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12 Benefits of Strength Training That Go Beyond Building Muscle

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Picking up some weights can help you get stronger, sure, but it’s not the only benefit of strength training—not by any stretch. (You’ll appreciate that pun more when you get to number nine.)

With strength training, you challenge your muscles by moving them against a form of external resistance, whether that’s a barbell, a pair of dumbbells, a kettlebell, a resistance band, a gym machine, or even your own bodyweight. This stimulus causes tiny tears in your muscles, which then mend back together bigger and stronger. So by its very nature, this form of training helps you gain strength and muscle.

But it also does a whole lot more, which is just one reason why the current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that pretty much everyone—from kids to adults to older folks—fit in some sort of regular resistance training. Want more specifics? We tapped the experts and culled the research to round up some pretty stellar (and in some cases, surprising) benefits of strength training. Read on for all the inspo you need to give it a go—then check out our guide to starting your own program at home to put it all into play.

1. Strength training can make you a lot sturdier on your feet.

Doing certain strength exercises—especially unilateral moves like lunges or single-leg deadlifts—challenges your center of gravity and ultimately improve your ability to stay steady, Kellen Scantlebury, DPT, CSCS, founder of Fit Club NY, tells SELF. Same for those that train your core strength and stability (say, abs-specific moves like chops and lifts, which involve raising and lowering weights diagonally across your body), since a sturdy midsection is “essential for good balance,” he says.

And research backs this up: A 2020 meta-analysis of 13 studies concluded that resistance exercises can significantly improve balance for both adults and older folks. What’s especially cool? According to the report, lots of different programming can do the trick, like those focused on strength, power, or muscular endurance, as well as those using various kinds of loads, like bodyweight training, free weights, machines, and bands.

Having better balance is important, since it can reduce your risk of falling, Dr. Scantlebury explains, keeping you safe in a variety of scenarios. (More in a minute on how else strength training can cut your risk of a tumble or two.)

2. You can breeze through daily tasks like they’re NBD.

Building up strength in the gym doesn’t just improve your ability to bench press heavy dumbbells or squat with a ton of weight—it can also help you more easily tackle those chores of day-to-day life, like carrying a hefty bag of groceries, heaving your suitcase into an overhead bin, and picking up your kids. For example, Ava Fagin, CSCS, assistant director of sports performance at Cleveland State University, tells SELF that because she’s built up a solid level of strength, she’s able to do things like move furniture on her own without thinking twice. Bonus: If you add up all the minutes you save making one trip from the car rather than two, or moving boxes on your own without having to wait for your buddy, strength training might just be the most underestimated time-saver out there.

And it’s not just about super heavy loads either: Strength training can improve muscular endurance, or the ability for your muscles to work for sustained periods of time, too. This can come in handy in everyday scenarios as well, like when you’re climbing the stairs to your seats at a sports stadium or dragging a cooler through the sand at the beach, DeAnne Davis Brooks, EdD, CSCS, certified exercise physiologist and director of graduate studies in the department of kinesiology at University of North Carolina Greensboro, tells SELF.

3. You’ll bask in next-level confidence.

Seeing yourself getting stronger—and thus more capable of moving heavy loads in both the gym and daily life—can have a powerful mental effect. “It makes people feel pretty badass and independent,” Fagin says. Plus, there’s the automatic confidence boost you get by having a trackable way to see the progress you've made and the goals you've achieved. After all, who doesn’t feel awesome AF after bench pressing their bodyweight or moving a heavy couch up a flight (or two) of stairs?

4. Strength training can bolster your bones.

Low bone density—which can make them more fragile and at risk of breaking—can become a serious risk as folks (especially women) get older, and incorporating regular resistance training can be an effective way to combat that natural decline, Dr. Brooks says. In fact, a review published in Endocrinology and Metabolism noted that resistance training may be “the most optimal strategy” to improve bone mass as well as muscle mass in a number of populations, including postmenopausal women, middle-aged men, and the elderly.

“Proper strength training that loads the spine and the muscles that surround the hips in particular can be great for decreasing the rate of bone loss density,” Dr. Brooks explains, since these areas can be especially prone to that decline. In particular, moves like the leg press and back squat can put stress on the hips and spine. While this may sound like a bad thing, it’s actually super helpful, since it can spur your bones to grow new cells, making them stronger and denser. Plus, doing plyometric exercises—which involve explosive movements like jumping—can also support bone density maintenance, says Dr. Brooks; these types of high-impact moves also stress and ultimately strengthen your bones.

5. You can bid adieu to a tight, achy back.

Back pain is unfortunately all too common, affecting nearly 40% of US adults, according to a 2019 report from the CDC of nearly 32,000 adults over a three-month period. Good news is that strength training can help reduce your risk of this unpleasant yet pervasive ailment. In fact, a 2021 meta-analysis of eight studies published in Sports Medicine 2021 concluded that both general exercise and resistance training specifically focused on the muscles in your backside (including your mid-back, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings) were effective for reducing pain and level of disability in folks with chronic lower back pain. But the strength training showed an even stronger result, leading the authors to support recommending this type of movement as a treatment for people who deal with that discomfort.

What’s especially helpful is training the endurance of the muscles that support your lower back, like your multifidus and erector spinae—say, with exercises like the Superman, where you either hold the move for a sustained amount of time or use light weights for reps. This can improve these muscles’ ability to do their job, which can protect your back from excess strain and reduce the discomfort that can come from overwork, Dr. Scantlebury explains. Strength training other core muscles—like your transversus abdominis, which wraps around your spine and sides—can also help with back pain, Dr. Brooks adds. Bolstering these players can prevent your back muscles from taking on too much work and also keep your body in the proper alignment that feels best on your joints.

6. …And say hello to a healthier heart.

If you’re looking to improve your heart health, doing regular cardio exercise—think: swimming, biking, and running—may seem like a no-brainer. And while cardio-centric workouts are really stellar for improving your heart’s functioning, resistance training may also provide some benefits on that front, too. For example, a 2019 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise involving nearly 13,000 people found that doing moderate levels of strength training (one to three sessions a week) was linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death, regardless of how much aerobic exercise people did.

The caveat: It’s not yet known if strength training can totally replace cardiovascular training in terms of providing the same boost for heart health, Dr. Brooks says. This is why it’s still recommended to do both, per the latest Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

7. You may just get an extra pep in your step.

You’ve probably heard of the runner’s high—the elated, endorphin-fueled feeling some people get during or after a jog. Well, guess what? “Some people might feel something similar with lifting,” Dr. Scantlebury says.

And the mood boost might persist a little longer, too. According to a 2018 meta-analysis of 33 studies published in JAMA Psychiatry, resistance training can significantly reduce depressive symptoms in adults, regardless of any other health conditions, the total volume of their program, and whether or not they notably improved their strength. And a separate review concluded that both single sessions and long-term resistance training programs can reduce anxiety, though the authors note the reason why this seems to help is still not understood.

8. You’ll hone the all-important mind-muscle connection.

Strength training consistently and paying attention to proper form can help you learn to recruit the right muscles at the right time. This not only makes your workout more effective, but it also has a carryover effect as well: It can help you complete daily tasks safely and effectively. For example, if you really focus on engaging your chest muscles when you’re bench pressing rather than pushing with your arm, this know-how comes in handy in the real world, says Dr. Brooks—say, if you’re pushing open a heavy door, you can recruit your pecs to do most of the work versus placing too much strain on your arms.

And if you deadlift regularly, and really emphasize pushing through your legs and glutes while engaging your lats, you can more safely pick up a heavy box off the ground without calling on your lower back to do the work it shouldn’t be doing. Basically, strength training can help you move more mindfully and with better form in a ton of different scenarios, reducing your injury risk and generally just helping you move more efficiently. Also important: The mind-muscle connection built through strength training can help you be more in tune with your body and able to realize when something doesn’t feel right, so you can back off or give yourself extra rest when needed.

9. You may just notice legit mobility gains.

Stretching isn’t the only way to improve your mobility—strength training may help you make gains in that arena too. A 2023 meta-analysis of 55 studies published in the journal Sports Medicine concluded doing resistance exercises with an external load (meaning, holding weights or using bands) can enhance your range of motion just as effectively as stretching. And that’s important, since solid mobility helps you move efficiently and generally just feel good in your body.

What’s more, strength training can boost your ability to use your full range of motion safely and functionally, Dr. Brooks adds. She gives the example of squatting: Building your ability to do a squat with full range of motion could translate to being able to stand up out of a deep, cushy couch versus needing to sit in a higher, firmer chair. Another example: Doing shoulder exercises at a full range of motion (for instance, in an overhead dumbbell press) could translate to being able to effectively retrieve items off a high shelf, she says.

Now, this isn’t to say strength training can totally replace other forms of mobility work. For optimal range of motion, Fagin recommends pairing more traditional moves, like stretches, alongside strength training.

10. You’ll cut your chances of toppling over.

Taking a tumble is no fun at any age, but doing so in your older years can be really serious. Unfortunately, falls are the leading cause of injury and injury death among Americans aged 65 and older, per the CDC. One thing that can really diminish your risk? Yup, you guessed it: strength training. “The more that you’re able to build the muscle endurance and the muscle content surrounding the main joints that hold our stability— like your hips, your knees and your ankles—the less chance of falls you’re going to have as you get older,” Fagin explains. Plus, like we mentioned, the balance-boosting benefits of strength training also plays a role in cutting your fall risk.

11. You’ll stave off boredom and continue to push your limits.

One neat thing about strength training is that it can be scaled to pretty much any fitness level. “Just about every exercise that I think of can be either modified or made harder,” Dr. Brooks says. For example dumbbell lunges can be made easier by taking away the weights, or by doing weighted squats for added stability; they can be cranked up in intensity by slowing down the move or opting for heavier weights.

Compared to other forms of exercise, like running or swimming where “there’s only so much you can do in that particular motion,” resistance training offers a whole lot of variety, Dr. Brooks explains. And that can be great for beating boredom. “I can continue to challenge myself and therefore see improvement and benefit for a long time,” Dr. Brooks explains. Basically, the nearly infinite ways you can tweak strength training to your goals and preferences make it an awesome choice for keeping your exercise routine fresh and effective for the long haul. Now that’s what we consider a double workout win.

12. Best of all? You can stay more independent as the years go on.

Perhaps the most underrated benefit of resistance training is that it can help you maintain a sense of autonomy over your life, which can be incredibly empowering. As Dr. Brooks puts it: “There are so many instances in our daily lives where having a baseline of strength can determine whether or not we can do things independently or if we need to call in help.” For example, building a solid foundation of strength through resistance training can spell the difference between being able to move that heavy box into storage, or being capable of hauling loaded shopping bags up to your apartment yourself, versus having to ask someone else to lend a hand.

This type of self-sufficiency can help you feel like a badass when you’re younger, but it carries even more weight as you age: Various studies support the notion that both strength and power training can help older adults improve their ability to complete functional daily tasks (like standing up from a chair or ascending stairs), which ultimately helps them stay independent for longer.

The bottom line? By sprinkling regular resistance sessions into your routine, you’ll be reaping the benefits for years to come. We can’t think of a better gift to give your present—and future—self.

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Originally Appeared on SELF