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Why your muscles need strength training

31st December 2014
strength training


A recent study showed that men who increase the amount of time spent lifting weights by 20 minutes a day are less likely to gain weight and more likely to reduce their waistline compared to those who increase their aerobic exercise by the same amount of time. But this isn’t the only beneficial effect of strength training.

Although all forms of exercise are good for one’s overall health, when it comes to muscles, lifting weights does things that aerobic and cardio workouts simply cannot do. Muscles have three main properties you need to focus on if you want a strong and healthy body: flexibility, endurance and strength.

Cardio workouts can help with endurance but they won’t do much in terms of strength, and workouts like yoga or pilates can improve flexibility, but they’re less effective than weight lifting when it comes to the other properties.

Strength workouts have the advantage of working on all these three levels. Take a look at the picture below. Muscles that are more flexible behave better when flexed or stretched, and can lift heavier weights, for more repetitions and longer periods of time.

On the other hand, untrained, weak and stiff muscles are likely to get injured not only when lifting, but also when performing regular stretches or exercises that involve repetitive flexion and extension movements.


How strength training helps in building stronger, leaner and more flexible muscles


When a muscle is stretched, the fibers and tendons elongate, but they return to the original shape after the position is changed. When we lift a barbell to do biceps curls, the muscles contract and then they relax, or in other words, they flex and then they elongate.

Weak muscles may perform well for 2-3 repetitions, if using heavy weights, or for more reps if using lighter weights, but after a first set, it’s likely for pain to occur, as untrained fibers lack the elasticity needed for this type of workout.

On the contrary, trained muscles will behave well even if you add 1 extra pound to your usual shoulder, arm or chest workout, or if you squat with 1-2 extra lbs., because they’re already strong and flexible enough to support heavy weights for several minutes.

Increasing the weight progressively will not cause damage to your muscles, but going from 2 lbs to 10 lbs in a single workout session, when not used with heavy weights, is likely to lead to injuries.

Muscles lose their flexibility as we get older, and this can be easily seen in our skin, as the loss of muscle elasticity is one of the reasons wrinkles appear. As the flexibility decreases, it’s likely for pain to occur – back pain for example is often caused by a lack of elasticity in the back muscles, and the same can happen when your hip muscles become stiffer.

If you experience pain when sitting with your legs crossed or when leaning forward, it might be a sign that you’re lacking muscle elasticity. Still, keep in mind that strength training is not the same with flexibility training, and stretching and flexibility exercises should be incorporated in your strength workout for optimum results.

Also, note that overtraining and overstretching are not beneficial and can increase the risk of injury. After an intense weight lifting session, the muscle fibers need to recover, and if you stretch too much you can cause even more damage and discomfort, and affect the tissue’s elasticity.

Moving to strength: flexible muscles tend to also be stronger, as it’s easier to lift something when the muscles are elastic and can easily contract and relax, without causing pain. Muscles that are strong enough can generate enough force and can control the movements better. Take the squat exercise for example: if your leg muscles are weak, it’s likely to lose posture control when doing 10 reps, but if your body is trained and strong, it’s easier to maintain proper posture and this prevents injuries.

Finally, muscles that are flexible and strong are more likely to operate at 100% efficiency for longer periods of time, therefore they have a better endurance as well. Endurance refers to the ability of maintaining strength over a period of time, and a weak and untrained muscle gets tired easier. For endurance, both weight lifting and cardio workouts are necessary, but cardio alone, as already said, won’t help with the other components.

For this reason, the best workout routine incorporates mostly strength exercises, but includes stretching and cardio intervals as well. HIIT workouts are an excellent example of an efficient workout that checks the three boxes, but WBV exercises can also help with all the three components.

Studies have showed that vibration training does improve flexibility, endurance and strength, so if you’re lacking time or simply prefer working out in the comfort of your home, you can replace the regular strength and flexibility workouts with a WBV session, and just add 20 minutes of running at the end of the routine, for better endurance.

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