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Building lean muscle mass is aesthetically pleasing and there is nothing better than looking toned and shredded.
However, let us not underestimate the physical and health benefits associated with having a good percentage of lean body mass. There is a vast amount of scientific evidence to support and back up resistance training as a major contributor to your overall health status.
Fortunately there has been a positive up-turn in the evidence to support resistance training and its benefits; and it is now taking over cardio training as the main king pin in the preservation of health.
The golden rule of resistance training is that having ‘more’ skeletal muscle is a bonus and preserving it’s very important to your health. The question is why?
The Benefits of Resistance Training
Resistance exercise can stimulate structural, mechanical, metabolic, neural and hormonal alterations within the muscle that can re-organize the skeletal muscle and prevent you from losing muscle mass.
The American Council on Exercise and the NASM has identified the following key benefits of resistance training on your health:
- Enhanced type 2 muscle fibre activation
- Increased muscle tissue size
- Increased joint range of movement
- Improved resting metabolic rate
- Enhanced weight loss and maintenance via increased energy expenditure
- Improved anabolic hormone production especially testosterone and human growth hormone
- Enhanced functional fitness and increased overall body strength
- Improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity
- Enhanced self-confidence and self-esteem
In a nutshell all of the above benefits can be categorized into mechanical, metabolic, neural and hormonal. Therefore, the next step is to discuss each of these key areas and to highlight how resistance training can have a positive impact on each of them.
Metabolic and Mechanical Benefits of Resistance Training are Interrelated
Resistance training is the best long term strategy for increasing your resting metabolic rate. This is the amount of energy that you require just to exist and muscle burns about 15 more calories than fat.
Research has shown that by working every muscle group twice a week you will replace 7-10 years of lost muscle if you were sedentary.
This is good news because between the ages of 30-80 years sedentary adults can loss as much as a 35-45% reduction in muscular strength and this directly related to decreased levels of muscle mass.
In particular this mechanism has been attributed to the loss of the type II muscle fibres which are essential for strength and power output in the muscle.
Combine this with very limited movement at the joints caused by inactivity can lead to increase in collagen levels within the muscle tissue which decreases tissue flexibility and further decreases joint range of motion.
Resistance training can increase range of motion at the joints, increase bone density and overall strength. This has a positive mechanical impact on your quality of life and makes functional daily tasks such as carrying your shopping or cutting your grass a whole lot easier!
In addition, resistance training combined with a solid core work out strategy can help to improve your posture, decrease the force on your lower back, strengthen the muscles that align your spine into the soft ‘S’ shape, improve blood flow to your lower limbs, reduced incidents of musculoskeletal injuries and greatly improve your functional fitness.
The ‘core’ is involved in all of movements within the body and by activating the deep muscle tissues is a major catalyst to you being mechanically efficient and effective on a daily basis. This places less stress on our heart and will having strong muscles will share the load especially when performing daily chores.
Having a good level of lean muscle mass can improve your glucose tolerance because of an increase in the insulin receptor sites.
Insulin’s main role within the body is to control your blood glucose levels and if these are high then it drives the glucose to be stored as fat in the liver. Therefore, having a higher number of insulin receptors in the muscles ensures a greater control of the glucose and much of this can be stored within the muscle ready to be used as energy.
This mechanism will help you to stay lean and to minimize your body fat levels.
Resistance training also improves your muscle size and in particular the mitochondria within the muscle.
The rate of your aerobic efficiency does decrease by 10% after 25 years of age and the ability to use the oxygen to fuel physical activity is further hindered.
Therefore would cardio training solely counteract this decline in your aerobic efficiency? Well, probably not because although the cardio-respiratory system is stimulated with cardio training, the delivery of the oxygen to the working muscles is further reduced due to the inability of the muscle structure to deal with the physiological overload.
Let us not forget that your muscle also need to get rid of any waste products such as lactic acid and carbon dioxide which is caused by movement. If the capacity to perform this task is reduced then functional daily movement will become a lot more difficult and painful.
Are you starting to envisage how important muscle tissue really is?
Hormonal Response to Resistance Exercise
High intensity (70% + 1RM) compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, clean and snatch with short rest intervals (60 seconds max) can stimulate the production of testosterone, growth hormone and Insulin-like Growth Factor 1(IGF-1).
Testosterone is a major fat burning hormone that stimulates the production of muscle cells, promotes protein synthesis for building new muscle cells and stops the breakdown of muscle tissue.
Growth Hormone is also important as it increases the uptake of amino acids into the muscle tissues, boosts protein synthesis, improves the rate of fat acids conversion into energy and stimulates the release of IGF-1.
Here comes the kicker IGF-1 works with the growth hormone to enhance protein synthesis, improves mechanical structure within the muscle, reduces mechanical stress within the muscle and stimulates the production of satellite cells needed for muscle growth and repair.
If you think that resistance training and having lean muscle mass is for cosmetic purposes; then maybe you need to rethink this notion.
Yes, having muscle will boost your inner confidence and self-esteem but it also has physical and health benefits that far reach these positive factors. Having a good amount of muscle mass will help you for the rest of your life to remain strong and physically active!