7 Benefits of Strength Training That Go Way Beyond Buff Arms

7 Benefits of Strength Training That Go Way Beyond Buff Arms

Photo: Pond5

Need the motivation to push past your comfort zone and squeeze out one more push-up or bicep curl? Sure, it helps to remember that you’ll get stronger, rock more toned muscles and rev your metabolism, thanks to all that added muscle mass. But if that wasn’t enough, now comes news that all that pump-itude (yup, that’s an SNL reference) has psychological benefits, too.

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It turns out yoga isn’t the only form of exercise that could strengthen your inner self. In fact, one study comparing the effects of hatha yoga and resistance exercise found that both activities improved mental health and wellbeing. Each group was less depressed, and the folks pumping iron enjoyed improved body image, too. “We know that all exercise improves mood,” explains Jeffrey A. Katula, PhD, associate professor of health and exercise science at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “But I think resistance training provides something different emotionally to people.”

Here are seven more reasons to never skip a strength session again.

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7 Mind-Body Benefits of Strength Training

1. You’ll feel more competent.
It’s an amazing feeling when you graduate from lifting 10-pounders to 15-pounders. “Over time, you get better at something you’re doing, and you develop a sense of mastery and feeling that you’re getting stronger,” explains James Whitworth, a doctoral research fellow in the Biobehavioral Resistance Training Lab at Columbia’s Teachers College in New York City. “It helps your confidence, and that gives you a boost in self-esteem.”

In fact, in one new study comparing the effects of aerobic exercise versus resistance training on the psychological health of obese adolescents, researchers found that people in the resistance group experienced significantly greater self-esteem and perceived strength over four weeks. But what’s most interesting is that the feeling of getting stronger — rather than any measurable gains — was all it took to give them a boost.

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2. You’ll see the difference.
Crave instant gratification? Strength training is a good motivator because you see progress quickly. “If you put someone on a walking program, it will take time before they perceive their body is changing,” explains Katula. “But with strength training, you can feel a difference in your muscles even after one session.” And it only takes a couple workouts before you’ll notice some muscle definition in the mirror. (Go ahead and flex. We dare you.)

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3. You could boost your brain power.
Researchers have long been interested in how exercise improves cognitive thinking — and whether it can ward off dementia later in life. Now, a whole slew of new studies is comparing whether strength training affects the brain differently than cardio. One Italian study of 80 older people found that those who completed a 12-week strength regimen showed improved capacity for practical skills, whereas cardio training helped bolster them on analytic tasks. Researchers are still trying to understand the “why” behind this study — but so far, we’re impressed.

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4. You’ll feel like you can do anything.
When Katula started his research on whether weight training would improve quality of life for seniors, he realized that many had never even picked up a dumbbell. “They first had to learn how to use these big intimidating weights and machines,” he says. He recalls the story of one woman who protested that she couldn’t do the leg press machine. Finally, Katula persuaded her to sit in the machine and set the weight at 50 pounds. “I couldn’t believe how fast she whipped out 10 reps,” he says, “When she got out of that machine, she was two inches taller just from increased pride.”

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5. You’ll be more in tune with your body.
That soreness you feel post-strength session may seem like a setback. Yet over time, you’ll come to acknowledge that it signifies you’re getting stronger. “You think, ‘I’ve done something worthwhile. My body is telling me I’ve had a workout.’ You look forward to the fatigue and interpret it in a positive way,” says John Spence, PhD, professor of physical education and recreation at the University of Alberta in Canada, who wrote a review on the effect of exercise on self-esteem. (Wondering how sore is too sore to work out? Here’s your answer.)

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6. You’ll forget about the day’s problems.
Ever noticed that when you’re in the midst of tough reps, it’s hard to think about your grocery list? That’s because the intensity and focus required for strength training makes it impossible to be anywhere else but in the immediate moment. “You’re doing something that’s a distraction from the stressors of daily life,” says Whitworth.

7. You might stop obsessing about your weight.
Stash away your scale for several weeks — and set a strength training goal instead. That’s the advice of Lisette Cifaldi, director of behavioral health at Hilton Head Health weight loss resort who counsels patients. “I think strength training shifts your perspective,” she says. “The happiness doesn’t come from achieving a certain number [on the scale]. It comes from the process of getting stronger and feeling empowered that you’re navigating your own success.”