Any time you move an object from one position to another, you’re exerting muscular force. That object could be a dumbbell. It could be a ball. It could be your own body. Each time you do this, your muscles learn to move more efficiently and move more mass. This is strength training. It’s physics!
Strength training is an essential part of any fitness program, whether you’re a distance runner, a weekend cyclist or a yoga enthusiast. Training your body to bear more weight and move efficiently creates a solid foundation on which you can layer other exercises.
If this all sounds super boring and you’re already picturing endless reps of biceps curls and lateral rows at the gym, stop right there! There are lots of ways to make strength training a fun workout, and there are many reasons to do it.
What is strength training?
Any activity that uses muscular force with the intention to build the body’s ability to create and use that force is strength training. The action of working with resistance—moving an object like a kettlebell, a resistance band, your own bodyweight, a dumbbell—creates tiny tears in your muscles. In the hours and days following a workout, your body regenerates and repairs these tears. The muscle becomes stronger and can more easily move that same weight again the next time you repeat the movement.
There are four types of strength you might encounter in a strength workout.
“Absolute” strength trains the body to push or pull its heaviest load possible. This technique uses heavier weights and requires fewer repetitions, meaning you max out more quickly. You should need to rest after about six repetitions of a move. (Think: overhead presses with a heavily weighted barbell.)
Training for muscle power is the body’s ability to generate explosive movements, like plyometric lunges, quickly moving from stationery to sprinting, or box jumps. You might experience these in a high-intensity conditioning class where moves are performed for 30-60 seconds at about 85% of your maximum effort with short rest periods in between.
Muscular endurance is the body’s ability to perform a movement for a prolonged period of time without tiring (think running, cycling or rowing). Training for this kind of strength requires longer workouts with the goal being to stave off that “my legs are on fire” feeling for as long as possible while still working at moderate to high intensity. This comes with practice and time.
Workouts that aim for muscular hypertrophy build lean muscle mass in the body (“hypertrophy” meaning “to increase”). Classes with words like “Build” or “Jacked” in the name might incorporate exercises to build muscle mass, which could include moves for absolute strength and muscle power, too.
Who is strength training for?
If you have muscles, strength training will be beneficial for your body. Strength training is tremendously flexible in that it can be scaled to meet you where you are. It’s designed to be relative to your own size and power, which is why you’ll see trainers offer different weight options in a class. To achieve the same thing, a 220-pound guy is going to require something heavier—relative to his own bodyweight—than a 130-pound woman.
Strength training, obviously, makes you stronger. But why is this important?
There are several reasons you should consider adding strength training to your life, especially when it comes to your physical self.
Being strong—not just able to lift heavy loads, but more agile, more powerful and more balanced—is the foundation for a healthy, more injury-proof body. Our muscles are where movement is rooted, so no matter which other activities you like to do, or what your daily life requires of you, building strength will make those things feel more effortless. Not only are you training your muscles, you’re training the central nervous system synapses that control and execute these movements. Everything will become smoother and easier to access with time, both physically and neurologically.
When done properly, strength training works muscles in the right alignment, strengthening the body symmetrically and evenly. This improves posture and can alleviate pain and problems associated with misalignment.
Muscle cells also burn energy more quickly and efficiently than fat cells. The more strength training you do, the more muscle you develop, the higher your lean body mass and the higher your metabolism. This is one of the reasons trainers will focus heavily on strength training for individuals looking to lose weight. Muscle burns more at rest than fat does, so even after you train, you’ll continue to burn calories. Keeping this up over the long term makes maintaining a healthy body weight easier.
This increased energy is also noticeable in the body as you train regularly. You can expect to feel more energized during your day, have better endurance for daily tasks and sleep better at night. (All of that muscle repair takes it out of you! Your body will thank you with a much-needed good rest.)
Finally, as we age, our muscle mass naturally decreases. Training at all stages of life helps maintain a healthy level of active, strong muscles, which in turn decreases our risk of falling, broken bones and postural problems.
Strength training is one of the quickest ways to see changes happen in your body, whether it’s a little extra tone or a noticeable increase in ease of movement. For this reason, it’s a great way to feel awesome about your accomplishments and boost confidence (hello, motivation to keep going!).
It also releases a rush of endorphins the way running does, so you’ll leave your workout feeling thoroughly stoked about life. The norepinephrine released when you strength train can also counter the effects of stress. These effects can carry throughout your day, especially if you tune into those noticeable changes to your physicality above.
With so many different types of strength to train for, and so many types of classes offered on ClassPass, your options to get your body toned and strong are almost endless.
Don’t be overwhelmed—everything is scalable to meet you where you are. Strength training is one of the most customizable workouts, and you’ll get from it what you put in. Start slow and low, and get ready to be impressed with how much your body can handle.
For a great absolute strength or muscular hypertrophy workout, check out a class in lifting, like a CrossFit on-ramp or abs-butts-and-guts combo. Muscle power will come from a high-intensity interval training class or kettlebell-centric workout (also amazing for cardio), and you’ll find muscular endurance training in a high-low combo class, cycling-and-weights combination or yoga sculpt.
Whatever your goals and whatever your interests, there is a type of strength training that you’ll love. And let’s face it: sometimes, we all need that little rush of endorphins and little “damn, my arms look good today!” boost.