Strength Training can mean one thing for one person, and a different thing to another. Some consider it ‘weight lifting’, some consider it ‘muscle building’, and others know it as actual ‘strength building’ which is not actually the same as muscle building. No matter what your idea of strength training may be, it’s a highly valuable component to anyone’s lifestyle.
Technically speaking, strength training focuses on strength, not muscle mass or even weight lifting. Strength can come without lifting any weights, and it can actually increase without building any muscle tissue, but most of the time you will have to lift weights and you will build muscle as you do it, so for the sake of this conversation we can just agree that all the above definitions apply.
The reason strength training is an important part of anyone and everyone’s lifestyle is because our bodies were made to work. They’re designed to be active, and unfortunately technology has increasingly taken us away from physical activity. We’re moving less, physically challenging ourselves less often, and depriving ourselves of time we could spend doing something active to instead sit, sit some more, and lie down from wearing ourselves out from sitting down all day.
The sad reality about our muscles is use them or lose them. The less they work, the weaker they get, the less flexible they get, so the tighter they get, and the worse off you become. Cardio training is great for heart health, circulation and mobility. Flexibility training is perfect for tight muscles and joints. But neither of those challenge our ability to overcome resistance, and resistance is a part of our everyday lives. Carrying groceries, picking up children, throwing a baseball…these all involve overcoming resistance, and the only way we can maintain and improve our ability to overcome resistance is if we do some form activity like strength training.
As previously stated, strength training doesn’t have to be done in a gym, or even with dumbbells. Bodyweight exercises, knick knacks around the house of various weight, and resistance bands are all highly effective tools that can keep our strength healthy. Once an individual has developed their strength to a certain level through these methods, they will probably want to continue their growth, which will require stepping up to weighted machines and dumbbells, but maintaining that level of strength by continuing the same protocol is also an option.
Should you decide to step up to weighted exercise, be careful not to immediately select a weight that you struggle with in hopes of getting stronger faster. Proper form is crucial at preventing injury, and injuries will not only slow your progress, but they may also scare you away from weighted exercises. When done properly, weighted exercises are every bit as safe and beneficial for you as any other form of exercise. If you’re not sure how to execute proper form, ask a personal trainer nearby. Every gym should have at least one personal trainer on duty, and they are there to help you, so take advantage of this resource.
Once you’ve gotten into a regular strength training routine, be sure to switch it up every couple of months or so. Increase the weight of each exercise as it becomes easier. Regularly swap exercises with new ones that work muscles in a different way. Your body will adapt to your training, meaning your muscles will grow in accordance to how you challenge them. If you do the same weight, sets and reps continually, your muscles will stay the same. If you increase the weight continually, your muscles and strength will increase continually. And if you keep doing the same exercises over and over, your muscles will eventually cease to change as well. This is known as a plateau.
To push through a plateau, you may need to change up your nutrition, your set range, rep range, and most definitely your exercise routine. Your mind should consistently be trying to ‘trick’ your body. As previously stated, the body adapts to what the mind puts it through, so if there is no change in your routine, your body will reflect that lack of change. Plateaus can vary in appearance intervals, but most fitness experts recommend switching up you exercises for each muscle group every 6-8 weeks. This doesn’t mean you can no longer work a muscle group, it just means trying a new exercise to work that muscle group. For example, move from barbell benchpress to dumbbell bench press. Switch from a leg press machine to a hack squat machine. Switch from dumbbell bicep curls to cable curls. And within these types of changes, try doing heavier weight for 4-8 reps. Then switch to moderate weight for 8-12 reps. If you need help finding new ways to continue advancing, ask your gym’s personal trainer on duty for some advice.
Provided that you’re fueling your growth with adequate amounts of protein, fats and carbs, you should be able to notice growth and strength gains for years. In theory, everyone has a maximum level of strength and muscle mass that they’ll be able to achieve, but if you’re advanced enough to make it to this maximal level of strength, chances are you have ignored other aspects of your overall fitness like cardio, flexibility or balance, and it would be wise to spend more time improving in those.
You may think you don’t have what it takes to be successful at strength training, but couldn’t be more false. Do what you can’t, and you’ll be surprised at what you accomplish.