So, you're keen to read up on the benefits of strength training? First things first: welcome. Here at Marie Claire UK, we're all about encouraging you to move in a way that feels good for you and your body.
Moving your body is good for you for a whole host of reasons - it can boost your mood, not to mention improve heart health, energy levels and more. All movement is great, but strength training is a particular standout.
Why? Because research has proven time and time again just how good it is for both body and brain, with one paper from Current Sports Medicine Reports going as far as to call it "medicine" and finding it to boost physical performance, movement control, functional independence, cognitive abilities and self-esteem.
So yep, strength training is a bit of an all-rounder when it comes to boosting your health. It's also key to helping you stay injury-free as you get older - one trainer, Caroline Bragg from the Give Me Strength app, describes it as "one of the most straightforward ways to bulletproof your body for longevity."
It's a firm favourite among celebrity workouts, with Victoria Beckham, Emma Stone, and Ashley Graham all known to be fans. Still not entirely sure what it actually entails, keep scrolling. For more about the many benefits, too, do read on, and check out our expert-led explainers on weight lifting exercises, and the best weightlifting apps, while you're at it.
Strength training benefits: your guide
What is strength training?
According to Steph Williams, a PureGympersonal trainer, strength training is a method of exercise which uses either weights or body weight to create resistance. "Increasing resistance in this way adds stress to the muscles in our body which, in turn, allows them to adapt and grow over time and help us grow stronger," she goes on.
In short, it's a way of training to build and maintain your strength, and can be done using resistance band exercises, dumbbell exercises, or kettlebell exercises. You can also achieve great results through bodyweight exercises, if you do them effectively.
Now - onto the many benefits. Like?
1. Encourages muscle growth
Did you know? Strength training encourages muscle growth, which is key to not just improving your metabolism, but also reducing your risk of injury and illness, explains Williams.
Fewer injuries and pesky colds? Sounds good to us..
2. Improves matabolism
While for many the goal of working out won't be to lose weight, but rather to stay fit and healthy, one handy side effect of strength training is that it's been proven to improve your metabolism and in turn boost calorie burn, shares the PT. This is because strength training boosts muscle mass and, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body burns.
This is handy if weight loss is your goal, explains Williams, but can also be useful in day to life as it can reduce your risk of diseases, such as heart failure or stroke, and help your blood vessels to stay healthy.
3. Injury-proofs your body
A personal favourite benefit of strength training of mine? The fact that it's a great way to injury-proof your body.
It's simple if you think about it - the stronger you are, the less susceptible your body is to injury. Strength training also improves your range of motion and mobility, further reducing the risk factor.
"It can also be help in day-to-day situations, such as carrying the food shop home," points out Williams.
4. Improves heart health
Fun fact for you: strength training has been directly linked to improved heart health. How? Well, because when you weight train regularly, you decrease your blood pressure, in turn giving your heart a helping hand.
The perks really are endless..
5. Boosts bone health
Not just that, but strength training decreases your risk of osteoporosis and overall improves your bone development, shares the PT.
This can be particularly important as you get older, and is why the NHS advises more regular strength training as you age.
6. Reduces risk of diabetes
As Adam Jones, personal trainer at PureGym, points out, incorporating strength training into your weekly workouts can further be a great tool for the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.
How? "Strength training can help via the reduction of visceral body fat and reduced levels of HbA1c (in other words, your average blood sugar levels," the expert explains. "Not to mention that you could be looking at an increase in good cholesterol, a reduction in bad cholesterol, better bone density and lowered blood pressure, too"
7. Boosts overall health
As we've highlighted, and as Jones emphasises, there really are a whole host of benefits to strength training. Within the first ten weeks of starting strength training, he reckons you'll also see an improvement in things such as your walking speed, resting metabolic rate, cognitive ability and self-esteem.
Well... we're sold.
6 inspirational women on how strength training changed their lives
"I am a powerlifter - which is a type of competitive weightlifting sport where the goal is to lift the heaviest your body can manage. It consists of training three main lifts - squat, bench and deadlift, and I usually switch between a peak and off-peak program throughout the year depending on when my competitions are scheduled. I train at my coach Jack's gym, called Elevate - which a lot of our team goes to, and it makes a massive difference to train in a gym that specialises in strength training because the community is better, and the equipment is more specialised. I took up strength training only in my late 30s and mainly because I needed to be physically strong to do things around the house after my husband Rob passed away in 2015. I wish I had started sooner and hadn't been so held back by societal norms."
"Strength training empowers me every day and makes me feel confident, and allows me ownership and power over my own body, which is extremely important in a world designed to make women shrink. It has changed everything about my life."
"It's easy to feel intimidated, but remember that every one of us starts at the beginning, with an empty bar and the smallest dumbbells - even the guy grunting loudest in the gym. If you have the money, hire a strength coach for the first three months - think of it like training wheels on a bicycle, and learn about good technique and how to self-regulate. Otherwise, look into joining strength classes which are cheaper and can get you started with the basics. There are also loads of online strength communities on Instagram and Facebook if you want to do it solo and need guidance and advice."
"I have been strength training for eight years now, starting out doing 'Body Pump' at my local gym near the office, and now I follow an Olympic Weightlifting program (the sport of snatch & clean & jerk) which develops my maximum strength and power, and I do as much conditioning as possible on the side to stay fit and ready for anything! I compete in weightlifting and some functional fitness competitions to look and feel good with the ability to perform and I love learning a new skill, it's very humbling."
"Strength training changed my whole life, genuinely. It taught me to value the weight on the bar, not the scales, and celebrate my body for its strength and resilience, not trying to shrink and be smaller. Turns out I like feeling hench. Strength looks different on every single one of us and it's my life's purpose to get as many women as possible in love with it too."
"It can feel super intimidating, I remember it well. But I promise you, everyone is too worried about themselves to be judging you. Get yourself a plan, a buddy, and off you go. Strength-based classes have seen the biggest rise in group fitness trends this year, and I feel strongly that will continue."
Lyanne Hodson, Co-Founder and Head of Brand at StrongHer
"As a mixed-race woman, I didn’t see people like me that I could aspire to, nor did I feel there was a place I could be me as I didn’t “look” like other people. That's before I get started on the intimidation I felt when it came to weight training as a sporty youngster. That's why it was so important to me to create a safe space that's accessible for women of any culture, colour, or background, and show them that weight training can change your life. I also hope it will ultimately bring about equality (yes, it's a big goal)."
"Strength training changed my life and it can change yours. Physically, strength training is good for preventing osteoporosis which disproportionately affects women and can be beneficial for managing women-specific health issues like PCOS, endometriosis and diabetes. It’s not going to get rid of these conditions, but it helps to regulate them."
"Building muscle has allowed my body to be stronger for longer which also supports my mental health, allowing me to manage my stress and sometimes bouts of depression. When you’re weight training in the studio, I love that you just pick up the weight and are there in that moment - you get to focus on that and that alone. Strength training gives you a sense of power and a sense that anything is possible - nothing or nobody can take that feeling away from you."
"Strength training for me started at a time in my life when I felt lost. I was no longer competing at a high level in hockey and felt I had lost a sense of purpose and direction in my life. Strength training - and movement in general - empowered me and helped me to rediscover my strength and confidence."
"My approach to strength training (and movement in general) is all about building sustainable habits and moving your body in a way that you enjoy. Not only is this the key to lasting results, but it also stops exercise from feeling like a chore and instead makes it a lifestyle. This is why the kind of strength training I do varies - sometimes I might feel like a really challenging lower body workout in the gym with lots of heavy compound movements (like squats, lunges and so), and other times, such as when I'm on my cycle or have a busy day of meetings ahead, I might do a 20-minute workout with a mixture of dumbbell and bodyweight movements. "
"Strength training has given me a whole new appreciation for my body and what it's capable of. It's turned some of my biggest insecurities into things I now love. When I was younger, I used to feel so insecure about my thighs, but strength training and movement have allowed me to actually appreciate just how incredible, strong and powerful they are."
"The key is to remember it's a journey - everyone starts as a beginner at some point. Don't rush yourself or compare yourself to others, and focus on enjoying the process and appreciating all your 'small wins' and improvements along the way, instead. Having a plan helps to build your confidence initially and allows you to focus on each exercise as you do it (versus being worried about what you're even going to do). This is one of the reasons I created my app WeGLOW, to give women the tools and support they need in their fitness journey from structured guides, to workouts, to nutrition."
"I started strength training around eight years ago while I was at university and it quickly became my outlet and hour in the day to forget any worries I had. For that period of time, I could zone out and really focus on myself. Once I felt that and realised how much it helped my headspace, it quickly became a habit in my life -I love it, which is why I've stuck at it for so many years."
"The type of training I love is weight lifting - challenging myself and testing my strength makes me feel powerful and accomplished for the day. It's also helped me with my anxiety - the endorphins after a good session very often clear a cloudy headspace, and it's made me a more confident, productive and disciplined person."
"Committing to a fitness regime and sticking with it, too, has helped me to understand discipline and that hard work is what gets you places. Waiting for things to happen never does, you’ve got to go out and get it and do it for yourself."
"My top tips? Remember that everyone is there to do the same thing and work on themselves. Find a good workout plan, as the structure will keep you on track and motivated - a lot of apps have great communities where you can connect with like-minded people who will support you on your fitness journey too, including my own, Beyond. Lastly, remember that it takes time - don’t give up at the first hurdle. Focus on the mental results as well as the physical ones, that feeling it gives you afterwards of accomplishment and lightness. Do it for your mental health and then the physical will follow."
Ally Head, Boston Qualifying marathoner and Health Editor at Marie Claire UK
"I started strength training in 2018 for a Women’s Health feature, where I learned to deadlift double my body weight in just ten weeks. I’d been in the weights section of the gym before but never braved more than 10km dumbbells for fear of injuring myself."
"Fast forward ten weeks and I was my strongest ever. Not just that, but my confidence had rocketed, too - strength training taught me to love my body and gave me a whole new perspective on working out. Rather than every session being super sweaty run commutes or interval training, I started mixing it up with regular strength training and saw my fitness levels change dramatically."
"I’ve strength trained ever since - as a marathon runner who banked a 3 hour 19 marathon in Chicago last year, I swear by strength train to injury-proof my body and boost both my physical and health (read my review of strength training for running, here). I love my bi-weekly strength sessions - it’s my “me” time and allows me to maintain muscle but also switch off."
I'm new to strength training - where do I start?
Williams's number one tip? Ask for help. "Every gym will have personal trainers who will help you get started, so do take advantage of beginner’s programmes," she recommends.
Like anything in life, it might take time to learn the correct form and become confident with strength training but you will never know until you try, she goes on.
Jones advises surrounding yourself with good people and taking advantage of your gym's strength training induction programmes (most will be free with new membership).
Lastly, YouTube has a wealth of resources showing you how to perfect the correct form and more - make the most of the free tool, if you'd like to prep before you go.
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Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, eight-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She regularly hosts panels and presents for things like the MC Sustainability Awards, has an Optimum Nutrition qualification, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw, with health page views up 98% year on year, too. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.
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