Strength training helps boost your muscle power and is highly beneficial for sportspersons, but apart from its many pros, so if not for an athletic physique this activity helps all of us to easily perform regular chores or movements — such as getting up out of a chair or mowing the lawn, which can particularly help older adults function better at home.
The biggest upside for everybody — developing stronger muscles through strength training, also called weight training or resistance training can increase your lean mass and bone density, enhance cardiovascular health, improve your cognitive abilities, lower your resting blood pressure, boost your metabolism, and even improve your self-esteem, studies have shown.
The US Department of Health and Human Services’ latest physical activity guidelines recommend strength training for everyone.
Resistance training, however, can be done using your own body weight, free weights or weight machines. According to experts, it all depends on your goals, fitness level and training preferences.
When we talk about body-weight exercises in strength training, we refer to calisthenics such as sit-ups, lunges, squats, push-ups, pull-ups planks and step-ups. These exercises are great for home workouts or for those who travel frequently. Calisthenics typically incorporate balance and functional movement, which target stability, flexibility and coordination. And body-weight exercises are the best for torching calories, as they require more whole-body movement. People are more likely to stick to these routines compared to other forms because the probability of injuries is less with respect to using free weights or machines.
Another bonus to body-weight exercises is that they recruit multiple muscle groups at once and allow individuals to mimic real-life movements such as unloading groceries from the car and lifting and holding children.
The drawback is body-weight exercises will only take you so far in increasing muscle mass, as you are limited by your own body weight. And if you are trying to isolate and work on one muscle, machines will achieve this more effectively and easily.
If gaining muscle mass is your goal, you might consider picking up the iron. Muscles enlarge when you progressively overload them with higher levels of resistance, or weight. This overloading causes microtears in the muscle fibres, which the body repairs by fusing together, increasing their size and mass.
Free weights and weight machines are perfect for muscle building, as you just need to select progressively heavier weights with time.
Free weights have the advantage in that they are more versatile, cheaper and smaller than weight machines. This distinction is an important consideration if you have a home gym.
The downside of free weights is that it’s easier to sustain an injury with this equipment than when strength training by using your body weight. This can happen when people try to lift heavier weights than their body is ready for or use improper form while squatting, dead-lifting or doing overhead lifts. One solution to this problem is to ask an expert to watch your form, or to film yourself on your phone.
Weight machines have many of the same pros and cons as free weights: They help you build muscle mass more easily than using your body weight but increase your risk of injury from selecting a weight that is too heavy or again, the wrong form. That being said, machines are better than free weights at isolating muscle groups, easier for beginners to master, and carry less risk of injury than free weights.
Experts say all three types of strength training are beneficial, with most people profiting from a combination of all three.