Strength and strength training
If I was to ask you to define what strength is, what would you say? Being able to deadlift 2x your body weight? Being able to squat 100kg? Being able to perform a pull-up? Being able to jump in the air? Being able to walk up the stairs un-aided?
I like to think of ‘strength’ as an umbrella term that includes a few different ‘types’ such as:
- Absolute strength – think the maximum load that you can lift during a specific exercise
- Strength endurance – repeatedly exerting force against a resistance
- Power/Explosive strength – the product of force and velocity
Now.. Let’s try to define strength training:
I would define Strength training (often interchanged with resistance training) as physical activity in which you exert force against a resistance with the goal of increasing muscle mass and becoming stronger.
And you might have guessed it, there are many different types of strength training. There are the more stereotypical strength training modalities such as Powerlifting (squatting, deadlifting and bench pressing) but I could also class bodyweight training as strength training; and if we refer back to the ‘types’ of strength training, then sled pushes, ball slams, squat jumps could all be classes as strength training.
So.. What am I trying to get at?
What I’m hoping is that this shows that the terms ‘Strength’ and ‘Strength training’ are relative! One persons ‘strong’ may not be someone else’s, it is situation dependant. However, no matter what your situation, ‘strength’ training will produce specific responses to the stress that you present it with.
Now that we know what strength training can be and can consist of, lets have a look at some of the benefits (there are others but for this post I am focusing primarily on musculoskeletal system, otherwise I would be here all day)!
Some adaptations include:
- Muscular growth (probably the reason a lot of us strength train)
- Muscular endurance
- Decrease in percentage body fat which coincides with a fat free mass increase.
- Increased ligament strength
- Increased tendon strength
- Increased collagen production
- Bone density increase
- Cartilage thickening (and is kept healthy)
(some adaptations may be more pronounced depending on your situation and type of strength training)
The physiology behind it all..
I just want to quickly explore some of the Physiology and mechanisms behind these changes.
Firstly, let’s look at the increase in bone density. As muscular strength and size increases in response to strength training, the forces that are generated are also increased, which subsequently increases the mechanical stress on bone. This stimulates the bone to increase in mass and strength to provide an adequate support. So, any increase in muscular strength may result in a corresponding increase in bone mineral density which could possibly offset the effects of osteoporosis.
When looking at tendons and ligaments, it’s important to know that the primary structural component of all connective tissue is collagen; however the true strength of collagen comes from the strong chemical bonds or cross-linking that form between collagen molecules.
As with bone, the primary stimulus for growth of tendons and ligaments, is the mechanical forces created during strength training. So connective tissues must increase their functional capabilities in response to increased muscle strength and hypertrophy, this results in thicker (increased density and number of collagen fibres) and stronger collagen fibres.
Cartilage is however a bit different; it lacks its own blood supply and must depend on diffusion of oxygen and nutrients from synovial fluid (fluid that is in your joints) to remain healthy. Diffusion occurs when a joint moves, it creates changes in pressure in the joint capsule that drives nutrients from the synovial fluid toward the articular cartilage of the joint, delivering the nutrients that it needs to grow and heal.
Science lesson done, now back to the blog and I want to being your attention to ‘Ageing’.
It happens to all of us unfortunately… and as you probably know, from either hearing about it or experiencing it, your body will start to work and feel different. You might experience more muscle soreness after a workout, your joints might feel stiffer, no longer can you just jump straight into a workout without doing a warm-up and you may be suffering for a few days if you don’t properly perform recovery sessions. Whatever it is, it is due to biological ageing, where tissues and structures in your body start to behave and respond differently.
If we were to look at the effects of ageing primarily on joints, connective tissue and musculature, the list can be pretty big, and this isn’t even all of it (I’m not trying to scare you, just making you aware…), they include:
- Loss of muscle mass (replaced by fat mass) and strength (Sarcopenia)
- Mineral content of bone decreases – less dense and more fragile bones
- Predisposition for osteoporosis
- Osteoarthritis (suggested that it may actually be involved in the biological ageing process)
- Ligaments become less elastic
- Metabolic rate slows
- Joint motion restricted
What does all these mean for movement and daily life? Well, it can all get a lot harder.
Strength Training can help!
If we combine to the two area’s introduced here, we can quickly see how strength training can help. Yes, strength training is fantastic to build muscle, to get the body you’ve always wanted and to feel better, but the benefits go far deeper than that.
- Less muscular strength can seriously affect your balance and risk of falling as well as your ability to complete daily tasks, imagine getting up off the sofa with less lower body strength.
- Unhealthy connective tissues around your joints diminish your reflexes and stop you reacting the same as you once did.
- Osteoporosis increases the likelihood of you fracturing bones if you were to have a fall.
- Being less mobile increase the chance of falling, and again would make daily activities a lot harder.
- Often with ageing you become less active, and if you haven’t been strength training and building some muscle it becomes even easier to increase body fat, which comes with its own issues and consequences such as heart conditions diabetes (the list goes on and on…)
So, hopefully you can see how strength training and ageing are linked. It’s much easier to prevent than reverse changes. start younger, get into good habits, lift weights and push back the effects of ageing.
If you want to know more, or want me to help you, please get in touch!