Feb 3, 2017
We know that exercise is important, but the type of exercise you do can make all of the difference in getting the results you want. There are three general types of exercise: strength training, cardio training and flexibility training.
In short, cardio training is about improving the ability of your body to deliver oxygen to working muscles; flexibility training is improving the ability of your muscles and joints to move and strength training improves the ability to generate force with your muscles.
Strength training is the process of using an external resistance to help the muscles become more effective at producing and using force. When a muscle shortens it generates a force to move the opposing mass. When a muscle lengthens it is slowing down, or decelerating, the movement caused by an opposing force. For example, when standing up from the bottom of a squat the thigh and glute muscles are shortening to generate the force required to move your body up against the downward pull of gravity. On the way back down to the bottom of a squat the thigh and glute muscles are lengthening to slow the downward force created by gravity.
Because there is more surface tension between individual muscle fibers as they lengthen, a muscle can generate more force during this phase of muscle action which can help stimulate muscle growth and improve definition (this is the science behind super-slow lifting methods). Strength training can be done with a variety of equipment including machines designed to work on specific muscles, dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells and non-traditional implements like sandbags, kegs or heavy tires. No matter which equipment you use, the amount of weight lifted or the number of reps you do, the most important thing to stimulate muscle growth is to work to the point of momentary fatigue which ensures that ALL fibers in a particular muscle are being engaged.
Can strength training help make you smarter? Listen to find out!
On episode 27 of All About Fitness I review the benefits of strength training, some of which are well-known like improving strength or adding lean muscle mass, but I also address some of the lesser known benefits like boosting levels of fat-burning hormones or making you smarter. Listen for details.
Finally, when it comes to strength training you'll get your best results by using different equipment and changing the exercises you do on a regular basis. When you change the type of equipment you use in your workouts, like switching from doing barbell bench press to dumbbell bench press, it can stimulate your nervous system to recruit different muscle fibers. Exercise physiology is not an exact science; research can help us predict how a certain type of exercise might effect your body, but there is no way to know for certain how your body will respond until you actually do the exercise. However, there is one thing that we do know: doing the same exercises with the same equipment for more than a few months at a time is a sure-fire way to become stuck on a plateau.
If you want to learn how your body adapts to strength training stay tuned for future episodes where I discuss the topic with some of the top strength coaches in fitness. In the meantime here are some blogs that I've written about the benefits of strength training to help you understand why you should be picking up heavy stuff:
Evidence based solutions for muscle growth - this was written for personal trainers but you should be able to understand it.
Get STRONG with Strongman training! (written for personal trainers)
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