There are endless strength training benefits, from improving your ability to perform daily activities, to promoting a fat-free body mass. Cardio has its pros too – it improves your heart health and increases your metabolism. But the question that has divided the fitness world for years is: which one is most important? Is cardio necessary?
New research highlights the answer.
A recent study pitched cardio vs strength training against each other. The result? Time spent at the squat rack is just as important as the fat burning HIIT workout – and better still, lifting weights could actually add years to your life.
Still thinking of skipping leg day? Didn’t think so.
What are the main strength training benefits?
Strength training has a hugely positive effect on your body, from improving your posture, to lowering high blood pressure, to conditioning and defining your muscles.
But the benefits aren’t just physical.
Luke Worthington, Elite Master Trainer at Third Space, explains: “Strength training is essential to for body and mind. Yes, there’s the positive impact on bone density and general wellbeing, but it’s also empowering to see yourself getting physically stronger week upon week.
“It’s an absolute, and it’s measurable, as opposed to just jumping on a treadmill for however many minutes, day after day, week after week.”
Positive impact on your mental health – check.
Strength training benefits and building a bulletproof body
So we’ve worked out that strength training benefits your mind and body, but that’s not all – it can also complement your cardio workouts too.
“Whether you want to run a marathon, do a yoga class, or go to Barry’s Bootcamp a couple of times a week, you have to be strong enough to be able to do it to stop your body breaking down,” Luke reveals.
“If your main goal is aerobic work, that requires a production of force. Take running a 10k for example – in order to do that you need to be strong enough to absorb and then reproduce that force without compromising the structure of your body, so strength training is key to that.
“Aerobic activities are potentially hazardous without being complemented by a strength programme.“
But what exercises should you be doing if you’re cardio crazy?
While core exercises would be the same regardless of your preferred aerobic workout, strength training moves will vary.
Whether you’re a treadmill sprinter, spin class hero, HIIT fanatic, or yoga obsessive, there are specific strength exercises that you should incorporate into your training to reap the most rewards from your workouts.
Here’s exactly what Luke suggests including in your strength training sessions…
Strength training exercises for spinners and cyclists
“Cyclists: you need to be very conscious of your lateral core, or sides, because without having an appropriate amount of stillness there that repetitive cycle motion carries over from the lower body to the upper body. As a result you end up writhing around, but you need your upper body to be still so you’ve got to be strong through your sides.
“Lateral core training is key for that.”
Strength training exercises for HIIT lovers
“If you enjoy HIIT sessions, your strength training will need to focus on a bit of everything because the high intensity workout will probably be really varied.
“But if you only do one exercise, it should be deadlifts. That should bulletproof you enough, if you do nothing else.”
Strength training exercises for runners
“Running is effectively going from one foot to the other over and over again, so therefore single leg exercises are not only essential, but they’re non-negotiable.
“One exercise that I give to all the runners I work with is a loaded step up.
“Place your foot on a high box, and then drive the other leg up and through. Your arms should be moving in opposition so it literally looks like you’re doing one running stride over and over again, but against resistance.”
Strength training exercises for hot yoga
“Again, the core training is going to be key, but hot yoga fans should also focus on glute training.
“Typically in a hot yoga class you will spend time doing stretches that encourage your body to relax. Lots of hip opening positions are going to cause all of the muscles around the hips to relax – that’s the point of doing it in a hot room.
“But if all you ever did was the hot yoga, your muscles would be programmed to relax and switch off all the time, which is why I would focus on glute training.
“Opt for a single leg hip bridge. Get into a bridge position, with your feet on the floor and your shoulders resting on a bench, block or step. Then lower your bum to the floor and bridge yourself back up again, using just one leg.”
Scientific proof of the strength training benefits
The University of Sydney conducted a study comparing the mortality outcome of various different types of exercise. The research, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, looked at a pool population sample of 80,306 adults from the Health Survey for England and Scottish Health Survey. They then linked this with the NHS Mortality Register to compare how individuals’ workouts related to their lifespan.
The results showed that those who engaged in strength based exercise had a 23% reduction in risk of premature death, and a 31% reduction in cancer related deaths.
This is the first study to determine a link between type of exercise and mortality, and associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the School of Public Health and the Charles Perkins Centre is keen to share his findings.
“The study shows exercise that promotes muscular strength may be just as important for health as aerobic activities like jogging or cycling,” he said. “And assuming our findings reflect cause and effect relationships, it may be even more vital when it comes to reducing risk of death from cancer.”
According to The World Health Organisation’s Physical Activity Guidelines, adults should be engaging in around 150 minutes of aerobic activity each week, combined with two days of muscle strengthening activities.
But despite the study certifying the benefits of strength training many women still omit weight workouts from their weekly schedule. If you want to up your chances of a longer life you need to start pulling (or lifting) your weight.
Professor Stamatakis notes that while strength training benefits have been widely known within the fitness community, more should be done to promote this functional training to the wider public.
“Our message to date has just been to get moving but this study prompts a rethink about, when appropriate, expanding the kinds of exercise we are encouraging for long-term health and wellbeing.”
The research didn’t find any evidence that strength training decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, and it found that adhering to the WHO’s strength-promoting exercise and aerobic guidelines combined was associated with a greater risk reduction in mortality.
So don’t skip leg day, but don’t skip the cross-trainer either.
Worried about lifting? Take a look at 6 Myths About Strength Training Debunked and How To Pick The Right Weight For Your Workout