Brenton Barker

Why Strength Is More Important Than Muscle Mass?

Big muscles are great but stronger muscles are even better. Learn why you should start strength training today.

strength and muscle mass

Strength training is often associated with bodybuilding, but truth be told, bodybuilders primarily perform hypertrophy training, not strength training.

So is having stronger muscles more important than having bigger muscles? You bet it is.

While bodybuilders are muscular and focus on hypertrophy, strength training provides more health benefits for the average person, most of which improve your ability to perform daily tasks.

This article dives deep into the importance of strength training for everyday people and clarifies the difference between muscle mass and muscle strength. But first, let’s examine the main differences between hypertrophy and strength training.

What is the difference between strength and muscle mass

When bodybuilders train, their priority is to cause hypertrophy of the muscle tissue in order to increase muscle mass. Alternatively, the primary goal of strength training is to strengthen the muscles to improve functional movement.

There is also a significant difference when it comes to both types of training. Inducing hypertrophy demands a high training volume, including higher reps, sets, and limited rest. On the other hand, strength training focuses on lifting heavier weights with more rest, lower volume, and higher intensity.

The difference in training methods also means the nutritional requirements vary. Bodybuilders eat a strict low-fat diet, with most of their calories coming from protein to help them build muscle and maintain low body fat levels.

Alternatively, strength training requires consuming foods that quicken the recovery and repair process.

Why strength is more important than muscle mass

While having big muscles might be appealing, apart from the vanity aspect, muscle mass doesn’t do much to improve your physical performance, particularly your functional movement.

Strength training, though, plays a vital role in everyday activities like walking, lifting heavy items, and even playing with your kids. Strength training also improves your posture and provides mental health benefits such as reducing stress and anxiety.


1Strength training reduces chronic disease

Numerous studies have shown that regular strength training can help to reduce the symptoms associated with chronic diseases such as HIV, cancers, and heart disease.

Those who have Type 2 diabetes can also benefit significantly from performing strength or resistance training. A 2017 study published by the Centres For Disease Control (CDC) concluded that strength training had been shown to improve glucose control when combined with other health protocols like a balanced diet.

Furthermore, a 2019 study published in Frontiers In Psychology showed that regular strength training might help to improve functional movement issues stemming from conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes.

2Strength training protects your bones

Did you know that according to research from Harvard, by the age of 30, lean muscle mass starts to reduce by between 3 and 5%?

A 2017 study published by the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research showed that performing 30 minutes of high-intensity strength training twice weekly dramatically improved bone density, bone mass, bone structure, and functional movement. Furthermore, researchers concluded that strength training for 30 minutes twice weekly had no adverse side effects.

In short, strength training improves bone and joint health, increases muscle strength and size, and preserves lean muscle mass the older we get.

3Strength training burns more calories

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Whether you’re performing cardio exercise or strength training, your body’s metabolism increases and, as such, forces you to burn more calories. However, when you combine both aerobic activity and strength training, your body goes into overdrive, burning even more calories.

Studies have shown that when performing high-intensity strength training, the EPOC effect or the ‘excess post-exercise oxygen consumption’ can provide between an extra 6 and 15% of the total energy cost, post-training.

Although high-intensity strength training is an effective way of burning more calories, it also takes a heavy toll on the body, so be sure to allow 1-2 days of rest between each session. Recovery sessions also play a crucial role when performing HIIT and allow your body to function more intensely and frequently.

4Strength training improves your functional movement

Another benefit of strength training is that it significantly improves your balance and functional movement. Functional movement is simply your ability to perform everyday tasks like lifting and bending in the most efficient way possible.

A 2017 study conducted by the Aging Clinical and Experimental Research showed that performing just one strength training session per week improved functional movement. Researchers found that muscle strength improved by 37%, and muscle mass or ‘size’ increased by 7.5%. Not bad for only once a week.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the study was that functional capacity in the elderly increased by a whopping 58%. This result alone shows just how vital strength training can be for performing everyday tasks, particularly as we age.

5Strength training boosts energy and improves mood

In 2018, JAMA Psychiatry published results from a meta-analysis that looked at 33 clinical trials and found that strength training was an effective way to reduce the symptoms of depression.

Regardless of the type of exercise you perform, endorphins are released, which helps to increase your moods. However, studies have shown that strength training, compared to other types of exercise, has the greatest positive effect on brain health.

Do you struggle to get a good night’s sleep? Do you wake up grumpy? A study out of Brazil showed that strength training improved the sleep patterns of those who have insomnia.

Healthhack from Healthypedia

One of the most common questions posed by strength training beginners is ‘Where do I start?’ As you would with any new endeavour starting slowly is critical when looking to boost your strength. Bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats are highly recommended for newbies because these movements are low-impact, meaning you’re less likely to strain a muscle or damage your ligaments and tendons. Once you have developed enough strength, you can gradually move on to lifting weights 2-3 times per week. Remember, if you are new to strength training, seek the advice of a qualified personal trainer.

Fun & curious facts

  • Increasing your strength, particularly in your core muscles, significantly improves your posture and reduces the chance of lower back injury.

  • Strength training increases your metabolism, meaning you burn more calories while at rest.

  • High-Intensity Interval Strength training (>85% of your 1 rep max) is more effective at lowering cholesterol levels compared to moderate-intensity strength training (50%-85% of your 1 rep max).

Let’s sum it up

So there you have it, a comprehensive breakdown of the important role strength training plays in everyday health and well-being. Compared to aerobic exercise, strength training has been shown to burn more calories, boost your mood and improve functional movement.

That being said, if ripped six-pack abs and big biceps are your thing, there’s nothing wrong with that; just make sure they’re strong too.

Healthypedia FAQ

Most people associate strength with giant muscles; however, strength training has more benefits than big muscles. Combined with cardio, strength training increases your metabolism, helping you shred more fat than if you performed aerobic exercise alone. Strength training also improves bone health and mitigates the chance of developing osteoporosis.

The free weight vs machines is a heated debate among fitness professionals when it comes to building strength. That said, most experts believe that combining the two is the best way to build strength. For instance, free weights help improve functional movement, while cable machines allow users to perform the activity safely, reducing the chance of injury.

If you're new to strength training, your best option is to start by performing 4-5 basic compound movements. These exercises could include squats, deadlifts, push-ups, and shoulder presses. Start slowly with 3-5 reps for each exercise, and pay close attention to performing the movements with proper form.

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