What The American Heart Association Says About Strength Training

  • Resistance training improved blood pressure, cholesterol, mental health, and cardiorespiratory fitness.
  • For the general population, moderate intensity resistance training is recommended twice a week.
  • Resistance training combined with aerobic training improved fasting glucose in people with prediabetes.

Updating its 2007 recommendations with a rich trove of data, the American Heart Association (AHA) has released a new scientific statement on resistance training and its effects on heart health

Resistance training is any type of exercise that involves adding a force against the muscles being worked. So, you can think of that as strength training for runners. In the AHA’s report, body weight, machines, free weights, and resistance bands were all considered resistance training. 

Ultimately, the AHA recommends everyone engage in moderate intensity resistance training twice weekly to decrease their risk of cardiovascular disease.

Adults who participated in resistance training had a 15 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality. They also had 17 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Runner on the Assault Fitness treadmill looking out onto trees through windows.

How the AHA Came to Its Conclusion

Since 2007 the AHA has examined a large amount of new evidence revealing the benefits of resistance exercises in both traditional and nontraditional ways. 

On the traditional side, studies have found that resistance training can reduce blood pressure in healthy adults. It has the same affect on those experiencing hypertension or those at risk of cardiovascular disease.

On what the AHA refers to as non-traditional benefits, resistance training was cited as improving sleep quality and reducing depression and anxiety. 

The paper cited nearly 100 studies, including randomized control trials, meta-analyses, and literature reviews. The AHA also used these studies in making recommendations for practical application of resistance training. 

What The AHA Found

The argument strongly in favor of resistance training has been made. Beyond improvements in blood pressure, the AHA found that up to 60-minutes of resistance training per week was associated with a 17 percent lower incidence of diabetes. This, compared to people who didn’t spend that time training.

Resistance training also improves cholesterol, though only modestly. 

According to the AHA resistance training directly improved cardiorespiratory fitness, mental health, and sleep quality in all adults. 

In people with coronary heart disease, improvements in VO2max were only slightly lower in resistance training. This was compared to aerobic training (17 percent vs. 21 percent).

Related: How to Test Your VO2 Max Without Going To A Lab

The group also looked at research involving specific populations. For women; pregnant and postpartum women; older adults; and people with heart failure, peripheral artery disease, HIV, dementia, and chronic kidney disease. 

Weight training and strength training for runners.

How to Strength Train According to the AHA 

Besides all the juicy data, the best part of the AHA’s new scientific statement is the clear recommendations for strength training. 

What the group recommends for the general population:

  • Head to the gym twice a week. That frequency is enough to confer all the benefits listed above to improve both strength and endurance. 
  • Perform 8-10 exercises that hit on different muscle groups.
  • Perform at least 8-12 reps each at about 50 percent of your maximum effort.

For healthy adults looking to get stronger, the recommendation varies. Instead, AHA says to perform the exercises at 80 percent max effort with fewer reps (1-6). 

For comprehensive results, the entirety of the body should be worked. The AHA breaks down the muscle groups as follows: chest muscles, shoulder muscles, upper back muscles, triceps, biceps, abdominals, upper legs and glutes, calves, and quadratus lumborum (a lower back muscle located deep near the spine). 

What Else You Should Know

What about running? How does that fit in with your resistance and strength training?

Beyond the positive heart health benefits, runners are encouraged to strength train anyway as a way to prevent injury. 

But, you’re probably reading this wondering how running factors back into heart health.  

The AHA looked at that, too. The finding was that in many areas aerobic exercise in combination with resistance training the benefits were compounded

Resistance training is effective in controlling fasting blood glucose levels in people with prediabetes. But, combining it with aerobic training conferred a larger benefit. 

Related: How Men and Women Respond to Strength Training

In other areas, like blood pressure or controlling cholesterol, combining the two types of exercising did not make a significant difference. 

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