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I've been working out with a mixture of strength training and cardiovascular exercise (and some stretching), and wanted to better assess to what degree the strength training is worth the time and effort.

My exercise goals goals, in order of importance (1 is most important):

  1. To live long and with a high quality of life (includes cognitive benefits, ability to use my body effectively long term, avoiding medical problems, etc.)
  2. To feel healthy and have better energy, mood, thinking, body comfort.
  3. To be able to eat closer to the amount I enjoy without gaining excess fat.
  4. To have a reasonably good male physique.

Let's say that (1) is more than 50% of my motivation--so I clearly want to the cardiovascular component. Given these priorities, is strength training (pull ups, bench press, preacher curls, tricep push-downs, mostly) really worth the extra time and effort, since they might mostly contribute a little to (3) and mostly to (4)?

Or would people state that strength training is important for (1) and (2) as well, and therefore are worth the extra perhaps 30-40 min in each gym session? Or, would they say that they mainly target (3) and (4), but really, it's not that much time for the benefits to (3) and (4) and therefore it really is worth it?

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4 Answers 4

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1.To live long and with a high quality of life (includes cognitive benefits, ability to use my body effectively long term, avoiding medical problems, etc.)

The extra time for strength training is definitely worth it for all of your goals, but esp. for #1. As we age we lose muscle unless we work at it. Take a look at the amount of effort it takes for an older person getting up out of a chair, going up stairs or getting up and down off of the floor compared to your ease of movement. The difference is muscle strength, neuromuscular control, balance and flexibility. Muscle strength provides better function and protection of joints.

As @Berin suggests, compound movements can help with the efficiency and functional benefits of your strength training. You can also combine resistance exercises with HIIT by doing bodyweight circuit training.

Also, don't overlook the flexibility or balance aspect of your overall training program. Joseph Weisberg P.T., Ph.D. has a quick 3 minute daily routine that addresses overall flexibility. You would still need specific stretches for specific problems, but it is a nice routine of compound stretches (ie child's pose, cobra etc.). And maintaining good balance is very important to a long, high quality life.

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I have no disagreement with Berin and Backinshapebuddy, but since you mention adding 30-40 minutes to every workout and you refer to the cost/benefit with respect to certain goals, this post is an answer with a slightly different emphasis. You list exercises ("pull ups, bench press, preacher curls, tricep push-downs") that focus on small isolated muscle groups - the "beach muscles." As other answers noted, the benefits would be much greater if you were to perform functional movements using the large muscles.

But I'd like to add that, compared with someone who does zero strength training, adding these exercises at even a low dose will still get you fairly steep benefits to your goals (1) and (2). A strength workout of large muscles can be done in less than an hour. I would recommend one functional movement each for squat (back or front or overhead), press (pushup or bench or overhead), and pull (pullup or deadlift or clean). Three sets of five works well for me.

This is a maintenance workout routine that I always come back to even when I'm busy and not in top shape for other things. Lifting heavy things even just a few times a month gives your body a hormonal reminder that it's a good idea to keep maintaining those muscle fibers and dense bones.

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Nice answer. Fundamentals. –  Dave Liepmann Apr 11 '12 at 2:40

It is a fallacy that health is best obtained solely through long, slow cardiovascular exercise. Jogging does not hold a patent on health.

Strength training gives you health by way of:

  1. Strength, which is useful in all areas of life, including fitness for all manner of tasks
  2. Improved bone density, which is particularly important as we age
  3. Improved protective strength in the muscle, ligaments, tendons and other tissue surrounding our joints, which allows us to more safely engage in sports
  4. An independent and inverse association "with death from all causes and cancer in men, even after adjusting for cardiorespiratory fitness and other potential confounders" (BMJ; similar study with near-identical conclusions in JPAH).

That said, I don't know why you'd fool around preacher curls and tricep push-downs. Get a heavy barbell on your back and squat. Strength training is not bodybuilding. Strength training is not bodybuilding. Strength training is not bodybuilding.

My personal experience has been that strength training, due to its straightforwardly productive and measurable nature, has been the most fruitful method of non-martial physical activity in my life. Strength training leads inevitably to mobility, high-intensity metabolic conditioning, and all the other myriad aspects of healthful fitness training. Running just lead me to running.

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Squats are that good, huh? Is it just that the largest number of muscles are involved? I don't think I can give up on pull-ups, though; there's something about going from "I couldn't do even one if you paid me $1mil" to doing 10 or so with excellent form that I don't want to give up on. –  Chelonian Apr 11 '12 at 0:49
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Don't get me wrong: pull-ups are the bee's knees. It's the machines and isolation exercises that are silly. As for squats: they're that good. (Deadlifts, too.) –  Dave Liepmann Apr 11 '12 at 2:28

If you are looking to improve your quality of life along with keeping the time for training down, then you want to focus on compound movements rather than isolation movements. Compound movements work entire muscle groups together in the proportions that they are meant to work. They are more effective to build strength. Isolation movements are more for bodybuilding or rehab. Yes, there is a reason to do isolation outside of trying to shape your muscles.

A good program will have the following components:

  • Strength (low rep/high weight)
  • Hypertrophy (high rep/low weight)
  • Conditioning
  • Mobility

Now, all of that can be done training 3-4 days a week for about an hour a day. The key is to have a base of strength built around the following four compound exercises:

  • Squats
  • Bench Press
  • Deadlift
  • Standing Overhead Press

You only need to add about 2 extra assistance exercises to that for your hypertrophy portion, and then work in your conditioning and mobility work. The lifting portion can be completed in 30-45 minutes. If you use some form of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), the conditioning portion will take no more than 15 minutes. The rest is stretching and mobility work. You may want to check out:

There are several other programs that will help you get strong. However, this is the best one I've seen for long term health and improvement. Your leanness has everything to do with how you eat. I can say after a year of lifting you can tell a difference. That applies in both performance and in physique, even though I never trained for physique.

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