cause misalignments within the joint itself, and restrict movement quality. Just one of these things is enough to wreak havoc on your joints, but if you’ve got all three going on, oh boy… you’re about to punch a one way ticket to Hurtsville.
Intelligently improving your strength can help prevent these issues from ever happening. We want to emphasize the word intelligent though, because if you strength train like a juiced up meathead, you can do just as much damage to your joints as being weak would… if not worse.
Increased resiliency. Decreased risk of injury.
Resiliency: the capacity to recovery quickly from difficulties; toughness.
Now for the sake of this post, we’re talking about physical resiliency. Strength training bulletproofs your body. Being stronger allows your body to take more of a beating and rebound rather quickly. Life will at some point require you to move heavy furniture, do hours worth of intensive labor, walk for extended periods of time, or just exert yourself past the point of which you’re accustomed to. Higher levels of strength not only allow you to do these tasks with less strain, but your perceived level of exertion won’t be as high because, well… you’re strong and can handle it, damn it.
Increased strength also increases tendon strength, increases bone density, and essentially fortifies your joints. All of these things allow your body to better absorb and deal with external forces, like when you unexpectedly trip down some stairs, but also recover quicker if an injury is ever sustained. Just ask any person who’s ever had surgery before if they think strength training prior to surgery helped speed up their recovery efforts. We’d be shocked if the answer wasn’t ‘absolutely’.
And with this increased physical resilience comes an accompanying mental resilience as well. Once you start realizing that you’re pretty strong and can handle business, there’s absolutely a shift in how you view yourself and confidence levels.
Think of it this way… weaker individuals are ’83 Honda Civics with a donut wheel. Stronger individuals are urban assault vehicles. Which do you think is better equipped to handle whatever life and nature throws at it?
Plain and simple, it makes you more awesome.
You don’t need a scientific study to show you that being stronger makes you more awesome. You look better, feel better, perform better, and carry yourself with more confidence. Carrying groceries only requires one trip and you don’t need any help opening that jar of pickles. You OWN that pickle jar.
But seriously, stronger people just have it easier. The stress of movement in general just doesn’t take quite the toll it does when compared to weaker individuals. Quality of life is just higher for strong folks, plain and simple. So make it a priority.