“Look out into the distance, my readers. This is the land of health and fitness. Everything the light touches, will one day be yours to rule.”
Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance.
To the east, you have cardiovascular exercise, vital for improving your heart health and ability to recover from all forms of exercise.
To the west lies the valley of mobility and flexibility, vital for improving and maintaining movement quality.
Throughout this land of health and fitness, my readers, you will come across many things that can help you rule with absolute power. Yet amongst this delicate balance, one thing always reigns supreme.
And what about that that dark, shadowy place?
That, my readers, is a Crossfit gym. And you must never go there.
Jokes aside, the one form of exercise that will help you reach your goals faster and more efficiently will always, without a doubt, be strength training. Let me break this down for you by addressing the more common goals of people participating in workouts.
- You want to lose fat.
This is the by far the most common goal of people who engage in exercise. And this is the only time strength training WON’T be the best thing you can do to help accomplish this. Dropping fat is all about altering your diet. But that’s a topic for another post. However, when it comes to exercise, lifting weights will turn you into a fat burning machine.
Here’s the thing. Your typical cardio workouts will burn fat, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s not the best way to do it. Endless cardio will cause you to drop weight, but you’ll end up looking ‘skinny fat’ if you don’t make strength training a priority. What is skinny fat you ask?
Clearly this guy is not fat. But he’s not exactly wowing anyone with his physique either. No real muscle definition, no hypertrophied muscles, nothing that really says “Hey, I workout”.
He’s skinny fat.
Now I get there are a lot of people out there that aren’t interested in the things I just mentioned, but lets be honest. No one makes a goal to burn unwanted fat just to look average. Whether you admit or not, everyone wants a bod that makes people say, ‘Damn baby, it’s a good thing I’ve got my library card because I’m checking you out.”
Strength training builds muscle. Muscle is a metabolically active tissue meaning it needs to use calories to maintain itself. So, the more muscle you have, the more fat you burn. Now it’s not a staggering amount (about 6 calories per pound of muscle), however, it will add up over time. Take me for example, I’ve got around 93lbs of lean muscle currently (measured using an InBody scale). So on a daily basis I’ll burn around 558 calories at rest just because of that lean muscle. In a week thats 3900 calories, which just happens to equate to the amount of calories needed to burn 1lb of fat (3500). More muscle mass has also been linked to improved insulin resistance, which is essentially how well your body responds to eating carbs. The better you can do that, the better off you’ll be in the long run with regards to your body fat levels.
So if you want to burn fat, you gotta strength train.
2. You want to build muscle.
I really don’t even need to explain this one, as I imagine it’s pretty straight forward. If your goal is to build muscle, you need to stimulate it in such a way that that will elicit a growth response. Running won’t do that. Stretching won’t do that. Strength training will though.
When you lift weights, you are creating micro tears in the muscle fiber. After your workout, if your nutrition and sleep are on point, those micro tears will repair themselves. Each ‘repair’ results in a slightly bigger, slightly stronger muscle. Repeat a bunch of times and you’ve got yourself quite the transformation.
So if you want to build muscle, you gotta strength train.
3. You want to build strength.
But let’s dive a little deeper. If you’re a newbie to strength training, just about anything you do will result in strength gains. Bodyweight exercise, light dumbbells, literally anything will make you stronger. And initially, you won’t even see any changes in muscle size. This is because a majority of the changes early on will be neuromuscular changes, mainly increased motor unit recruitment. In layman’s terms, your brain get’s better at recruiting or activating muscle fibers to do a task, like lift a weight.
Once this change occurs, then you’ll start to see changes in muscle size and even more strength. But you need to push it. If your goal is to perform 8 reps, you better only be able to perform 8 reps with whatever weight you choose. If you can perform 15, but stop at 8, you might as well just leave the weight room because you’re robbing yourself of results. Focus on compound lifts and don’t be afraid to go heavy.
Side note: If your weights look like those, please put them back. The whole notion that lighter weights and higher reps will build strengthen and tone your muscles without making them bulky is complete bullshit.
I cringe every time I see someone using 3lb dumbbells performing 25 tricep kickbacks in an attempt to tone up their arms for Chad’s awesome pool party in 3 weeks. Do some strict pushups and TRX paused rows and thank me later.
If you want to get stronger, you gotta strength train. And train like you mean it.
4. You want to move and feel better.
So this one has a bunch of factors in play that will help you accomplish this goal. Soft tissue work like massage or foam rolling will without a doubt help you achieve this. So if you’re not doing this already, you better start. Better yet, if you don’t foam roll, you’re stupid.
Once you’ve foam rolled, some static stretching is never a bad thing. Add in some dynamic movements that take your joints through full ranges of movements and you’ve got a great foundation for improving how you move and feel.
But being able to move through all these ranges of motions without being able to control any of it is a recipe for disaster. And what helps with this?
You guessed it. Strength training.
Strong muscles will help create more stability and more control of your movements.
Strong muscles have the chance to decrease aches and pains throughout the body.
Strong muscles make life easier.
I promise you if you have strong hips (glutes), a strong core, and a strong back you will feel better on a daily basis and move much more efficiently during lifts and life.
I’m speaking in generalities here. You can be strong and still have issues. But you’d rather be strong and have issues than be weak and have issues. Being weak is dangerous. You don’t have to be able to deadlift 500lbs, but you should be able to move your own bodyweight with no problem.
So if you feel like you’re already decently strong but still move and feel like crap, speak with a professional. A physical therapist or qualified personal trainer can help you identify what might be causing the issues. Maybe it’s a lack of good form during lifts. Maybe it’s poor program design. Or maybe you love your ‘mirror muscles’ juuuuuust a bit too much.
If you want to move and feel better, you gotta strength train.
5. You want to improve your cardio workouts.
Shut up Chris. Are you high?
“If I want to improve my cardio workouts, I’m going to do cardio. Plain and simple.”
And you’re not wrong! If you want to improve your 5k time, you’ve gotta run. If you want to cycle better, you’ve gotta cycle. I’m not going to argue that. So how is strength training going to improve your mile time?
Stronger muscles produce more force. More force produced means more distance covered per step or pedal. More distance covered with each step means less work on your part to cover the same distance. Less work means you can work harder to go faster. Going faster means shorter times.
Hooray strength training!
Here’s another example. Athlete A weighs 190lbs has a max squat of 315lbs. Athlete B also weighs 190lbs and has a max squat of 225lbs. They are competing to see who can squat 100lbs for more reps in 5 minutes. Who do you think is going to win? Clearly they are both very capable of squatting 100lbs. But its a no brainer that athlete A is going to win. He’ll be able to perform more reps and it has nothing to do with him having incredible endurance and stamina (something lovers of cardio all clamor over). Nope. He’s just stronger. It’s easier for him to move more weight for more reps because he’s stronger.
Now who do you think is going to be able to cover more distance with less work during a run? The stronger athlete A?
So if you want to improve your cardio workouts, you gotta strength train.
6. Literally any goal not on this list.
Whatever your goal is, strength training will make it easier to accomplish it. I promise you this. If strength training is not a priority or staple in your current training routine, you better check yourself before you wreck yourself.