The benefits of strength training

In this week’s article, we are discussing a recent review paper titled ‘The Benefits of Strength Training on Musculoskeletal System Health: Practical Applications for Interdisciplinary Care’ published in the journal Sports Medicine.

What are the benefits of Strength Training?

Strength training is a type of exercise which has begun to grow in popularity and for good reason. It not only helps you Live Longer – a 21% reduction in all-cause mortality, but also Live Better with a plethora of benefits outlined below:

What are the mechanisms?

Metabolic Health: Contracting muscles release protective factors into the circulation during exercise. These help to mediate metabolic and physiological responses in other organs, such as fat tissue, the cardiovascular system, and the brain. These along with increased energy expenditure and the subsequent reduction in visceral fat help promote an anti-inflammatory state in the body (the underlying cause of most diseases). Muscle is also the number one sight of glucose disposal from the blood which underpins the beneficial effects on diabetes.

Cardiovascular Health: Strength training provides an improvement in cardiorespiratory function comparable to aerobic training, largely due to the process of angiogenesis which is the creation of a greater number of blood vessels. These extra vessels improve myocardial oxygen perfusion and systemic blood pressure.

Mental Health : Aside from the social aspect of exercise and the sense of achievement that comes from progressive strength training, positive adaptations have also been documented in the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis and in the neural circuitry involved in affective, behavioural and cognitive processes. This effect is also thought to benefit sleep as well as sleep being the time when your body recovers most from strength training.

Musculoskeletal Health: The tension provided by strength training has beneficial effect on the structural properties of muscles, tendons and bone. Muscles become stronger owing to changes in the size, type and angle of muscles fibres as well as improved neural factors. Likewise, tendons also see increased density of and stiffness of their collagen fibres. Bone, although a slower process also undertakes an increase in mineral density.

Cancer: The aforementioned benefits of strength training will also help reduce the risk of developing and recovering from cancer. Research is also developing showing the potential anti-tumorigenic properties of strength training.

Strength training: Practical Applications

The paper challenges the existence of “non-responders” to exercise, instead highlighting that positive adaptations are influenced by multidimensional aspects such as genetics, fitness level, training history, nutritional intake, psychological and social states, sleep and recovery, age, weight and prescribed training workload. It’s these variables that dictate the magnitude of adaptations between individuals and thus strength training prescription should begin with an accurate subjective and objective examination.

Programme design and progression decision making in strength training should be based off this assessment and organised into periodised phases in order to focus on a certain components of muscular health, for example, strength, hypertrophy (muscle size), endurance, power etc, an example of which is outlined below.

Reference

Maestroni, L. et al (2020) The Benefits of Strength Training on Musculoskeletal System Health: Practical Applications for Interdisciplinary Care Medicine. Sports Medicine. 50(8): 1431-1450.

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