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Updated: Oct 6, 2020

I’ve been meaning to create a blog about Strength Training (ST) for a while now but I kept putting it off considering the sheer importance of the topic and I wanted to cover every aspect of it and make sure I do justice to the topic at hand. Finally I managed to come up with the right process flow to tackle this topic. I will split this topic into multiple parts, so I can spend decent amount of time on each core component of ST. So, let me start off with an overview about the important factors and principles in play before we jump into the nuts and bolts of it all.

By end of this series you will be equipped with all the relevant information you need, for you to reach your true strength potential, and how to do it in the most efficient (using science) way possible. Lets get started shall we!

For starters, Strength training(ST) is not restricted to gym buffs or athletes alone, it is important and applies to pretty much everyone, especially people older than 40. ST is effective for improving muscle fitness in older individuals as well as young healthy individuals. Now that’s out of the way, what exactly is being strong and why do we need to engage in strength training?

Being strong is having the ability to withstand a certain amount of pressure or force. Carrying groceries, pushing your car that has stopped in the middle of the road, pulling something from the trunk/boot of your car, climbing up the stairs, carrying your kids around or even something as basic as getting off a couch. You need strength for all of these day to day activities. Strength or Resistance training is any physical activity that lets you exercise against external resistance, including free-weights, weight machines, or using your own body weight like yoga and calisthenics. No matter what kind of resistance you use, putting more than the usual amount of load on your body provides a mechanical stimulus to the connective tissues, muscles and bones to adapt and these adaptations eventually leads to strength gains. The idea is to load and overload the muscle progressively, so it needs to adapt and get stronger.

If we look at just about all physical fitness guidelines, they suggest that people should engage in strength training of their large (doesn’t mean one should ignore the smaller ones) muscle groups (quads, glutes, calves, hamstrings, deltoids, back, chest) at least twice per week to reduce the risk of diseases like osteoporosis, and to help with activities of daily living as we age.

Just about from the age of 40, we lose an average of about one percent of our muscle mass per year, while our strength declines much more rapidly at rates between 2-3 percent per year. This slow loss of muscle, if not kept in check can lead to a condition called ‘sarcopenia’. We need our muscles everyday for all sorts of activities of daily living. They do a lot more than just make us look good. Regular strength/resistance training can considerably reduce premature mortality and chronic disease risk.

In this 2017 study, which used data of more than 80,000 English and Scottish adults over the age of 14, the researchers found that participating in any type of strength training was associated with a 23 percent reduction in all-cause mortality. That means that people who engaged in strength training during the time of the study were less likely to die prematurely from diseases and conditions that normally plague people.

Just 30 minutes of strength training cuts the risk of heart attack by the same amount as two and a half hours of walking.

Benefits of Strength Training

Increase Metabolism and Fat Loss

When exercise ends, it takes time for everything to get back to normal. Depleted glucose stores need to be refilled. Damaged muscle cells need to be repaired. All of this requires energy. The more rebuilding that has to be done, the more calories (mostly from fat) are being burned post workout. So, the more intense the workout, the more calories you’ll burn post workout, all day, even at rest.

Each additional kilo of muscle tissue increases (at a constant rate of protein turnover, which means you are actively engaged in ST) resting/recovering muscle metabolism by 10 to 15 calories per day. So, greater the muscle mass, greater the resting metabolic rate therefore more calories are burned.

Prevents Metabolic Disorders

Strength Training increases lean body mass, which promotes a negative energy balance or in other words more energy is expended rather than energy intake (as long as nutrition is kept in check). As your metabolism increases as discussed above, more calories are burned, which prevents you from becoming overweight and obese. This reduces the risk of Diabetes and also has a positive effect on the vasculature of the heart thereby reducing blood pressure.

Reduce the risk of Osteoporosis – Increase bone density

As bones grow more fragile and susceptible to fracture, they are more likely to break after even a minor fall or a far less obvious stress leading to conditions like Osteoporosis. Numerous studies like this one, have shown that strength training can play a key role in slowing bone loss, and it can even build bone by increasing the bone mineral density. To elicit an osteogenic effect, the mechanical load applied to bones should exceed that encountered during daily activities. Hence, ST is the he most promising intervention to maintain or increase bone mass and density. It not only increases muscle mass, but also produces enough mechanical stress on the bones, and enhances the osteoblast activity, which result in stronger, denser bones. ST especially targets bones of the hips, spine, and wrists, which are the sites most likely to fracture.

Effects of Strength Training on Pre/Post Menopausal Women

Estrogen is a key hormone that inhibits the activity of cells called ‘Osteoclasts’, which are responsible for bone resorption. Conversely ‘Osteoblasts’ are responsible for bone deposition. When there is optimal levels of estrogen, it promotes osteoblasts, which produces stronger bones and osteoclasts are kept in check. Therefore postmenopausal women are more prone to fractures and osteoporosis due to reduced levels of estrogen. So, it is even more so important for women to incorporate some sort of strength training into their daily routine as validated by studies like this one.

Contrary to what most people think, Strength Training does not make women "look bulk". Weight gained is mostly 'lean body mass', which will make you look more lean and toned!!

Increase Neuromuscular Efficiency

ST enhances the nerve-muscle connections by Increasing the recruitment of additional motor units, which leads to activation of synergistic muscles to assist force production. Neural pathways linking to target muscles become more efficient at transmitting the message (stimulus). The timing of contractions also become more co-ordinated, in order to meet the force generation required to lift/move loads.

Helps prevent injury

Increases the thickness and strength of the connective tissue structures crossing joints such as cartilage, tendons and ligaments thereby enabling stable and supple joints. It also Improves dynamic stability, decrease musculotendinous stiffness, which leads to better balance, posture, coordination and mobility.

Psychological Effects

A meta analysis of 33 clinical trials involving more than 1800 people, published in JAMA Psychiatry showed people with mild to moderate depression who performed strength/resistance training two or more days a week saw "significant" reductions in their symptoms, compared with people who did not.

A bout of Strength Training releases a cocktail of neurotransmitters, that are our natural “feel-good” chemicals, which are associated with a satisfied feeling and a sense of achievement and confidence leading to greater self esteem. These chemicals have a profound impact on general mood and outlook of an individual. Endorphins have a pain-relieving and anti-depressant effect. Dopamine plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior by creating a positive anticipation and improving mood. Serotonin, is associated with elevated moods and regulating appetite and the circadian (sleep/wake) cycle.

Strength training is a low-cost and safe non-pharmacological intervention strategy

for the conservation of musculoskeletal health.

Systematic strength training produces structural and functional changes, or adaptations, in the body. The level of adaptation is evidenced by the size and strength of the muscles. The magnitude of these adaptations is directly proportional to the demands placed on the body by the volume (quantity), frequency, and intensity (load) of training, as well as the body's capability to adapt to such demands.

If the body is progressively presented with a demand rationally greater than it is accustomed to and enough recovery time is given to trained physiological systems, it adapts to the stressor by becoming stronger. There are numerous physiological mechanisms that contribute to strength gains resulting from chronic adaptation to repetitive and systematic strength training. In the next blog we will start with the basics and look into the anatomy of the muscles. That’s coming up.


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