Here at Strength System, we love getting folks stronger. While everyone’s programme might look different, we are always looking to gain or at least maintain strength.
‘But why, you ask? Because strength is the foundational physical quality.
What is strength?
Here are a couple of boring textbook definitions:
‘…the ability to overcome or counteract external resistance by muscular effort.’
‘…the ability to produce force against an external resistance is, in essence, the ability to effectively interact with the environment.’
That last bit is the most important – ‘the environment’ is everything outside of our own bodies: it’s other people; it’s that endless uphill walk; it’s that large, awkward suitcase; it’s that heavy barbell that wants to be lifted.
If you want to have better interactions with the outside world, then get stronger.
StrongFirst and fms Coach Brett Jones’ definition of strength really tied everything together for me when I first read it:
“Absolute strength is the glass. Everything else is the liquid inside the glass. The bigger the glass, the more of “everything else” you can do.”
For the more visually-minded, here’s an expert illustration:
Why is it important?
Whole books can (and have) been written about why strength is important, but here are the important parts:
Let’s start with the important stuff: the weaker you are, the more likely you are to die. Strength was measured in this case by grip strength – every 11 pound decrease in grip strength was linked to a 16% higher risk of dying from all causes.
And grip strength doesn’t mean being that over-friendly person who attempts to crunch bone with every handshake.
It simply means being able to handle your own bodyweight (think hanging from a bar) or carrying heavy weights in your hands without dropping them (deadlifts, carries, rows).
Retaining and gaining muscle (AKA Swoly-ness)
There’s an epidemic called sarcopenia, and it’s particularly prevalent in adults over 40. It’s nothing more than the age-related loss of muscle mass (and hence strength). The average adult can expect to lose 5% of their muscle mass for every decade that they age.
Think of muscle mass as your armour against whatever the world throws at you. The less muscle you have, for instance, the greater your risk of falling, getting hurt from that fall, and the slower your recovery process from that fall.
So how do you fight sarcopenia? A strong dose of iron.
In other words, strength training is not only for the young and healthy. I’d argue that the older you are, the more vital it is that you strength train.
Let’s get one thing straight, getting stronger won’t automatically guarantee fat loss. You still need to eat like a sensible adult, and not like a castaway at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
But assuming your nutrition is in check, strength training is great at helping you not lose muscle while you attempt to lose fat.
This will make more sense if you look at it from an evolutionary perspective. The human body is essentially miserly – it wants to use the least possible resources for the greatest possible benefit. Muscle is expensive to hold on to, so your body would happily get rid of it if it had a chance.
The moment you start eating less and cutting calories, it’s going to be a toss up between losing muscle and fat, and muscle will probably lose…
You strength train. Think of it as the ‘switch’ that forces your body to maintain its muscle mass. If you give your body a reason to retain muscle, it’ll keep it.
Mental health and wellbeing
While it’s not the most popular subject for research (especially when compared to aerobic exercise), there is some evidence that strength training alone reduces anxiety symptoms, improves self-esteem, and reduces symptoms of depressions in those diagnosed with it.
While it’s not a substitute for actual professional help, I do think (sensible) strength training can be a valuable outlet and a great way to start feeling more confident in your body and its abilities.
So there you have it. 4 damn good reasons to get strong!