The importance of muscle strength


The term “muscle building”, unfortunately conjures up misconceived images of buff bodybuilders, protein shakes and pumping iron. Nothing wrong with that, but building muscle is important for everyone.

Suzana De Pina, biokineticist at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA), tells us why:

“Strength is the ability of a muscle to exert force. Higher levels of muscular strength are associated with a significantly better cardiovascular and metabolic risk profile and a lower risk of developing physical limitations. 

As if this isn’t enough, there are also improvements in body composition, blood glucose levels, insulin sensitivity and even blood pressure in those who perform regular resistance training. This type of training has also been shown to slow down and sometimes reverse the loss of bone mass in individuals with osteoporosis. It has been shown that decreased depression and anxiety, increased vigour and reduced fatigue are amongst the benefits of strength training - this just proves that this type of movement is, in fact, for everyone.

As we get older, there is an associated loss in muscle mass and this is known as sarcopenia. This decline begins at the age of 25 and continues throughout our lives. This has huge negative health-related consequences as it can reduce our ability to perform daily activities and increases the risk of falling in the elderly population. Strength training cannot prevent age-related muscle loss but by performing this type of training, you can maintain a much higher level of muscular strength compared to someone who is sedentary. 

Some practical tips for incorporating strength training into your exercise routine include training each major muscle group but allowing 48 hours before training the same muscle group again. You can use body-weight exercises, free weights such as dumbbells or kettlebells, weight machines or elastic bands. The amount of repetitions will depend on your age and your training goal but a general guideline to go by is 8-12 repetitions to improve strength in adults, and 10-15 repetitions for improving strength in middle-aged and older individuals who are starting exercise. Anything between 2-4 sets is recommended but sometimes just 1 set can be effective for older folks and novices. Be sure to have an adequate rest period while training.”