The three most convincing reasons you should get strong and build lean muscle are:
- you will have less body fat
- you’ll have a happier and better working brain, and
- you’ll live a longer, healthier life.
The goal of building muscle and getting strong has definitely gained popularity in recent years. But there are still a number of holdouts training to get skinny, or worse yet, not working out at all!
How can this be?!
If you’ve experienced the wonderful things that training for muscle and strength can do for you, you know that it’s time to spread the word far and wide and get everyone on board with this EFFECTIVE exercise thing.
If you’re one of the holdouts who still isn’t lifting heavy stuff, listen up! This article will tell you why exercise will solve most of your problems and how to start.
Part 1: Have Less Body Fat
Benefit #1: Training for muscle lays the building block for a sustainable body composition by raising resting metabolic rate (RMR), making muscle-building exercises one of the BEST training methods for fat loss. Strangely,many people dismiss this benefit, which is a BIG mistake.
They point out that for every 1-pound of lean mass you gain, you increase your RMR by only 7 to 10 calories daily, which really isn’t very much when it’s the only thing you’re changing. What this argument misses is that you get other metabolic benefits besides the direct increase in resting calorie burn by building muscle.
For instance, you avoid losing muscle, which is what happens when you cut calories or use aerobic exercise, and has the opposite effect—reducing your RMR. This almost always leads to a quick weight loss plateau, followed by a weight regain.
Benefit #2: You can increase metabolic rate 10-fold during intense workouts using large muscle groups.
The RMR is about resting metabolic rate—this is the amount of calories your body would burn if you did nothing all day but sit on the couch. Exercising, particularly with large muscle groups and heavy weights, can increase your resting metabolic rate by 10 times while you’re working out.
The more muscle you have to use, the greater the effect, which is why training your legs, glutes, back and chest with deadlifts, squats, presses, and so on while throwing in a few sprints or heavy carries is the best exercise for changing your body.
Benefit #3: Building muscle favors anaerobic training, which elicits a large energy expenditure in the recovery period.
You get the well known “afterburn” in which your body burns more calories during the recovery from workouts that are targeted at building muscle. Studies suggest that high-intensity training can increase calorie burn by as much as 75 percent in the 24 hours after training. One study found that after a HIT workout that used little rest, trainees burned an extra 453 calories in the 24-hour recovery period.
If you prefer more moderate weight training over HIT, it works too: Compared to an endurance workout, traditional weight training led trainees to burn about 100 calories more in the hour-long recovery period due to the anaerobic nature of lifting.
Benefit #4: Building muscle fixes your metabolism for long-term benefits. Here’s how the process of building muscle covers all your metabolic bases:
- It increases insulin sensitive—lifting weights raises your muscles’ demand for glucose, which simultaneously makes them more receptive to insulin. The result is that the food you eat is more likely to be used be stored as muscle glycogen instead of as fat.
- It improves hormone balance, avoiding the simultaneous drop in testosterone and increase in cortisol that often comes from weight loss from calorie restriction.
- It improves your body’s ability to access and burn fat stores, especially belly fat.
How to get started: Strength train using multi-joint free weight exercises (squats, deadlifts, lunges, presses, and pulls). Do 8 to 15 reps per set, and anywhere from 3 to 8 sets, depending on your experience. Use moderately heavy weights and shorter rest periods so that workouts are metabolically stressful.
Part #2: Training for muscle is the perfect way to kick start other healthy behaviors.
Benefit #5: Building muscle makes you smarter and leads to better grades.
A series of studies have come out that show that people who work out are more successful in a number of areas.
A recent study found that university students who had an A-average GPA performed weight training the most, at an average of 3 to 4 times a week. Students with a B-average trained 3 times a week, whereas those with a C or below trained about 2 times a week.
A second 2-year study found that among incoming freshman at Michigan State, those with gym memberships were less likely to drop out than non-exercisers.
The ramifications of this data go beyond recognizing that training is good for your brain. It shows that people who value strength are more likely to develop habits that are in their best interests—a key skill to have if you are in the market to change your body by losing fat and building muscle.
Benefit #6: Muscle = Money.
People who work out have higher incomes.
It’s well known that people with higher testosterone make more money, so it makes sense that if you train, you’d have a higher income as well since working out improves hormone balance.
However, research shows the link isn’t just about the assertiveness you get from testosterone. A large study of more than 5,000 twins from Finland (twins were used to control for unobservable genetic and family confounding factors) found that those who exercised more earned more money over a 15-year period. Physically active participants had incomes 14 to 17 percent higher than less active twins.
Researchers believe exercise enhances a person’s performance at work by improving their perseverance when facing obstacles. It increases their desire to partake in competitive situations. Goal oriented behaviors and higher self-esteem have also been linked to exercising.
Benefit #7: Workouts that build muscle allow you to bring more of the brain “online,” making you smarter and giving you a positive sense of self.
Just as working out improves the metabolism of your muscles so they get more oxygen, blood, and use energy better, it has a similar effect on the brain so that neurons fire more efficiently. It also leads to the growth of brand new neurons, and recruits more motor units in your muscles, which improves coordination and power.
The benefits of bringing more of the brain “online” go further than an increase in speed: The skills you learn from successfully executing a workout plan teach your brain intrinsic skills that make you less likely to be a “quitter.” Research into how people become successful highlight a few common factors:
- Consistency of interest so that you maintain focus on a pursuit or goal for the long haul, and
- Perseverance of effort so that you effectively overcome setbacks, and “finish” what you begin.
If you already work out, you know that both of these are inherent qualities for success, whether your training goal is athletic performance or improving your body.
The cool thing is that these skills are transferable: You’ll also find that when you start lifting, you get more in tune with your body, which makes you want to eat well so you feel energized when you wake up in the morning. You learn about the depth of your drive, often shocking yourself with what you can accomplish.
How to get started: For brain benefits, you have more freedom in designing your training than when working out to change your body because after all, we know that fun workouts produce greater physiological changes than those that you don’t enjoy.
Do be sure to periodize your workouts to include both heavy near maximal training of the classic lifts (deadlifts, squats, presses) and some power training (jumps, short sprints, Olympic lifts) because these two methods hit those highest threshold motor units and get more of your neurons in play.
Part #3: Live a longer healthier life.
Benefit #8: Strength training is the best activity you can do to build bone and reduce fracture risk.
Studies show former athletes who included weight lifting as part of their workouts have much stronger bones as they age. This translates into a 50 percent lower chance of fracture in men, and a 20 percent lower fracture risk in women.
Benefit #9: Working out improves quality of sleep, which improves overall health and increases longevity.
The reason is that training reduces inflammation and supports circadian rhythms. It’s been found to benefit both good sleepers and those with insomnia.
Benefit #10: Strength training has repeatedly been shown to correlate with lower risk of a number of cancers.
One reason is that your percentage of muscle tissue is a primary predictor of survival from cancer. In addition, anything that improves your metabolism and balances hormones is going to have positive effects on cellular and DNA health.
How to get started: Just about any kind of exercise will improve health, so as long as you do something consistently you’re on the right track. For the most protective effects, start with the muscle building workout described in Part 1. Slowly progress to include the strength and power phases in your training for maximal brain benefits.
Most important: Figure out a way to enjoy training and START TODAY!