What is strength training?

Strength training is a general term that describes exercises used to build muscle. Improving muscle strength can include a variety of approaches, from power lifting using heavy weights to high-intensity interval training using light weights, to Pilates or yoga using your body weight alone.

Any exercise will help to maintain muscle strength because performing those exercises means muscles are being used. Building muscle, however, requires the muscles to be challenged in a focused way. This is the hallmark of strength training.

What is the importance of strength training as part of an overall exercise routine?

Strength training is a necessary and irreplaceable part of a complete exercise routine. The muscular system has many functions but one of its most important is to support and protect bones and joints. Building muscle will help to protect your bones and joints during high impact exercises such as running and jumping. The muscles also provide everyday protection for normal activities such as walking and climbing stairs.

The importance of strength training can vary based on individual needs. For example, someone with low back pain may need more strength training in their back and hip muscles. Others may need to focus on shoulder strengthening to manage neck and shoulder pain. Evaluation by a manual therapist such as a physical therapist or chiropractor can help to identify individual needs.

What are the benefits of strength training?

The benefits of strength training are numerous:

  • Protection for joints and bones. Strength training will protect vulnerable joints from repetitive injury, whether athletic activities such as running, tennis, golf, or soccer, or everyday activities such as walking.
  • Better balance. Muscles that are deep at the joint help to improve balance. The more balanced you are the less likely you are to fall.
  • Increased endurance. Improving strength will help prevent unforeseen injuries. For example, if one were to slip on ice or trip on a stair, strong muscles will kick in and be more likely to prevent an injury-producing fall.
  • Improved metabolism. Building muscle improves the body’s metabolism. Strength training can make the body work more efficiently, burning more calories over a set time period.

Is strength training for everyone?

Yes! Strength training is an important component of a well-rounded exercise program for everyone. Because strength training helps the muscles to support bones and joints, individuals who are at higher risk of a fracture due to osteoporosis should definitely consider incorporating strength training into their routine.

The great thing about strength training is that specific muscles can be targeted based on your personal needs. For example, individuals with back pain due to osteoarthritis, disc herniations or bulges, or chronic ligament strains will benefit from targeting the smaller muscles that stabilize the spine and pelvis. Commonly, these are referred to as “core exercises” because of the muscle group that they address.

Individuals who need to protect their ankles would benefit from core exercise as well as balance exercises. This will help to keep the ankles strong and prevent ankle sprains.

There are even strength training exercises that help with headaches! Strength training can be adapted to target individual needs by focusing on individual muscle groups.

Why is strength training important as we age?

Part of the normal aging process includes losing muscle mass. This means that there is a natural tendency for your body to become more vulnerable to injury as you get older. Incorporating a strength training routine into your exercise program minimizes normal muscle loss and helps you to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle into your senior years.

It is important to note that activity alone will not build strength. Playing golf, tennis, or running are great forms of exercise and can help to maintain muscle mass, but only targeted strength training with the intention of challenging muscles will build strength.

What are some simple and safe ways people can begin strength training on their own?

Keep in mind that building muscle involves challenging muscles to work.

  • Body weight exercises such as squats, lunges, planks, and pushups are four very common exercises to start strength training.
  • Supervised classes such as yoga or Pilates are also a great place to start with professional instructors able to monitor form.
  • Consider working with a trainer at your gym who can coach you on proper technique when beginning a weight training routine.
  • Please remember that it is always a good idea to consult with a physical therapist, physician, or chiropractor before starting any new exercise routine.

For more exercise and fitness tips, visit the Moving section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.

Camilla Moore, DC, ART, SFMA

Camilla Moore, DC, ART, SFMA

Camilla Moore, DC, ART, SFMA, is a chiropractor with the Lifespan Physician Group at the Lifespan Lifestyle Medicine Center.

Dr. Moore is the creator of PreTrain, a fitness approach that combines evidence-based rehabilitation exercises, progressive movement training, and a high intensity, short-duration fitness routine to help patients improve their strength, stability and flexibility.