Strength training is at large still a poorly understood concept in the realms of leisure sport.
Most people associate going to the gym with looking better – which will arguably always be the number one motivation why someone decides to spend their time working out.
Strength training ON THE OTHER HAND (I’m saying this on purpose) does not have its roots in enhancing aesthetics – at least not in the classic sense of having “razor abs”, or a “skinny, lean, and toned” body.
When you get strong (and I mean seriously strong), guess what you will look like? A “skinny, toned” individual? Or a strong and (more) muscular person?
To all “fitness experts”, "online trainers”, and Group-ex teachers out there: if you tell your clients that strength training makes you "lean", “toned”, and “sculpted”, then you are not telling the truth. You are either photoshopping your results, or you're not doing strength training the way it's meant to be done. So back to the lab for re-investigating your hypothesis.
Strength training is a PROCESS which builds on its major premise of getting STRONGER over a long period of time at a rate that is doable, acceptable – and therefore PREDICTABLE. Adding 10kg to your squat over six months is not strength training. Bench pressing half your body weight within a year as a 50 year-old man is not strength training. Deadlifting .75 times your body weight as a female after five months is not strength training.
Dumbbell training is not strength training. Neither is pulling resistance bands. And neither is swinging kettlebells. There is only so far you can progress with these pieces of equipment - which usually is very short-lived.
Strength training means getting stronger in small amounts on basic barbell exercises from workout to workout over an extended period of time (we’re talking months and YEARS).
Now here is the thing that no one wants to hear:
Getting stronger over long periods of times requires you to eat more calories than what you think you need to eat.
And here is one of the major reasons why:
When you eat enough calories, you build the required amount of muscle mass that HOLDS YOUR SKELETON together. This new muscle mass does its job the way it is meant to: keeping your joint integrity high; keeping your body tight and stiff while it lifts; and becoming more resilient to stress.
In a nutshell: more muscle mass keeps your entire system “in place” – which means that it is paramount for injury prevention and therefore staying healthy under the bar!
A muscle that is bigger can produce more force. A muscle that can produce more force is stronger. A muscle that is stronger is better at absorbing forces throughout the body and thus taking pressure off your joint structures.
A muscle that is bigger is denser in structure. A denser structure can hold things together better than a loose structure.
A muscle that is bigger can transmit greater forces to your tendons, bones, and ligaments than a smaller muscle. Greater forces transmitted to those structures (assuming we have correct technique) makes them stronger, thicker, and more resilient to wear and tear.
To get bigger muscles, plenty of calories are required.
Muscular growth relies on a net positive energy balance – meaning you have to consume more calories than you expend during the day.
How many calories do I need to build muscle?
As with many things: it depends. 2500 calories for a female and 4000 calories for an adult male are a good starting point. This provides the necessary raw material for the size of your muscles to increase.
This will likely go against the grain and “conventional wisdom” of the fitness industry. Because – sadly - calories and an increase in body weight are still the little devil we ought to avoid.
Then again, strength training is not fitness training, and neither does it aim to enhance aesthetics in a “conventional” way.
If you care about setting yourself up for a pain-free (or less painful) future that physically allows you to do the things you want to do in life, then strength training is for you.
If you value the importance and powerful impact of greater strength and muscle mass on your health and longevity, then strength training is for you.
On top of that: If you are happy to eat more than what you think you should eat to facilitate this process, then strength training is DEFINITELY for you.
Eat more and get stronger.
Eat less, stay “lean”, and don’t get strong.