The Webster dictionary has 28 separate definitions for the word strong. That could possibly compete with Eskimos for the word snow. My guess is it might be an important word.
When you hear the word strong, do you automatically think of Mr. Clean with his galactic muscles and barely there white T? Or do your thoughts go more to the aunt that shows up at the holidays with too red lips, musky perfume and has an opinion on everything?
Unfortunately when it comes to being strong in the gym, most of us think of the muscle-head guys. Those guys who look like they could possibly be on steroids, who talk about leg day or "doing back”. The bodybuilders. They can be quite intimidating with those larger-than-life muscles and the grunting & panting as they try to lift huge stacks of weights.
I know a number of women avoid the weight room at the gym completely just because of these types of lug heads. They also avoid strength training because they are afraid they will look like a man. They refuse to pick up a weight any heavier than 10lbs. Ladies, I assure you do not have the DNA to develop like a man we are just not built the same
Maybe you don't think about being strong at all but you should.
Building strength helps in every aspect of your life.
First, strength training helps build bone density and help ward off osteoporosis related fractures. Studies show that strength training over a period of time can help prevent bone loss -- and may even help build new bone. Think about some of the older ladies you see out in public that are stooped over. To me, it always looked so painful and I am guessing that it is because it is caused by small fractures in the spine. Although they are not breaking in two, which is what we normally think of when we think of fracture, but compressing, crunched down. When we talk about osteoporosis we often think of the elderly falling and breaking a hip. This is not always the case. I recently read an article that said this type of condition is not painful. It may not be but I doubt it is comfortable and it is preventable.
Muscle burns more calories than cardio. Let preface the rest of this paragraph with: please don't forget I am an endurance athlete and can't live without my runs. With that said, cardio training only burns calories while you are actually doing the activity. Your 5k run will burn 300 calories but once you are done, the calorie burn stops. Lifting weights however, gives you EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), after burn. This gives you a spike for at least one hour post exercise. Not to mention an extra 25% of calories that you will burn trying to recover from that workout. Because it takes more energy to sustain the muscles, you can burn up to an additional 120 calories a day for every 3lbs of muscle you gain.
Like it or not, we are all getting older. People who are inactive can lose as much as 3%-5% of muscle every decade starting at the age of 30! Think of strength training like you think of your 401K, a deposit for later in life. I know my Curly Girl is tired of me saying this but when you get older, don't you want to get up off the toilet seat all by yourself? Developing your gluteus & hamstrings and keeping them conditioned can prevent some of the humilities of aging.
Everything becomes more difficult as we age, fight it! Pick up heavier weights and keep those muscles strong. Functional movement, movement based on real-world situational biomechanics, is making sure you can support yourself physically in activities like walking, climbing stairs or getting off the sofa.
I saw an elderly woman at the grocery store the other day and my heart broke. She was trying desperately to push her grocery cart, which was empty, up the ramp into the store. I would have stopped to help but she did have a grand-daughter with her encouraging her to keep going. Through strength training we build the muscles stronger which allows us to age more gracefully. Being stronger will also help prevent injury through trips and falls and help us recover more quickly when those trips and falls do happen.
There is misinformation out there which reminds me of a riddle I heard when I was a kid. Which weighs more 10 lbs. of bricks or 10 lbs. of feathers. The answer now is obvious, they both weight 10 lbs. Then, as a trainer, I get the question, does muscle weigh more than fat. Last I checked a pound was a pound regardless of what we are weighing. However, muscle is more dense than fat (18%) and every muscles has a distinct shape. One pound of muscle occupies less space than fat (I always think of the Bob from Monsters vs. Aliens when I think of fat). By turning your fat into muscle through strength training and making those muscles denser, you will take up less space in your jeans. Who does not want to take up less space in their jeans? Fat on the other hand, has no shape and just hangs out (or over) the top of everything.
When you feel strong, you feel confident, you feel empowered. Strength is knowing that you put the work that yielded the desired results. Strength training can improve your posture and allow you to stand a little taller. When you walk around a little taller, the world perceives you differently. They see a more confident person. When you are stronger, you will release more endorphins. You will not tire as easily with more endorphins. Of course there is always getting you to the gym in the first place. I promise if you just start putting on your sneakers, you will start to feel better. I hate hearing that I was too tired to work out. There were so many days during triathlon training that I dreaded swimming. By the time the pool opens in the afternoon, I had had a complete day. Inevitably, I would lollygag around the apt whining. Every time without fail, once I showered poolside, the fatigue had worn off.
I could go on and on and on about the importance of being strong and we would be here for a long time. Physical activity is so important, ACSM has a created world congress called Exercise is Medicine. ACSM works with physicians to include physical activity as a treatment plan for patients, there are that many benefits to strength training.
With all of that being said, you don't need a weight room at the gym in order to get strong. There are so many bodyweight exercises you can do on your own. Without any equipment, you can do them anywhere anytime, no excuses. You probably already know how to do a pushup. During a pushup you lift 85% of your own weight. A 150 lbs. person would be lifting, 127.5 lbs. If you think you need weights, you don't. Back to our muscle-heads. They are there to build up their bodies not necessarily to get functional. I have known a bodybuilder or two that would not last two minutes on the treadmill.
If you are going to the gym, don't let the muscle-heads intimidate you out of the weight room. If you are unsure of the equipment at first, hire a trainer to walk you through some of them. If you are a corporate gym member, they have people for that (just be prepared for the sales pitch afterwards). You need to be there just as much as they do. Who knows, you may be intimidating them just by showing up.
Being strong will help you move about the world in a better physical state as well as state of mind.
Next time you think of strong, think of you instead of Mr. Clean.