A Primer on Strength Training

You think fitness and strength training don’t go together? Think again.

If I were to pick one activity that has the most benefits, that would be strength training.

In a few words, strength training, actually progressive overload, is a way to induce your body under acute stress which triggers the body’s natural response to adapt.

This means that it toughens our body and makes us capable of lifting, pushing and pulling big amounts of weight.

The main reasons for someone to adopt strength training are:

  • Health, disease prevention
  • Physical Attractiveness
  • Improved Stress Coping
  • Euphoria, Happiness

Health and Disease Prevention

healthy girl after strength training

The bigger idea is that strength training helps us have a better body, in general, by maintaining or lowering our bodyweight. On top of that, it contributes to lowering our body fat along with a good diet plan. But there are more specific benefits of physical training.

As we previously mentioned, after we put our body under stress, it adapts so the next time it will cope better with the same type of activity.

This means that we lower the chances of injury during any physical activity.

One of the biggest benefits of strength training is injury prevention and this happens through 2 ways.

  • Increased Connective Tissue mass
  • Bone strength and density

The tendons and ligaments are what comprises the connective tissue of our body. Tendons connect muscle to bone and ligaments connect bone to bone.

The size of the connective tissue is very related to the size of muscles. So when muscles grow, tendons and ligaments grow in size and strength as well.

Just think of the most injury-prone body parts, which are shoulders, elbows, and knees. If you want to stay injury free in these areas you better have good connective tissue, as well as flexible muscles.

But it doesn’t stop there. Even after some kind of injury, strength training would help in rehabilitating the muscles, tendons or ligaments.

The other way to prevent an injury is through bone density or bone strength. Specifically, strength training increases collagen fibers as well as mineral salts while being inactive does the exact opposite. It makes us lose bone density.

Although bones will respond to many types of training, it seems that heavy resistance training is the best in increasing mineral density and bone strength sequentially.

Lastly along with the lowering of body fat, it also helps us lose any visceral which can be detrimental to our health as we have mentioned in our body fat series.

Physical Attractiveness

There has been a common misconception that weight training makes us huge or bulky.

Arnold and many others that you may come across in magazines with big arms and huge legs, had an unfair advantage compared to all of us, mortals. Anabolic steroids.

Arnold did his fair share of strength training

 

Someone would need huge amounts of steroids for many years to reach this kind of muscularity.

Therefore, there is no such danger. Only good can come from getting strong.

If you take into account that it helps in lowering your body fat and makes your body more symmetric, it’s enough reason to understand its contribution to physical attractiveness.

But there’s one more advantage for men. Physical strength has been one the key factors in attractiveness since the beginning of our existence. Although nowadays, intellect matters more, strength is a primal attractiveness factor.

Do you think that all these characters from comics and the toys that are so muscular, happened to be muscular by chance?

Let me tell you one little story.

As a kid, I used to be the skinny-fat type. Big fatty legs and a narrow upper back. Actually, you could easily say, I had a girl’s body. But thanks to conditioning I got from all the cartoons and comics I came across, I became accustomed to the most muscular physique. The huge, grotesque kind.

I was born in the late 80’s and most of the cartoon characters were extremely big and muscular. He-Man, Lion-O from Thundercats, Bravestarr, Silver-hawks. For some reason, the good guys were big and strong and the villains were some kind of skeletons.

These things engraved an image in my brain, of a small waist, big arms and big round shoulders.

After I took up weight lifting, I got pretty strong really quickly but my body type wouldn’t change much.

It was only after a year that I realised the impossible could happen.

My body had made an 180° shift. My legs were no longer the dominant part of my body and my back was no longer narrow.

I had achieved a more balanced physique just by being consistent with my training and diet.

This could happen for you as well. If you want to change something on your body, it’s up to you. It’s doable.

You just have to put the time in it and it will come.

Ok, I got you with the whole cartoon thing, but how does it help with stress?

Stress Management

Want to get rid of stress induced headaches?
Want to get rid of stress induced headaches?

Stress has an evolutionary reason of existence, as almost every functionality of our body. It is the way of our body to respond to any difficult or even life-threatening situations.

It raises our heart beat, our blood pressure, tightens our muscles, makes our senses sharper and also enhances our focus.

This is a good thing but only when it comes in small doses. Acute stress, as we call it.

If it comes in larger doses, prolonged, then it creates problems. Our bodies are made to handle life-threatening situations in a very short amount of time. If we extend this situation(chronic stress), our bodies release cortisol and raise our blood pressure extensively, both of which can inhibit our immune system as well as our mental health.

In today’s environment, we don’t face life-threatening situations, never. This leaves room for creating illusionary situations to which we respond as if they were truly dangerous.

As you may have guessed, this means that most situations that have a slight negative bias, are translated as stressful events by our body. It is its way of relieving tension.

The medicine to that is acute stress. Small amounts of very taxing, for the body, activities that raise our heart rate close to the limits. This has the exact of opposite of what we described before.

Now we are treating all daily activities as relaxing ones. We lower our resting heart beating rates even when walking, talking with other people or even working.

This is a very important point as many people have a resting heart rate of 80-100 bpm which is not normal. It should be around 60.

Due to the 2016 lifestyle, we can’t really achieve that, but we need to get in the 60-70 bpm range if we need to be healthier.

Euphoria

It makes you happy
It makes you happy

This my favourite benefit of strength training by far.

Did you know that training assists in endorphins production?

Endorphins are chemicals that help brain neurons connect to each other and pass along messages. Although we don’t know a lot more for their use, the one thing we know for sure is that they make us feel oh so good.

Whenever we engage in sex or any other strenuous activity, our brain’s hypothalamus calls for endorphins. The endorphins then bind to receptor cells called “opioid receptors”. This blocks the feeling of pain and actually produces the exact opposite feeling of euphoria.

Sex is a perfect example actually since it’s one of the most demanding activities of our body, yet we enjoy it a lot.

Kinda the same happens with exercise. After heavy training, we are experiencing an endorphin rush and this feeling of happiness. Often called, “Runner’s High”.

We have to mention here that, only heavy or anaerobic training has this effect. Remember that, the next time you want to go running for an hour. Probably it’s better to lift some dumbbells.

So how do we begin?

How to start strength training

dumbbells for strength training

There are many ways to exercise heavy. You can do it at a gym as well as at your home.

My personal opinion is, use the gym. It makes you accountable and also all these people around you giving their best, gives you a great motive.

If we have to be super simple and have an action plan, easy to follow, it comes to 5 basic strength exercises.

  • Squat
  • Bench Press
  • Deadlift
  • Bent-over Row
  • Shoulder Presses

If you master these 5 exercises in both form and weight load, you will enjoy all the benefits we have described above.

The most common starting workout is called 5×5. It stands for 5 sets of 5 repetitions, for each of the 5 exercises.

If you’re a novice or haven’t practiced these exercises in a long time, I suggest you start by doing much more than 5 repetitions per set, like up to 20, until you make your form better. If you go heavy early, you could injure yourself and that could leave you out of training for some time.

The basic concept is to establish “mind to muscle connection“. Remember that our muscles move through motor units which are controlled by our brain. We need to train our brain first, to control our muscles, voluntarily and on demand.

The more you train, the more you strengthen these brain connections and you make better muscle contractions.

These contractions are going to make your body adapt to greater loads. The better and stronger the contractions are, the greater the level, our body has to reach.

Next time we are going to learn about the different systems of strength training and how to make your workout even more productive.

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