Authors of a new research studying examining the effects of strength training on metabolic syndrome (a clustering of risk factors that pre-dispose to heart disease including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, abdominal fat, and elevated blood sugar) published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings concluded that strength training, independent of aerobic exercise, reduced risk of metabolic disease risk by 29%. Perhaps even more interesting, the research indicated that a relatively small amount of strength training produced the best outcomes.


The year 1970 shaped how virtually all of us think about exercise today. 


I’ve spent the last 20 years reading the scientific literature pertaining to all modes of exercise. Although the research has shifted my understanding and approach to exercise significantly over the years, one element has continued to emerge from this research: the importance of supervision in strength training.
A sampling of studies examining a variety of populations yield a similar outcome: Supervision produces better results. 
A 2000 study published in Medicine and Science and Sport and Exercise concluded, “Directly supervised, heavy-resistance training in moderately trained men resulted in a greater rate of training load increase and magnitude which resulted in greater maximal strength gains compared with unsupervised training."
A 2004 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that utilized collegiate rugby players as subjects concluded, “The present findings provide strong support for the direct supervision of resistance training in young athletes. In the practical setting, the direct supervision of resistance training by appropriately qualified strength and conditioning coaches will significantly augment the absolute strength and percent increases of supervised athletes when compared to unsupervised athletes.”
A 2009 study published in Epidemiology and Clinical Medicine examined the impact of supervised exercise versus non-supervised exercise in overweight adults. Researchers concluded that, “Exercise under supervision of a qualified fitness instructor leads to a larger decrease (in fat mass).”
A 2011 study conducted in the Netherlands comparing supervised and unsupervised strength training concluded, “After four months, those who received supervision lost more weight (17.6 pounds compared with 6.16 pounds) and body fat (13.64 pounds compared with 3.74 pounds) than those who received no supervision. 
In research studies, two separate groups who perform the exact same workouts will have dramatically different results when one group has direct supervision.  Regardless of the type of exercise, the style of the workout, or the goals of the individual performing the workout (a type-2 diabetic or an elite athlete), the singular element of direct supervision always produces better results.  


Over the last two weeks, the New York Times and the Washington Post published two “must-read” articles around intelligent strength training.


The average adult in the US loses about six pounds of muscle per decade after the age of 30. Which means, on our 60th birthday, we’ve lost 18 pounds of muscle relative to our 30-year-old self. We generally don’t recognize this, and rarely does anyone talk about it, because the muscle loss doesn’t show up on the scale; it is masked by the fat gain that frequently accompanies aging.

Stress and Recovery

For over 11 years, we at Discover Strength have gone against the conventional wisdom that "more is better" when it comes to strength training.  For years, we've taught the foundational tenet: You don't get stronger and reap the benefits of strength training WHILE we strength train; instead, we reap the benefits while we are RECOVERING from strength training.  Research now supports the notion that two workouts per week can optimize the myriad of benefits from strength training.
However, until recently, very little research existed examining how the various stressors in our lives impact our finite recovery ability.
Authors of a brand new research study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research provides a breakthrough in our understanding of how chronic mental stress impacts the recovery of our muscles.  The researchers concluded that "life event stress" significantly impacted one's ability to recovery from strength training.  The authors state, "In all analyses, higher stress was associated with worse recovery."  "Stress, whether assessed as life event stress or perceived stress, moderated the recovery trajectories of muscular function and somatic sensations in a 96-hour period after strenuous resistance exercise."
The take-home messages:
  • Our recovery and therefore our progress will be impacted by a variety of factors including our life stress. 
  • To optimize recovery and results, allow 2-3 days of recovery between strength training workouts; particularly during periods of high stress. 
  • To improve our results, seek to minimize life stress.
  • We don't walk into each and every workout in the same physiological (or psychological state) and this will impact our workout to workout progress

3 Research-Based Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training (and an amazing music video)

When we discuss the many benefits of strength training, we commonly focus on the physiological benefits: Increased muscle strength, enhanced resting metabolic rate, improved bone mineral density and reduced resting blood pressure to name just a few.  The aforementioned benefits are augmented by the equally important psychological benefits associated with strength training.  The oft heard and almost clichéd expression, "My workout just makes me feel better" actually has significant scientific credibility.  An ever-growing body of research points to three mental health benefits of strength training.  Researcher Wayne Westcott Ph.D. recently authored an article examining the mental health benefits of strength training.  I have included selected quotes below.  This is fascinating:
1. Cognitive ability
  • "In an excellent review titled, 'Strength Training as a Countermeasure to Aging Muscle and Chronic Disease,' Hurley, Hanson, and Sheoff described four studies that demonstrated an inverse relationship between muscular strength and mental decline/Alzheimer disease."
  • "O'Connor, Herring, and Caravalho's comprehensive review of the mental health benefits of strength training identified four studies that attained significant improvements in memory as a result of resistance exercise."
  • "A 2012 study by Nagamatsu and associates actually found resistance exercise to be more effective than aerobic activity for improving mental performance in 70 to 80 year old woman with mild cognitive impairment."
2. Self-Esteem
  • "Research has revealed enhanced self-esteem resulting from resistance training among younger adults, older adults, women, and cancer patients." 
  • "Based on their research review, O'Connor and colleagues concluded that 'strength training alone is associated with improvements in overall self-esteem.'"
3. Depression
  • "Strength training alone is associated with both large reductions in symptoms of depression among depressed patients with moderate reductions in depression symptoms among patients with fibromyalgia."
  • "More than 90% of the initially depressed elders in the resistance exercise group no longer met the criteria for depression after 10 weeks of training, compared to 40% of those in the health education group over the same time period."
If you are in for a laugh and you really want to acquire a deeper understanding of these psychological benefits, I encourage you to watch what is perhaps the worst (or best, depending on your taste) music video of all time.  

The Most Intelligent, Effective, and Socially Unacceptable Approach to Improving Body Composition

Improving body composition, defined as the percentage of our body weight that is comprised of muscle versus fat, is a paramount goal for the clear majority of exercisers.  Whether our pursuit is bolstered health and the prevention of chronic disease or improved aesthetic appearance, improving our body composition is a central part of the equation.  With so much misinformation, confusion, and wasted effort in our quest of improved body composition, I thought I would share the ultimate success story that illustrates an evidence based, albeit unpopular approach to improving body composition. 

Iron Sharpens Iron

Rick and I are in East Lansing Michigan this weekend to attend our first ever Michigan State University football game.  We have an infinity for the Spartans because we've been influenced

Cardio doesn't do what we think (or hope) it does

It's the prevailing myth that so many fitness enthusiasts still cling to: Cardio will help me lose weight.  For nearly 12 years, we at Discover Strength have worked at combatting this misnomer.  I don't think we've been very effective.  Not a day goes by where I don't hear clients mention that they need to increase their cardio to really start improving their body composition.  In full disclosure, I love cardio.  In fact, I have a bias toward cardio.  I run marathons and I do cardio religiously five days per week.  I'm almost rooting for cardio to be effective for weight loss.  However, I'm also aware of what the research continually tells us:
Cardio doesn't do what we all think it does.   
That is, cardio isn't effective for weight or fat loss.  If we survey all the people on a treadmill, elliptical machine, in a spin class, or in a kickboxing class, and we ask them, "What's your objective?" 99% of the answers will be along the lines of, "To lose weight" or, "burn calories."  Stated otherwise, we're all using cardio to help us lose weight; but cardio simply doesn't help people lose weight.  What is cardio good for?  As the name implies, cardio is great for improving cardiovascular fitness and function and potentially mitigating cardiovascular disease risk factors.  Cardio IS valuable, but not for the reasons most of us perform it. 

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