There are a lot of ways to train the body, and a lot of reasons to do so. Strength training is one method that has been around in one form or another for a very long time. At its most basic, strength training is ant type of exercise that uses resistance against muscular contraction. This can range from bodyweight exercises like pushups, to what we commonly think of as weightlifting; using a barbell or dumbbell to do certain moves with weighted resistance like squats or the bench press. In more recent times, there are a multitude of machines that use cables, levers or counterweights for this purpose. In all cases though, the underlying principle remains the same: contract the muscles against resistance, and the body adapts by developing increased strength, endurance, and muscular size.
Strength training has been around pretty much forever, and it’s not going away. Not only that, but it has experienced a revival of popularity in recent years. This type of training comes with a number of fantastic benefits, and can be done by almost anyone. Here’s a quick look at the history of the practice, as well as who should be lifting and what they can expect to get out of it. There are also a few pointers at the end on getting started if you want to get in on this and start reaping the benefits.
History of strength training
Twenty-five hundred years ago in ancient Greece Hippocrates was getting work done as the father of modern medicine. He’s most famous for coming up with the Hippocratic Oath which commands doctors to “do no harm”. But that’s not all he did; he was also a keen observer of which practices promoted human health. In doing so, he noted that when you use the body it develops well, and if not, you waste away. Even back then, they knew this simple truth: use it or lose it. The story of Milo of Croton also takes place around this time. Legend has it that he carried a newborn calf on his back every day until it was fully grown. It was the first lifting program using progressive loading.
Ever since then, people have been contracting their muscles against resistance to get stronger, healthier, and to look better. From rocks and logs (and maybe cows) in ancient times, to the first dumbbells and barbells, all the way up to the 1960’s and the invention of weight machines, people have been lifting. Certainly, if it’s been done for so long, it has got to have some merit.
Why strength training is important
So what are the benefits of weight training? There are tons. It’s been mentioned already that strength training promotes increased strength, endurance, and muscular size, but there’s more to it than that. One of the more common reasons that people take up strength training is to look better. This is a perfectly legit reason. Men get more muscle mass size, and women, who lack the testosterone to put on as much mass, end up with a more firm, “toned” look. In both cases, muscle gain is accompanied by a loss of body fat, leading to a more pleasing appearance.
But there are functional benefits as well as aesthetic. Posture is improved and joints are better supported. This protects the body from injury during day to day activities. Strength training can also prevent the muscle loss that is associated with aging, allowing a person to live a fuller, longer life. Also, strength training has been used to great effect in rehabilitating injuries, or improving the life of those with physical disabilities. Finally, strength training can help improve performance in other sports. The very best coaches and teams all use some kind of strength program to step their level of play up. Sometimes it’s a general program, other times it’s more specialized, but in all cases, the benefits of strength training carry over into other sports.
Who can benefit from strength training?
Honestly, there is almost no one who wouldn’t benefit from a strength training program as part of their lives: men, women, the young the old. The able-bodied and the disabled, those who are athletes and regular people and every point in between; almost everyone can gain some kind of benefit from strength training. In the section above we mentioned a few of the benefits of strength training. As you can see, there are so many benefits that this sort of exercise truly does offer something for everyone.
While the principles are simple, and the basics are similar across different programs, strength training is infinitely customizable to each person’s needs. Building pure strength and size? Use heavier weights and lower reps to achieve your goal. Trying to slim down and tone up for bikini season? A lower weight and higher number of reps is right for you. Need help rehabilitating an injury or compensating for a limitation from a disability? Use one of the many movement-specific programs to get where you want to be. As you can see, almost anyone can benefit from strength training; it’s definitely worth looking into no mater ho you are or what you need in terms of physical exercise.
Now that you know what strength training is about, and how awesome it is for you, maybe you’ve decided you want to have a go at it. It’s a daunting task, but totally doable. There are just a few things to keep in mind, but whatever your goal the path to achieve them is going to follow this general form.
Have a goal. Do you want to bulk up or slim down? Are you looking to increase athletic performance or general health? If you know how many pounds you want to lose, or what shape you want your body to be in, or how much you want to be able to lift, then you have a way of measuring progress. A goal with measurable progress is going to be key.
Pick a program. There are dozens of training methods and hundreds of variations of them. Decide which one appeals to you most and best serves your purpose. Bodyweight training, dumbbell or barbell programs, and machine systems all have a place in the strength training arena. No matter which method you choose, it’s almost guaranteed that there is a beginner program for it. Find one that works for you and get down to business.
Stick with it. This is probably the most important thing to remember when getting started with a weight training program. You can have the best program and the most advanced equipment. You can want to lift with all your heart and soul. But if you don’t lift consistently over time, you won’t progress. Three days a week for one hour. That’s it. Commit to at least this much and follow through. It isn’t necessary to go to the limit all the time, as that just leads to burning out. It was true in the fabled footrace, and it is true for strength training: slow and steady wins the race. Get out there, start lifting, and have some fun.