Daniel J. Green is ACE’s Senior Project Manager and Editor for Publications and Content Development. In addition to his work with organizations including the International Association of Fire Fighters and Agriculture Future of America, Daniel writes an ongoing blog series covering lifestyle change for NBCbetter.com. He has also written feature articles for local publications in Western North Carolina (WNC), including WNC Parent and WNC Magazine.
The Hidden Benefits of Muscular Training
If you ask the typical gym-goer to list the benefits of muscular training, the responses will likely include improved appearance, enhanced strength and power, and better sports performance. Some clients may mention having more stamina or an improved ability to complete their daily activities, like climbing stairs or lifting their grandchildren.
And those are all accurate responses.
However, while most people’s view of muscular training centers on fitness and performance, a number of health-related benefits are often overlooked—even by health coaches and exercise professionals—and these benefits may be vital to understand when working with clients who are reluctant to add this type of exercise to their programs.
When working with clients, regardless of their age, health status, fitness level or exercise-related goals, it is essential to empower them with the knowledge they need to connect their exercise program with their personal values and lifestyle.
Cedric Bryant, PhD, FACSM, ACE’s President and Chief Science Officer, explains the importance of muscular training by offering the following metaphor: “Think of the human body as a car. In a car, the fuel pump delivers the fuel needed by the engine, while the engine produces the power required for the car to move. In the human body, the cardiovascular system is the fuel pump, in that it provides energy in the form of oxygenated blood to the exercising muscles. The muscular system, meanwhile, acts as the engine by providing the power needed to move the body. Many people focus so much on the body’s fuel pump—the cardiovascular system—that they neglect the body’s engine, which allows us to move, function and perform our daily activities. And remember, larger engines guzzle more gas; in the body, larger muscles will burn more energy in the form of calories.”
The health-related benefits of muscular training can be broken down into five broad categories. Your role is to use this information to uncover ways to make exercise meaningful to each of your clients.
Physical capacity is defined as the ability to perform work or exercise. Muscular training results in stronger muscles with an increased capacity to produce force. The combination of improved strength and force production enables the body to move, function and perform daily activities by making it easier to lift heavier loads and improving muscular endurance.
This benefit can be particularly meaningful to older clients, as physical capacity decreases dramatically with age in adults who do not engage in muscular training due to an average 5-pound (2.3-kg) per decade loss of muscle tissue. Individuals who want to maintain their physical capacity and performance abilities must make muscular training a regular component of an active lifestyle to counter this effect of aging.
Pete McCall, faculty in the Exercise Science Department at Mesa College and ACE Certified Personal Trainer, reminds his older clients that people can grow muscle and get stronger at any age. And the benefits of doing so cannot be overstated, as progressive declines in physical capacity as people age are associated with increased risk of frailty, dependency, loss of autonomy and all-cause mortality.
People’s metabolism gradually decreases as they age, in part due to the increase in body fat that often accompanies the aging process. Older adults who do not participate in muscular training will see a 3 to 8% per decade reduction in resting metabolic rate as a result of the 5-pound (2.3-kg) per decade loss of muscle tissue mentioned above.
This means that when less energy is required for daily metabolic function (and calorie consumption is unchanged), calories that were previously used by muscle tissue are now stored as fat.
Many clients may see this as an inevitable result of aging, but that is simply not the case. Muscular training raises the resting metabolic rate, resulting in more calories burned on a daily basis, as well as increased muscle mass and decreased fat mass.
Hackney, Engels and Gretebeck reported an average 9% increase in resting metabolism for three days after an intense muscular-training workout in untrained individuals, and an average 8% increase in resting metabolism for three days after an intense muscular-training workout in trained individuals. Given a typical resting metabolic rate of about 1,500 calories per day, an 8% elevation represents 120 additional calories burned at rest on a daily basis, or 3,600 more calories used every 30 days. That’s the equivalent of losing about 1 pound (0.5 kg) of fat per month and 12 pounds (5.5 kg) of fat per year.
An improved metabolism clearly aids in weight management, which in turn provides countless benefits. Venus Davis, an ACE Certified Personal Trainer who offers personal coaching and executive wellness coaching at The Strong Academy in Washington, D.C., tells the story of a client with obesity who came to her after losing about 100 pounds (45 kg); he had, however, recently hit a weight-loss plateau. After adding muscular training to his workouts, the client was astonished by the changes he saw in his body as he lost weight and added muscle mass. His knees stopped hurting. His gait improved. And he eventually became an avid fan of muscular training, always seeking new ways to push himself.
Injury prevention should be a primary focus of any training program. Athletically minded clients trying to elevate their on-field performance should always be mindful of proper form during both training and competition to minimize injury risk, while older clients should work on their balance and strength to reduce the likelihood of falling as they perform their daily activities.
A well-designed muscular-training program is vital to fall prevention, which should be a primary element of every older adult’s exercise program. Balance requires strength. It also requires power (which may surprise a lot of older clients), as a muscle’s ability to respond quickly and appropriately is essential to regain one’s balance when encountering an unanticipated change in terrain or being bumped into by another person.
A muscular-training program should include exercises for all of the major muscle groups, with special attention paid to opposing muscle groups, such as the quadriceps and hamstrings and the erector spinae and the muscles of the abdominal wall. In the video below, McCall discusses the importance of a well-balanced muscular-training program and offers a sample workout.
Of course, not all injuries take place during exercise or sport or as the result of catastrophic falls. Some chronic injuries can be much slower to develop.
Davis works with a lot of busy professionals who spend long days sitting at their desks, not to mention sitting in their cars during never-ending D.C. commutes—in what Davis describes as a “complacent position.” These clients often complain of low-back pain or general stiffness. She always begins by assessing a new client’s gait and posture, often without the client knowing an assessment is even taking place. “I then explain the importance of not sitting all day and of addressing lumbar muscle function, for example,” she explains. “A strength and conditioning program can counter those issues. The goal is to address muscle dysfunction to combat pain.”
As Davis’s example illustrates, muscular training is a key element of both reducing the risk of injury and overcoming existing injuries.
Many clients may be surprised to learn that muscular training can help prevent or manage a number of chronic diseases and conditions:
- Osteoporosis: One of the most direct benefits of regular muscular training is increased bone mineral density, which may reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Studies have shown a 1 to 3% increase in bone mineral density as a result of a muscular-training program in pre- and postmenopausal women.
- Cardiovascular disease: Improved body composition is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, muscular training has been shown to lower resting blood pressure, improve blood lipid profiles, enhance vascular function and improve metabolic syndrome risk factors.
- Type 2 diabetes: As with cardiovascular disease, having more muscle and less fat is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Research suggests that muscular training can also improve insulin response and glucose utilization.
- Arthritis: Muscular training can reduce the pain associated with both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Helping a client understand the impact that an exercise program, or a particular element of an exercise program, can have on long-term health can empower them to embrace physical activity in a new and perhaps more meaningful way.
Remember the client Davis introduced to us earlier? One of the unexpected outcomes of that client’s embrace of muscular training was a dramatic improvement in his self-confidence as his performance improved. He eventually became an avid fan of muscular training and continues to push himself to adopt new lifestyle changes, such as improvements to his eating habits and overall lifestyle.
That client’s experience reflects the principal that self-efficacy and behavior change have a circular relationship; as a person’s self-efficacy improves, they become more likely to perform a given task, and as they perform that task successfully, their self-efficacy is further improved.
McCall reinforces this concept by explaining that many clients, particularly older adults, will measure progress by the ease with which they can accomplish tasks that previously seemed very difficult or even impossible. “Clients are often surprised by their own progress when we start to discuss household chores or tasks like lifting a suitcase into the overhead bin on an airplane,” explains McCall. “Pointing out these milestones can be an effective way to keep clients motivated.”
Muscular training has been shown to improve self-esteem in healthy younger and older adults, as well as individuals with cancer, in cardiac rehabilitation and with depression. And helping a client improve their self-esteem is no small accomplishment, as high self-esteem is associated with positive physical and mental well-being.
Muscular training is also associated with a decreased prevalence of depression in older men and women. Muscular training can significantly reduce depressive symptoms in adults regardless of their health status, the amount of muscular training performed or the achievement of significant strength improvements. In addition, muscular training alone is associated with large reductions in symptoms of depression among depressed patients and moderate reductions in symptoms of depression among those with fibromyalgia.
In addition, muscular training significantly improves global cognitive function. More specifically, muscular training alone is associated with small to moderate improvements in cognition among older adults, with the largest effects having been found for memory tasks.
Research has demonstrated numerous health and fitness benefits resulting from regular muscular training. Taken together, these benefits enhance the overall quality of life and lower the risk of premature all-cause mortality. Your challenge as a health and exercise professional is to help each client identify those benefits that will make the most meaningful and valued impact on their daily lives and future health. From there, you can help empower them to pursue health-related objectives through the performance of a safe, effective, enjoyable and personalized muscular-training program.
Expand Your Knowledge
Based on the research series “ACE Health and Wellness Reports,” this easy-to-understand course addresses the key factors involved in resistance training—from the physiological and psychological benefits of strength training to an overview of muscle structure and function. In addition, it provides a detailed look into the basic elements of safe resistance training and features an inclusive review of research-based training recommendations. Worth 2.0 CECs, this course includes digital access to an 80-page online document (viewable only) and an online quiz.
The ACE Functional Training Specialist Program is designed for fitness and allied health professionals who want to gain a deeper understanding of how to train the body to move more efficiently. You will learn how to apply functional movement techniques into your training, including understanding fascia, assessments, the application of appropriate exercise progressions and stretching techniques that will help you train clients to move more smoothly.
Are your clients looking to improve their performance in events such as a half marathon, marathon or triathlon? It’s important to understand how to properly train these clients to not only improve performance but to ward off injuries caused by repetitive linear exercise. In this webinar, ACE exercise physiologist Jacque Ratliff, CSCS, a USA Triathlon Certified Coach, shares insight on how to coach clients through resistance training—from dynamic warm-ups to sport-specific cool-downs.