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Benefits of Strength Training

The benefits of strength training are well documented. Strength training is used in a broader range of contexts than any other component of fitness. Strength training is used as the foundational component of development in almost all athletic programmes in just about every single sport you can think of. Strength training is also used throughout the general population for a wide range of purposes, such as improving functional daily activities, extending quality of life in the elderly, rehabilitation from injury, general health and wellness, just to name a few.

There is no argument that the benefits of strength training are founded on solid research and evidence, perhaps more than any other form of training. This article will look at the various benefits of strength training in multiple contexts, the research that supports this and best practice methods for making the most of a relevant strength training programme.

Definition of Strength Training

To understand the benefits of strength training you must first understand exactly what strength training is. Here we will cover an overall definition of strength training as a whole and a breakdown of the various models of strength training.

Benefits of strength training, benefits of strength training, benefits of strength training, benefits of strength training.

Strength training is the production of force by skeletal muscle against a given resistance in order to increase the size and/or strength of individual muscles and groups of muscles working synergistically across specific patterns of movement.

Benefits of strength training, benefits of strength training, benefits of strength training, benefits of strength training.

That’s the Unleashed Training technical definition of strength training.

To elaborate on that……

Strength training is any form of training where application of resistance is used as the primary focus of the training. This applies to weight training, where movement of an external load is applied against gravity; overcoming any form of inertia that involves significant application of muscular force such as towing a sled or a car; body weight resistance training, which involves the movement of one’s own body against gravity, where the position of the body and the point of leverage determines the difficulty of the movement and the strength required; progressive resistance training, such as the use of springs and elastic resistance bands; and the explosive generation of force against resistance, such as is demonstrated in dynamic and fast moving resistance exercises such as Olympic style weightlifting and kettlebell exercises.

Strength Training Categories

The benefits of strength training, while varied overall, fall into a variety of specific categories that each pertain to a different purpose and produce a different outcome.

Weight Training

Weight training is any form of training that involves standardised equipment where generating force in order to move an external load against gravity is the focus. This involves barbell and dumbell exercises like squats and deadlifts, cables and pullies that involve exercises like cable rows and lat pull-downs and standard gym equipment such as leg press, chest press, seated row etc.

Body Weight Resistance Training

Like weight training, body weight resistance training utilises gravity as a stimulus for which skeletal muscles are required to generate force in order to move the load against gravity. In this case the load is one’s own body weight. This is a broad category of strength training that has varied levels of difficulty. Because one’s body weight is relatively constant, the difficulty of the exercises involved is determined by the position of the body, the percentage of body weight being lifted and the difficulty of the leverage position. To understand leverage position think doing dips on gymnastics rings compared to an iron cross. Both involve lifting one’s entire body weight, however the iron cross is performed with straight arms, making it more difficult to lift the same amount of weight due to leverage.

Overcoming Inertia

This can apply to all forms of strength training. However in this context I am referring to unique exercises that involve taking a static object and putting it in motion, such as towing a heavy sled, towing a car, pushing a car etc.

Progressive Resistance Training

Progressive resistance training are exercises using equipment that increases in difficulty from the beginning of the movement to the end of the movement. Using elastic resistance bands are a good example. The further the band stretches the more force is required to stretch it further and resist the force of the band snapping back to its original length. This is often used in conjunction with weight training, where bands are attached to a weighted barbell and anchored on a stable platform near the floor.

Strongman Training

I use the term strongman training as a general term that refers to lifting heavy objects, therefore applying force, that are outside of standardised resistance training. This includes carrying heavy stones, tossing kegs, farmer’s walk, yolk carry, lifting heavy logs, Conan’s wheel, giant tyre flips etc.

Dynamic and Explosive strength Training

This can technically be put in both the category of strength, as well as muscular power. Explosive strength movements include Olympic style weightlifting, explosive kettlebell exercises and anything else that requires the generation of momentum against a significant external force.

Purposes of Strength Training

The benefits of strength training are many, however they vary from one purpose to the next. The benefits of strength training for American football and the benefits of strength training for general well-being obviously differ greatly.

Later we will look at specific strength training strategies and how to apply them to their specific purpose. But first allow me to introduce a sample of purposes where strength training is applied.

Contact sports

Contact sports are sports that involve human on human contact and collision, generally at a high speed. These sports obviously require a high level of muscular strength and power in order to generate force when contacting an opponent, resisting the force of an opponent contacting you and preventing injury during collision. Sports like these often also include sprinting at high speed, fast directional changes, jumping, pushing (like in a rugby scrum) and lifting of both team mates and opposition players, depending on the sport.

Strength dominant sports

This is an obvious one. Strength dominant sports are sports where demonstration of strength is the primary objective. These sports include powerlifting, where three different lifts are performed at an absolute maximum weight, where the athlete lifting the most on each lift is the winner of the competition; Olympic style weightlifting, where two different explosive lifts are performed, with results being determined by the heaviest of each lift and the total weight lifted between the two combined; and strongman competitions, which involves several tests of strength that are based on either the heaviest weight lifted or a set weight being lifted a certain number of times, for a certain distance or a given length of time. Strongman mostly uses non-standardised objects for lifting, such as stones, farmer’s walk etc.


A sprinter’s goal is to run a short distance as fast as they possibly can. Due to the short duration of a 100m, 200m or even 400m race it is ran at absolute maximum speed. In these events the difference between winning and losing is measured in hundredths of seconds. Every little bit of speed and power counts towards a given result. Strength is an absolute necessity to the sprinter in order to build a solid foundation where the athlete is able to produce a large amount of force with certain movements that pertain to parts of the sprint event. This foundational strength can then be converted into explosive power, which translates to faster starts, more powerful stride and greater acceleration, which all contribute to greater speed and faster race times. The entire foundation of all of this is strength.


Like sprinting, jumping is an explosive activity involved in a variety of sports. Long jump, high jump, triple jump, basketball and volleyball are ports that require absolute maximum jumping power. The higher or further an athlete can jump in these sports the better their performance. Jumping requires maximal force production at maximum velocity. Strength is the basis of that force production. Get stronger and you increase your potential to jump higher and further, provided that further power training is undertaken to turn strength in explosive power.


Throwing is an explosive activity where again, maximum force is required at maximal speed. In order to maximise the potential to throw further there must be a foundation of strength, which allows the muscles involved in the throwing action to produce the required level of force. Throwing varies from light objects such as baseball, cricket, javelin and American football to heavy throwing events like hammer toss and shot put. Whatever type of throwing is required strength forms the basis of ability.

Combat sports

Combat sports such as MMA and boxing require a variety of movements that increase in efficiency and effectiveness when the athlete possesses a high level of strength boxing requires powerful punching ability by generating force from the ground up to the torso and out through the arm. MMA is a highly varied sport that requires similar contact ability to boxing and kickboxing, but also the ability to lift and throw an opponent and manipulate their body position in order to gain an advantage.

Health and well-being

The benefits of strength training for the general population are well documented and extensively researched. Later we will look at some of the benefits on a comprehensive level. Health and well-being are broad terms, but to provide examples of the benefits of strength training for this purpose….. Increased mobility, muscle balance (correcting imbalances that effect posture and movement), increased bone density, increased artery elasticity, increased basal metabolic rate and optimal hormone function.

Benefits of Strength Training - The Why

The benefits of strength training are backed by a lot of research. Where there is a solid benefit for anything there is always a reason behind it, a mechanism by which it is beneficial. Here we will look at three reasons behind why strength training produces specific results.

Remember, strength training is a foundational component of fitness. Quite often before other skills and abilities can be achieved a base level of strength must be established.

Hormonal optimisation

Hormones form the basis for all functions of the human body. Your health, longevity and overall quality of life can be directly linked to the function of the endocrine system, which is the system that produces, regulates and releases hormones.

Several studies over the past few decades have supported the notion that favourable changes occur to testosterone (T), human growth hormone (HGH), insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and cortisol ( C ). The latter three being increased and C being decreased. These changes have been shown to be favourable in the young and the elderly both as a long-term adaptation to strength training and acute changes that increase during training and for several hours after the training has ceased, gradually returning to an increased baseline for T, HGH and IGF-1 and a decreased baseline for the stress hormone C.

These benefits have been proven to be significant in a study by WJ Kraemer published in the Journal of Applied Physiology 1999, from the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University in the US. This study revealed all of the endocrine benefits stated throughout this article.

Optimisation of hormone production, release and regulation provides significant benefits to several markers of health and performance. Increased T, in both men and women, results in an increase of muscular strength and density and also allows for an increase in sexual function and reproductive ability. Increased levels of HGH can slow down and reverse some signs of aging such as rate of cell death, muscle mass, brain function and the body’s ability to mobilise and utilise stored fat. In addition to this, HGH is a strong player in athletic performance, determining the body’s response to training, specifically as it pertains to strength, muscular power, muscular size and the muscle’s ability to utilise fuel for intense bouts of maximal or near maximal activity from one second up to three minutes. IGF-1 is a powerful hormone responsible for much of childhood growth and continues its anabolic characteristics into adulthood. It is a mediator of HGH and is responsible for the growth and repair of just about every cell type in the human body, such as blood cells, bone tissue, muscle, liver tissue, nerve tissue etc. With the stimulation of IGF-1 at baseline, long term levels and acutely post-training, the benefits are profound, from improved immune function by way of white blood cell production and repair of damaged tissue (including the micro-trauma caused by intense training) to optimal gains in muscle size and strength, which is a benefit that spans many areas from elite sports to mobility in the elderly. Finally, the decrease of C is beneficial in regulating systemic inflammation, which is a major contributor of disease and aging. C is also largely responsible for the breakdown of muscle tissue and increased storage of fat as a protective mechanism to stress.

An additional endocrine benefit of strength training is the regulation of insulin. Insulin is the hormone responsible for the regulation of blood sugar and fat storage. Insulin essentially tells your body what energy will be available for use by circulating through the blood and which energy will be stored for later access. One of the primary causes of obesity is the poor regulation of insulin and the body’s response to it. An untrained person that is obese or overweight is at higher risk of being resistant to insulin, meaning that more insulin is required to produce a given result. In a strength trained individual with a higher level of muscle mass and lower level of body fat insulin is regulated efficiently and with it the body’s response to insulin.

Increased athletic capacity

The benefits of strength training are quite obvious and well-founded with regard to athletic performance. Much of the benefits related to hormonal optimisation also carry over into athletic performance. However there are several additional benefits of strength training pertaining to athletic capacity in multiple settings.

Increased biomechanical efficiency is achieved through increased strength in specific movement patterns related to the athletic activity. An example of this is running stride at all distances from sprints to long-distance and even ultra-endurance events. Strength allows muscles to contract with greater efficiency and to utilise fuel at a greater capacity, such as the ability to buffer lactate and utilise stored creatine.

The development of strength forms a foundation for all movement. Sports require a variety of movement patterns organised into various categories, ranging from short, maximal activities such as jumping, sprinting, throwing and lifting to sub-maximal, prolonged activities like road cycling, distance running and long-distance swimming. The development of strength provides a basic platform from which the ability to generate force can be developed into the ability to do so at high velocity and the ability to resist force.

Prolonged quality of life

The benefits of strength training are quite obvious and somewhat understood as it pertains to sports and arduous physical activity. For this reason strength training in the past has been misrepresented as an activity undertaken by those young enough to participate in sports. What is less understood and accepted is strength training for quality of life.

As a person ages their ability to perform physical activities declines. Left untrained people naturally lose their ability to do all tasks. This decline generally begins as young as 35 and continues throughout each decade. The result is decreased muscle mass, decreased strength, decreased bone density and a loss of motor skills and coordination, which further results in decreased balance. The end result of this decline is a reduced ability to control external object, such as lifting a box or even getting out of a chair and walking. The loss of balance results in an increased incidence of falls and the decrease in strength further results in the inability to correct a potential fall. Decreased bone density results in an increased risk of injury from these falls.

Strength training throughout life into old age increases a person’s ability to perform all physical activities, including activities of daily living (ADLs).

Benefits of Strength Training - The How
How to get strong for your chosen goal

The benefits of strength training are strongly supported, as we have just looked at. However strength training seems to be a point of confusion for many people. Quite often people engage in strength training programmes for various purposes without actually knowing what is best practice for their chosen objective. Strength training extends further than simply lifting weights or doing push-ups. In order to make the most of a strength training programme you need to know the best methods to use for the individual target purpose.

Absolute Strength

Absolute strength refers to the total amount of force produced in given movement patterns without regard to velocity of movement or the size of the individual. The more force produced, or weight lifted, the higher the absolute strength. A 150kg man that can squat 400kg has a higher level of absolute strength than an 80kg man that can squat 300kg. The only factor to be considered and measured in absolute strength is the amount of weight that is lifted or the force produced.

Most people understand that a general increase in muscle mass results in greater strength. In other words, bigger muscle means more strength. This is true to a certain extent, however strength is increased in three different ways:

1. Greater motor unit recruitment - A motor unit is a neuron and all of the muscle fibres that the specific neuron innervates or controls. At any given time, regardless of effort, there are always a percentage of motor units that are not activated, or dormant. When someone specifically trains for strength without an increase in muscle size they become more efficient at recruiting a greater number of motor units, hence an increase in strength without a need for an increase in size. This form of strength increase has limitations and will work up to a certain level, but not indefinitely.

2. Muscular hypertrophy - Muscular hypertrophy is another way of saying an increase in muscle size/mass. When a muscle gets bigger as a result of strength training it will get correspondingly stronger. Strength can be attributed to a greater cross-sectional area of a given muscle.

3. Greater biomechanical efficiency - When you first undertake an exercise or movement that requires strength you do so awkwardly. Your body is not used to exerting force within that specific pattern of movement. For instance the first time you do a barbell back squat. Because the body is not used to the movement the amount of weight lifted is limited due to the unfamiliarity with the movement. As you practice the squatting movement you not only increase in strength as a result of the first two means, you also get more efficient at performing the squat. As many coaches will state, strength is a skill. As a result, the more efficient a person is at a specific movement the greater the level of force output they are capable of for that given movement. This is called a third-wave adaptation.

In order to increase absolute strength for a specific reason you must consider these three mechanisms of strength development and train in cycles or phases that focus on each of them. Absolute strength is all-encompassing, meaning that strength is the goal, at all costs.

The following is a general step by step summary of how to train for absolute strength:

1. Establish overall goals. Don’t go in blind. In order to build absolute strength you need to know how much strength you want and what you want to apply it to.

2. Test yourself. It is a good idea to perform a series of strength tests such as the big three of powerlifting in order to establish a baseline to start from.

3. Construct a training and nutritional programme that operates in phases. The remaining points that follow pertain to this.

4. Eat a LOT. When I say a lot I mean eat everything in sight. Well maybe not everything, try and keep the food clean and natural and avoid processed foods that will have an adverse effect on health. Keep calories high and ensure you get a massive amount of each of the three macro-nutrients, being carbohydrate, protein and fat.

5. Begin in a moderate repetition range for the first 6-8 weeks. Train using reps of 6-8 reps. This will provide a good balance between strength and hypertrophy.

6. Stick with large compound movements like squats, deadlifts, bench press, standing military press, bent over row and pull-ups.

7. For the next phase of 6-8 weeks decrease reps and ramp up the weight. Train between 1-5 reps per set at a high weight.

8. For another 6-8 week phase increase reps right up to 12 reps per set. Do only a small number of sets per workout and train muscles to complete or near muscular failure. It is here that food intake should be greatest.

9. Revert back to point number 5 and work back through to point number 8 and continue in that pattern. Be sure to increase weight regularly, regardless of what phase you’re in. Take a 10 day break from training every six weeks and finish every phase with two weeks of completely different exercises than the ones you were using for the main part of the phase. For instance switch back squats to barbell lunges, flat bench press to a combination of decline and incline dumbell press etc.

Who should develop absolute strength? Absolute strength is necessary and preferred for those that need a maximal level of overall strength without needing to pertain to a certain body weight. For instance, a sprinter needs a high level of strength in order to be explosive, however they can’t be too heavy or the extra weight will limit acceleration. Compare that to a shot putter. The shot putter is required to launch a 16lb ball of steel as far as possible. This requires a massive amount of force and velocity. The shot putter’s performance is solely based on how far they can launch the shot, with no need to control or move one’s own body from one place to another. Therefore the shot putter needs as much strength as possible at all costs. The greater the body weight and strength combined the better the performance.

Relative Strength

Relative strength is strength relative to body weight and size. Relative strength can be expressed as how much force can be produced in relation to a person’s body weight, often measured as a percentage.

As an example we take two people, one weighs 50kg, the other weighs 100kg. Mr. 50kg can squat 150kg, whereas Mr. 100kg can squat 250kg. Who is stronger? Obviously in terms of absolute strength the bigger guy squatting 250kg is quite a lot stronger. However when we look at relative strength the smaller guy has a greater level of strength compared to body weight. The small guy can squat 3X his body weight, while the big guy can squat 2.5X his body weight. That’s relative strength.

Relative strength is achieved through greater motor unit recruitment. What this means is that strength training is focused on an increase in strength while limiting the amount of muscular hypertrophy that occurs. For this reason the objective for all strength training for an increase in relative strength is greater motor unit recruitment.

The following is a general step by step summary of how to train for relative strength:

1. Establish overall goals. Don’t go in blind. In order to build absolute strength you need to know how much strength you want and what you want to apply it to.

2. Test yourself. It is a good idea to perform a series of strength tests such as the big three of powerlifting in order to establish a baseline to start from.

3. Construct a training and nutritional programme that operates in phases. The remaining points that follow pertain to this.

4. Put together a nutritional plan that supports limited or no muscle gain and will ensure body fat levels are kept low. High protein is always a must, but limit calories in other areas.

5. Learn several major exercises that closely benefit the specific sport or task you are training for. Ensure the movements are mastered, especially technical lifts such as overhead squats, Olympic lifts etc. Be sure to include bodyweight gymnastics movements.

6. Always train between 1-5 reps per set (except on bodyweight exercises) using a heavy weight. Never exceed 5 reps per set.

7. Spend 6-8 weeks progressively increasing the weight lifted in a linear fashion. For example you might add 2.5kg to your back squat every 2nd workout.

8. After 6-8 weeks of progressively increasing the load spend 5-7 days completely resting. Change the exercise selection to a completely different array of exercises for the next three weeks. Take another 3-5 days resting and then resume from the start.

9. Every 18-24 weeks spend 18 days unloading. The 18 days starts by scaling back what you have been lifting to about 50%. The training will be incredibly light at this point. Every session you will increase the load until you’re back to lifting what you were before the unload phase of 18 days. From there you continue to progressively increase week by week at the start of the next cycle.

10. Incorporate and master an array of progressively more difficult body weight exercises and include them as part of your strength training programme right from the start. Progressively more difficult means going from one version of an exercise through more difficult progressions. For example, the simple push-up evolves to feet elevated push-ups to wall handstand push-ups to full handstand push-up. The pull-up becomes a muscle up or single arm pull-up etc.

That’s just one model used for developing relative strength. Keep in mind that relative strength is a difficult thing to develop without a significant increase in muscle mass. It requires planning and a consistent strategy.

Who would benefit from relative strength? Relative strength is a quality used in athletes that require a limited level of overall mass. Sports that require maximal strength relative to body weight are the target here. Sprinting requires maximal speed development, which begins with the development of foundational strength. A sprinter requires the movement of one’s own body over a given distance. Therefore excess body mass can be a hindrance to performance because it means more weight to move. Gymnastics requires the development of relative strength because the sport is based on movements using one’s own body. Other sports include anything with a weight class. Weightlifting is a good example of this. Weightlifters need to be able to lift the most amount of weight within their own weight class.

Relative strength is the most common expression of strength in sports.


Power is not necessarily a form of strength, however it does require strength in order to be developed to maximal capacity. Strength itself is simply the force a muscle can exert. Power is a combination of that force with velocity. So power can be described as an expression of fast strength. Strength is the most broadly applicable fitness component as it forms the foundation of everything else. Power is the most commonly used fitness component on the actual field, court or ring.

Sports and most activities in life are not performed in slow motion. Most things are performed at speed, such as sprinting, jumping and throwing. For this reason power is a necessary expression of strength in just about any undertaking.

Power is developed by first establishing a base level of strength and then training to apply that strength at high speed through explosive muscular contraction. This is achieved through explosive lifts, plyometrics and any form of training where maximal force and speed are applied concurrently.

Health and Longevity

The benefits of strength training for health and longevity are well documented and can’t be disputed. The list of benefits is long and spans from childhood right through to old age. The benefits of strength training cover just about every system within the human body.

- In childhood controlled strength training in the form of body weight resistance sets the child up for later in life. It helps develop muscle strength and tone, which is beneficial to a child’s physical development.

- Throughout life from childhood into adulthood strength training helps to regulate hormone function, increase biomechanical efficiency, aids movement, prolongs the integrity of joints, maintains bone density, benefits cardiovascular function, provides a greater ability to metabolise nutrients and a host of other benefits.

- During late adulthood into old age the benefits of strength training extend from the regulation of key hormones, which can slow the aging process, increased bone density, resulting in decreased risk of injury and strength training ensures elderly people remain physically independent for longer.

The benefits of strength training with regard to health and longevity are less complex to achieve than the benefits of strength training for athletic performance. The strength training required for general health is a simple concept. The following points are a few things to note with regard to strength training for health:

1. Spend time establishing correct patterns of movement. Training heavy using incorrect technique hazardous and can result in injury and long periods of inactivity. Spend an extensive initial period of time to master the key primal patterns of movement such as squatting, dead lifting, horizontal push (like bench press and push-ups), vertical push (like standing military press), horizontal pull (like rowing movements) and vertical pull (like pull-ups and lat pull-downs).

2. Ensure muscle balance is maintained. Muscle imbalance occurs when certain muscles are better developed than their opposing counterparts. For instance the deltoids directly oppose the lats. If one is grossly out of proportion to the other problems with posture and movement will occur. This results in postural issues, pain and injury. Ensure all muscles are working synergistically and that no imbalances are present. If you can bench press a lot of weight then you should be able to row a lot of weight. If you’re weak in the hamstrings and strong in the quads it is essential to put more focus into strengthening the hamstrings while scaling back quad development etc.

3. Train like an athlete. A squat is a squat, a pull-up is a pull-up. There is no such thing as health exercises and performance exercises. Even if you don’t play a sport I recommend that you train as if you are preparing for a competition. Better yet, take up a recreational sport and train for it. This gives you a performance indicator to aim for. Without it you are more likely to hit a plateau and cease to progress.

4. Be consistent. This is an obvious one, but without consistency you are more likely to become injured and results will be sporadic.

5. Take note of the minimum effective dose. That is, don’t train more than you need to. Strength training is highly taxing on the central nervous system, especially heavy compound movements such as squats and deadlifts. Ensure recovery is adequate.

6. Lastly, without good nutritional habits you will struggle to stay on track for your chosen purpose. Nutrition is often the missing link between plateau and a favourable end result.


The benefits of strength training are solidly grounded and undeniable. Strength, at varying levels, is a natural state of the human body. All things being equal it is the stronger athlete that will produce a greater performance. Strength is also a necessary component of being human. Strength development in humans prolongs independence, prolongs life itself, regulates hormone function, helps reduce body fat and literally dozens of other benefits.

Increasing strength in the specific manner that pertains to a given objective, be it in elite sports performance or general health and well-being, is the best initial investment of time and effort that anyone to put in and is guaranteed to increase multiple aspects of the task at hand.

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