This month we are focused on all things strength! As a physical therapy clinic, we are often learning things ourselves about strength. Below are some of our favorite reasons to strength train, as well as details on how strength and resistance training can have a tremendous impact on your life and health.
1. FOR GENERAL SPINE PAIN
Neck pain has become almost synonymous with spending long hours working at a computer. There’s no shortage of ergonomics gear out there meant to ease the burden of looking at a computer screen. However, there’s been a couple of studies looking at resistance exercises for neck pain. One study found that if office workers did the 4 exercises below 5x a week at either 10 or 20 min per day, participants reported up to 46% improvements in neck pain showing that the specific number of sets/reps does not matter as much as using those muscles to move resistance on a consistent basis. These results are backed up by another study with over 500 participants who worked at an office and found less pain in those who participated in the strengthening group, as well as less people who developed neck pain over that year compared to those in a general exercise program or educational intervention.
Research is also finding that back pain responds in a similar way to neck pain with resistance training. A study looking at chronic, non-specific low back pain found that the participants had a 72% improvement in pain level after 16 weeks of free weight resistance training with barbell deadlifting where the participants were coached and the height of the bar was modified to help them maintain a neutral spine during the lift.
Bottom line: It may seem counter-intuitive, but general pain in the neck and low back responds very well to lifting weights properly. Please remember that the time it takes to achieve these benefits can take 1-3 months, but the numbers are crazy! Any medication intervention for spine pain would love to get 45-70% improvement in pain scores at one year post study. Don’t let back or neck pain stop you from moving and lifting.
2. FOR MUSCLE LENGTHENING AND FLEXIBILITY
The hamstrings are often the top of the list when people talk about tight muscles. Multiple sources actually say that eccentric strengthening exercises (where the muscle is loaded as it’s being lengthened) seem to improve muscle length, which improves general flexibility. Another study compared eccentric hamstring exercises to static stretching in people with tight hamstrings and found a range of motion improvement with stretching and eccentrics, however, the strengthening group showed greater improvements in range of motion compared to static stretching.
Bottom line: Strengthening should not be avoided because a muscle just feels tight or painful. The evidence shows that eccentric exercises can strengthen and lengthen your muscles.
3. FOR INJURY PREVENTION
Stretching has its’s place in joint motion and pain relief, however, people have been studying how heavy eccentric loads on a muscle can help prevent injuries in athletes. Several studies found significant reduction in injuries mid season in hamstring and groin strains in athletes who participated in exercises that put heavy isometric and eccentric loads on those muscles. One meta analysis found up to a 50% decrease in hamstring strains across 15 studies with 8000+ athletes when eccentric hamstring exercises were implemented.
Bottom line: Stretching feels good and it often feels really good after you’ve just completed a strenuous activity! However, in order to prepare a muscle to accept heavy dynamic loads associated with sports, one must prepare by progressively loading that muscle so it’s ready for any dynamic heavy loads in sports.
4. FOR ENDURANCE PERFORMANCE
Strengthening is also a great way to provide a supplemental workout or cross train for endurance athletes. One study looked at a group of triathletes and measured their performance in a simulated triathlon comparing an endurance only training regiment to an endurance and strength training group over a 26 week period. The strength and endurance group was found to have an improved cycling economy at 14 weeks and improved running economy at 26 weeks with no increase in body mass. The endurance only training group showed no improvement in running economy at the 14 and 26 week measurements. Running/cycling economy is basically a measurement of how efficiently an athlete is using oxygen while running/cycling and this study found that resistance training in addition to their normal endurance training helped their bodies move more efficiently during the endurance events.
Bottom line: Strengthening can help improve performance in sport, even in endurance sports that are not focused on powerful movements like lifting heavy weights, jumping, or sprinting. If you are an endurance athlete experiencing some kind of plateau or overuse injury, you should consider including some kind of progressive resistance program to your training regiment.
Too often pain stops people from exercise or moving. We understand the complexity of pain and once serious pathologies or contraindications (fracture, tendon/ligament tears, neurological compromise, tumor, etc) have been ruled out, resistance training is something you can do to help manage your symptoms. The evidence shows consistent long term benefits of strength training with very limited side effects.
If you are unsure of where to start with in terms of strength training or worried that you will injure yourself consider Functionize Health and Physical Therapy. We offer app-based remote exercise programming, as well as in person sessions to address any physical pain and dysfunction. We also use InBody analysis to measure your progress in terms of body composition measurements and basal metabolic rate to create a measure you can use to track your progress.
Thanks for reading!
Tyler Balfour, PT, DPT
Tyler and his family currently live in Decatur where he enjoys rock climbing, cycling, running, golf, and playing yard games in his free time. Being outside and moving energizes him and he seeks to use the highest quality of care to help his patients overcome physical impairments so they too can get outside and move.
Saeterbakken AH, Makrygiannis P, Stien N, et al. Dose-response of resistance training for neck-and shoulder pain relief: a workplace intervention study. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2020;12:8.
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