Strength training is great for increasing overall general health and quality of life, as well as being great for maintaining a strong musculoskeletal system. Strength training increases the strength of your muscles, and if done properly, aids in building strong bones to prevent osteoporosis. It strengthens tendons and ligaments creating structural stability in your joints, including your spine. It has also been shown to increase life span by decreasing mortality rates in all major illnesses, including heart disease and cancer, the top two causes of death in the U.S. Strength training increases metabolism leading to decreased body fat as well as increases athletic performance.
"There are also many psychological benefits to strength training," says Dr. Travis Russell, D.C., Chiropractic Director of Chiro One Wellness Center of Naperville. "One such benefit is a sense of accomplishment that comes with performing something previously unattainable. In addition, the training response releases certain natural chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine works to increase pain tolerance, decreasing the sensations of pain and discomfort while serotonin is widely known as the "feel good" chemical of your body." Increased levels of serotonin have been linked to improvements in several mood disorders, including depression. The "why" of strength training is apparent; being stronger creates a healthier you; however, before you get started setting up your routine, keep a few key points in mind:
- When you have your doctor's OK to begin a strength training program, start slowly.
- Always warm up before you start lifting weights. This helps get your muscles warm and prevent injury. You can warm up with light cardio or by doing a light set of each exercise before going to heavier weights.
- Lift and lower your weights with controlled movements. Don't use momentum to lift the weight. If you have to break proper form and technique, you increase your risk of injury. Keep in mind; the faster you contract a muscle to move a weight over a certain distance, the more muscle fibers become involved to do the work. The more muscle fibers you stimulate, the greater adaptive response, creating increased strength and muscle tone. Therefore, lifting weights in an explosive manner will produce better and faster results. The key is for the movement to remain controlled. The weight still needs to be moved as quickly as possible in order to produce the greatest effect, while utilizing proper form and technique. Also, always make sure you're using the full range of motion throughout the movement.
- Practice proper breathing techniques. While some experts recommend that you should not hold your breath while lifting, not holding your breath during certain phases of the lift actually allows for spinal instability, something you do not want while moving weights around. In order to achieve increased core muscle contraction (adominals, obliques, intrinsic muscles of the spine, etc.) taking a breath in, holding it, and contracting your core during the sticking point of the positive or "concentric" phase of the lift will increase spinal stability and allow for a more rigid structure upon which to move the weights. Exhaling once the weight has passed the sticking point and the lift is complete is the safer method. The reason why "don't hold your breath" became popular advice is because of the elevation in blood pressure during the valsava maneuver (bearing down as if having a bowel movement). People with serious cardiovascular conditions who are at risk for heart attack or stroke with a sudden increase in blood pressure should see their medical provider before embarking on a strength training regimen.
- Stand up straight. Pay attention to your posture and engage your abs in every movement you're doing to keep your balance and protect your spine.