Strength Training: The Only Exercise Routine That
Provides All the Benefits

Today, the benefits of—and the need for—regular exercise are universally accepted and acknowledged. Pretty much everyone is aware that exercise offers a tremendous amount of health, fitness, and quality of life benefits – and that every person should engage in a program of regular exercise. However, what is less understood is exactly what form of exercise is necessary to produce the specific benefits or desired outcomes, and/or how such exercise should be implemented.

Because of the recommendations and guidelines promoted by the so-called health authorities (government agencies, health/fitness organizations, etc.), most people believe that simply getting off the couch and moving will magically bestow a multitude of benefits. Furthermore, it’s clear that these same organizations and agencies are very confused as to just what real exercise is or how it should be performed for maximum benefit.

The Benefits of Exercise

There are many specific benefits that can be achieved through regular exercise. These benefits can be classified according to a number of various categories: 

  • health improvement and disease prevention
  • fitness, athletic performance, and physical work capacity
  • body shape and appearance
  • treatment of injury/reduced risk of injury
  • anti-aging
  • and psychological well-being

While it would not be practical to provide an exhaustive list of every single possible benefit of exercise here, the most important benefits of exercise are listed below by category:

Health Improvement/Disease Prevention

  • Reduces the risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD) and the risk of dying from CHD
  • Reduces the risk of stroke
  • Reduces the risk of having a second heart attack in people who have already had one heart attack
  • Improved blood lipid profile
  • Lowers the risk of developing high blood pressure and helps reduce blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure
  • Increases insulin sensitivity and lowers risk of developing non-insulin-dependent (type 2) diabetes mellitus
  • Reduces the risk of developing colon cancer
  • Increases bone density and strength and reduces the risk of osteoporosis
  • Improves immune system function

Fitness/Athletic Performance/Physical Work Capacity

  • Increases muscular strength and endurance
  • Improves cardiovascular efficiency
  • Enhances/maintains optimal muscle/joint range of motion
  • Improves stability and reduces the risk of falls
  • Provides greater stamina and overall work capacity
  • Increases speed and power 

Body Shape and Appearance

  • Increases muscle size, shape and appearance
  • Improves muscle tone and firmness
  • Improves bodily proportions
  • Encourages fat loss

Treatment of Injury/Reduced Risk of Injury

  • Increases strength of muscle and connective tissues (tendons, ligaments, cartilage)
  • Increases bone strength
  • Increases joint stability
  • Enhances muscle/joint range of motion
  • Increases joint hydration and lubrication
  • Restores losses in strength and function
  • Remodels positive tissue (a benefit obtainable only from weight/strength training)


  • Prevents and postpones muscle mass loss and associated strength loss
  • Restores previously lost muscle mass and strength
  • Prevents and postpones bone density and strength loss
  • Restores previously lost bone density and strength
  • Increases strength, endurance, and physical work capacity
  • Improves balance and stability and reduced risk of falls
  • Increases metabolic rate, decreases likelihood of fat gain
  • Improves insulin sensitivity
  • Increases functional independence

Psychological Well-Being

  • Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves confidence
  • Increases self-esteem

For Every Action There is an Equal and Opposite Reaction

Overall, we know that regular exercise can help us: become healthier and have better functioning bodies that are less likely to suffer from disease, become ill or injured; have greater strength, stamina, and endurance for performing any type of physical work or sport; look and feel better; are better able to recover from injury and return to pre-injury status; age more graciously, avoid frailty and loss of physical independence, suffer from less anxiety and depression, and feel better about themselves. Quite amazing, isn’t it?

But while knowing and appreciating all that, it’s vitally important to understand exactly what’s required in terms of type and method of exercise to deliver the benefits. Simply moving the body isn’t going to get it done. Not all types, forms, and methods of exercise are equally effective at bringing about the changes and benefits we desire. Plus, some types and methods of exercise can actually be counter-productive in that they may actually cause injury and/or a regression or loss of valuable attributes—or even harm health! That’s why simply getting out and doing it isn’t very wise or effective.

The whole process of exercise and its benefits comes from the concept of ‘stimulus and response’. At the very heart, every benefit or change in the body from exercise is a result of the body responding to a stimulus. The body is exposed to an imposed demand, environment, circumstances, set of conditions, etc., which, in turn, cause a reaction of the body where it attempts to cope. It does this by regulating and adjusting its physiological functions in order to meet the needs and to protect and prepare itself for perceived future needs.

The immediate changes and adjustments made by the body in response to exercise –such as increased:

  • heart rate
  • blood circulation
  • breathing rate
  • oxygen uptake and delivery
  • temperature
  • hormonal reactions
  • etc

All these responses can be referred to as the effects of exercise, whereas the eventual consequences of exercise – the longterm changes – can be referred to as the results. All are adaptations that the body produces in an effort to enable it to keep pace with the imposed demands, prepare itself for future demands, or protect itself from physical stress and potential injury.

So, things we deem as benefits or results are really nothing more than adaptations by the body in response to the stimulus presented to it … hence, the stimulus/response model. Make no mistake, exercise does not produce anything directly (except an injury, perhaps). It’s the body that produces all the adaptations or changes as a result of being stimulated by exercise.

But specific responses don’t occur unless the intensity/strength of the stimulus reaches a certain required threshold. Anything below the threshold simply maintains the status quo; anything above the threshold causes a reaction. More significant reactions and adaptations occur in response to more significant stimuli. This concept goes a long way in explaining why not all types and methods of exercise or physical activity are equally effective and also leads us to understand what specifically the body requires before an adaptation will occur and what we must do to cause it.

Exercise, in a nutshell, is an organized system of imposing specific physical demands on the body in order to stimulate the body to produce a desired adaptation. The body does not produce an adaptation for no reason. Exercise serves as that reason.

What Causes the Body to Change

With the understanding of this stimulus/response relationship and the strength or intensity threshold requirements of the stimulus, we can now look more specifically into what’s required to cause the body to actually produce the adaptations we desire.

At this point in time, science does not enable us to quantify exactly what threshold we need for all the known benefits and adaptations of exercise. What we do know, however, is more along the lines of general attributes and conditions that must be created for various desired adaptations to occur and certain minimum levels of stimulus necessary for a response. In most cases, we know what we need to do to elicit a response, but we don’t have the ability to precisely measure exactly when the threshold has been met or when the stimulus has been optimally effective.

So, we must realize that some of the benefits of exercise can be achieved with rather low level exercise/physical activity consisting of relatively slight intensity levels and/or degree of work. For example, improving mood, reducing anxiety, relieving stress, reducing blood pressure, improving circulation, etc., can be accomplished by merely going for a brisk walk or casual bike ride. Some other benefits such as improved cardiovascular efficiency, increased insulin sensitivity, improved blood lipid profiles, increased metabolic rate, increased endurance, reduction in incidence of various diseases, etc., requires somewhat higher levels of exercise with moderate degrees of effort/intensity and which do more to challenge the body’s status quo.

The most significant—and perhaps valuable—benefits of exercise (such as increased muscular strength, increased bone density and strength, increases in joint integrity and connective tissue strength, prevention of age related losses in muscle mass, improved muscle tone and body shape, increased sports performance and general work capacity, etc.), only occur as a result of high intensity exercise and if the body’s status quo has been severely challenged and threatened.

So, let’s be honest. You’re not going to become conditioned as a high level athlete by merely going for a brisk walk several times a week or build muscle mass, dramatically strengthen and reshape your body and develop your personal best physique by jogging, playing tennis, taking aerobics or doing Pilates. A couch potato, who is very decondtioned, weak, soft, and overweight, will certainly benefit from getting off the couch and walking or going on a bike ride. Their health may improve and they may begin to feel better. Ultimately, though, the benefits are going to be very modest and short-lived. To obtain more significant health and physical conditioning benefits, they must pursue more serious forms of exercise and greater levels of effort. To get in the best shape possible and reap all that exercise has to offer, you must engage in the highest level forms of exercise that place the greatest demands and challenges to the body’s muscles and various physiological systems.

In a nutshell, there is essentially a continuum of various types of exercise and physical activity classified according to the degree of effort and demands placed on the body and their associated ability to stimulate the body to change/produce adaptations. This continuum looks like this:

Low Level Benefits                                  High Level Benefits & Adaptations

        walking • yoga • bikeriding • jogging • aerobics • Pilates • running • calisthenics • weight training 

While the above representation certainly is not all inclusive, it illustrates the point—which is, the easier or less demanding, less physically challenging the exercise, the less value and ability it has to stimulate the body to produce worthwhile changes or adaptations. Conversely, the harder, more demanding, and more physically challenging an exercise or activity, the more valuable it is and the more ability it has to stimulate the body to produce high level significant changes and adaptations.

Each activity on the continuum provides benefits which are at and below its level on the continuum. This means that activities on the low end (such as walking) will only produce the very lowest level benefits such as stress reduction, improved circulation, and improved mood. Activity in the middle (such as jogging and aerobics) will result in the somewhat higher level benefits such as increased cardiovascular efficiency, increased endurance, and maybe some slight muscle strengthening in very weak individuals. But these moderate activities will also provide the lower level benefits of stress reduction, improved circulation, etc. The most demanding and challenging activities (such as weight/strength training) will result in the highest level and most significant results and adaptations such as increased muscle mass and strength, increased bone density, increased work capacity, body shaping/physique enhancement, etc., and will also result in the moderate level results, such as improved cardiovascular efficiency, and endurance, and the low level benefits, such as stress reduction, improved circulation, etc.

Long story short? The low level activities provide a little benefit, the moderate level activities provide more benefit but are still lacking in some areas; but the high level activities provide all the benefits possible through exercise. Nothing is missed. This means that walking is not a complete exercise program. Jogging is not a complete exercise program. Aerobics, yoga, and Pilates are not complete exercise programs. Nor is intense running, training for marathons – even triathlons and doing calisthenics or doing a combination of all the aforementioned exercises is not a complete exercise program. Components are still missing, so certain important benefits/results won’t be achieved.

Weight/Strength Training = ALL Benefits

Only weight/strength training (properly designed and carried out) is a complete exercise program that’s capable of producing all the benefits of exercise. Weight/strength training renders all other activities and forms of exercise completely unnecessary. Nothing else needs to be added to the exercise program.

Of course, you could choose to do other activities/exercise if you want, but it’s not required to obtain additional benefits. It’s more of a voluntary recreational pursuit rather than a need. I’m not suggesting that if you’re involved in a particular sport or athletic competition that nothing other than weight/strength training is required to train or prepare for that endeavor. In that case, there are certain needs that require additional activities or training methods. For example, someone training for a marathon needs to practice running. However, running will not make them healthier (it may actually make them less healthy) or more fit than weight/strength training alone will do; it will just help them to be a better runner and condition their body to be more tolerant of the demands of running.

At this point, you might be asking, “How can this be? How can the one type of exercise – weight/strength training – be capable of stimulating all of the possible benefits of exercise without the need to add other types of exercise like aerobic/cardio exercise for the heart, or stretching for muscle/joint flexibility, etc.?” Look at it this way: muscles are the “window to the body,” meaning they’re the way to gain access (through exercise) to all the other systems and subsystems of the body. Everything we do with exercise involves the muscles, and everything we hope to accomplish from exercise absolutely requires muscular stimulation. In fact, without muscles, exercise is impossible.

For example, a quadriplegic cannot exercise because he/she cannot move his/her limbs or body because they have no ability to engage their muscles. As a result, they not only have no ability to use their muscles and keep them strong and healthy, but they also have no ability to engage other bodily organs and systems, such as the heart and lungs or bones and impose demands and challenges on them in order to stimulate positive changes within them.

If you desire exercise for your heart and lungs and go jogging in order to elevate your heart and breathing rates, challenge the cardio/respiratory system, and stimulate the body, it’s not your heart or lungs that’s propelling you down the street. It’s your muscles doing all the work moving your limbs and producing force against the resistance of your bodyweight. What then happens is the heart and lungs get their work indirectly as a result of the demands placed on the muscles. The muscles demand more blood, oxygen, energy, and the removal of various waste products. The heart and lungs are the organs responsible for providing those things. Thus, the heart and lungs merely respond to what the muscles demand. This same relationship exists between the muscles and all the other systems and subsystems we desire to exercise.

Furthermore, all the supporting systems neither know, nor care what sort of activity the muscles are performing. All they know and respond to are the muscle’s needs. The heart and lungs do not know whether you are out for a jog or are in a gym performing leg presses on a machine. All they know is that muscular work is occurring and the muscles are calling for additional blood, oxygen, energy, etc., and they respond accordingly. The heart and lungs get the same stimulation whether you are jogging or leg pressing, hence the same benefits are stimulated. However, the degree or severity of stimulation is dependent on the degree or severity of the muscular work.

With exercise, what we come down to ultimately is that any type, form, and method we can possibly do is nothing more than various different ways of engaging our muscles and providing direct work to them, and indirect work to the other bodily systems. The level of benefits and results stimulated by a given exercise type or method is determined by how intensely, completely, and effectively we provide work to the muscles. Weight/strength training provides the most benefits – and benefits that other lower forms of exercise cannot – quite simply because weight/strength training presents the most demanding and effective stimulus to the muscles.

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