Josh is an athletic development coach and registered Sport & Exercise Nutritionist (SENr) with an MSc (D*) and BSc (Hons) in Sports Strength & Conditioning, and a PGDip (D*) in Performance Nutrition.

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Resistance training or strength training has long been considered a young person’s arena, particularly for men and in particular sports. And while the benefits of aerobic training in general health promotion are well documented, strength training remains undervalued for the role it can play in our health. The benefits of strength training for performance are clear, previous literature has highlighted that strength training can reduce acute sports injuries by one- third, and overuse injuries by almost half (1). However, this article will look at the benefits of strength training for general health and why it should be advocated in equal measure to aerobic training.

In the World Health Organisation (WHO) 2020 guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour (2) it is strongly recommended that:

  • All adults should undertake regular physical activity.
  • Adults should do at least 150–300 min of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or at least 75–150 min of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination throughout the week for substantial health benefits.
  • Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities at moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these provide additional health benefits.

That’s roughly 20-40 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a day across a week plus at least two muscle-strengthening activities a week. Is this being achieved? International comparison suggests that UK citizens aged >15years are more likely to be inactive than their counterparts in most comparable countries in the world; 63.3% of people in the UK fail to achieve a benchmark of activity (3). So are the guidelines being promoted and inactivity challenged? Unfortunately, research into healthcare professionals suggests that 80% of GPs in England are unfamiliar with the government physical activity guidelines (3) and only 16% of physiotherapists knew all 3 elements of the physical activity guidelines (4).

So why strength training for life?

Despite a world of inactivity, our bodies biological principles underly the natural human responsiveness to exercise. The main role of skeletal muscle is to control body movements through the generation of force. The ability to produce and co-ordinate force dictates functionality to access our lives. On a day-to-day level that reflects your quality of life. Can you squat down to pick up an item off the floor? Can you get up off the floor easily? At the higher end can you move your body the way you want to in activities or sports? Do you have the strength to meet the demands of the sport without getting injured or to excel at it?

But in the bigger picture, lower muscular function is associated with greater all-cause mortality, incidence of and mortality from cardiovascular disease, all cancer and subtypes of cancer, including breast cancer (2,5,6,7,8), and in recent times higher levels of muscular strength were associated with a lower risk of COVID-19 hospitalisation in adults over 50 years of age (9). 

Strength training can have benefits on (2,5,6,7,8):

  • Metabolic diseases
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Dementia
  • Cancer
  • Mental health & depression
  • Sleep
  • Bone health
  • Tendon health
  • Muscle health
  • Cartilage health

Practical application?

At its simplest, keep moving and avoid extended periods of sitting. Take the stairs, squat down to things on the floor, get off the floor without using your hands, park the car further away at the supermarket and carry the shopping. In terms of training use multi-joint exercises, preferably free movements and not on machines as each movement is a skill to develop and hold onto. If your movement patterns are good then lift some weights! Don’t be scared of them! The muscular strength you build and movement function you develop is your key to longevity. 

References:

  1. Lauersen JB, Bertelsen DM, Andersen LB. (2013). Br J Sports Med. The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. 48(11):871-7. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2013-092538
  2. Bull FC, Al-Ansari SS, Biddle S, Borodulin K, Buman MP, Cardon G, Carty C, Chaput JP, Chastin S, Chou R, Dempsey PC, DiPietro L, Ekelund U, Firth J, Friedenreich CM, Garcia L, Gichu M, Jago R, Katzmarzyk PT, Lambert E, Leitzmann M, Milton K, Ortega FB, Ranasinghe C, Stamatakis E, Tiedemann A, Troiano RP, van der Ploeg HP, Wari V, Willumsen JF. (2020). World Health Organization 2020 guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour. Br J Sports Med. Dec;54(24):1451-1462. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2020-102955.
  3. Chatterjee R, Chapman T, Brannan MG, Varney J. (2017). GPs’ knowledge, use, and confidence in national physical activity and health guidelines and tools: a questionnaire-based survey of general practice in England. Br J Gen Pract. Oct;67(663):e668-e675. doi: 10.3399/bjgp17X692513.
  4. Lowe A, Littlewood C, McLean S, Kilner K. (2017). Physiotherapy and physical activity: a cross-sectional survey exploring physical activity promotion, knowledge of physical activity guidelines and the physical activity habits of UK physiotherapists. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med.  Oct 30;3(1):e000290. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2017-000290
  5. Celis-Morales CA, Welsh P, Lyall DM, Steell L, Petermann F, Anderson J, Iliodromiti S, Sillars A, Graham N, Mackay DF, Pell JP, Gill JMR, Sattar N, Gray SR. (2018). Associations of grip strength with cardiovascular, respiratory, and cancer outcomes and all-cause mortality: prospective cohort study of half a million UK Biobank participants. BMJ. May 8;361:k1651. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k1651
  6. Maestroni L, Read P, Bishop C, Papadopoulos K, Suchomel TJ, Comfort P, Turner A. (2020). The Benefits of Strength Training on Musculoskeletal System Health: Practical Applications for Interdisciplinary Care. Sports Med. Aug;50(8):1431-1450. doi: 10.1007/s40279-020-01309-5
  7. Westcott WL. (2012). Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Curr Sports Med Rep. Jul-Aug;11(4):209-16. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8.
  8. Shaw BS, Shaw I, Brown GA. (2015). Resistance exercise is medicine: Strength training in health promotion and rehabilitation. International Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation 22:8, 385-389. doi: 10.12968/ijtr.2015.22.8.385 
  9. Cheval B, Sieber S, Maltagliati S, Millet GP, Formánek T, Chalabaev A, Cullati S, Boisgontier MP. (2021). Muscle strength is associated with COVID-19 hospitalization in adults 50 years of age and older. medRxiv (Pre-print). doi: 10.1101/2021.02.02.21250909

Josh Wall
Josh is an athletic development coach and registered Sport & Exercise Nutritionist (SENr) with an MSc (D*) and BSc (Hons) in Sports Strength & Conditioning, and a PGDip (D*) in Performance Nutrition.

Josh is currently the Head of Athletic Development & Health at a leading independent secondary school in Oxfordshire which means he has a unique insight into all things to do with training, sport, physical education and wellbeing from children to adults. Alongside this Josh works with the Italian Women’s Lacrosse team in preparation for the Women’s World Championships 2022, and also private athletes who compete in ultra-marathons, triathlons and Ironman’s. This range of experience combined with the subject expertise make Josh perfect to be our resident health & training guide.

Instagram: coach_joshrwall

Twitter: joshwall1

Josh Wall

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