What is Strength Training for Dogs?
I recently wrote about the research on humans that links muscular strength to longevity. This research was interesting to me and had me thinking that dogs might also benefit from fitness routines that incorporate strength training more prominently than is current practice; current practice being predominantly lower intensity and cardio focused (e.g. walking).
Strength Training for Dogs
Besides the possibility of a longer life span for your dog, there are many reasons to strength train a dog. According to James Cook, the director of the Comparative Orthopedic Laboratory at the University of Missouri-Columbia, proper weight management and strength training can really help with a dog’s overall health and quality of life. “First and foremost, and the one that has the most effect on the non-surgical side, is weight management and body condition. …With body condition, we’re trying to get the dogs’ strength built up. That’s because the muscle mass and muscle function will help protect the joints and help the overall function as well”.
Further, strength training a dog can lead to:
- Stronger tendons, ligaments, and bones
- Increase in daily calorie burn
- Increased performance in sporting and working tasks.
What is Strength Training For Dogs?
According to Wikipedia, strength training is a type of physical exercise specializing in the use of resistance to induce muscular contraction which builds the strength, anaerobic endurance, and size of skeletal muscles. For humans this often nets out to ‘going to the gym’ or ‘lifting weights’. But what does it mean for our dogs?
Strength training for dogs is very similar to that with humans, except that it rarely involves the use of barbells or kettlebells. The underlying concept is to provide progressive resistance to the dog’s movement in order to stimulate muscle growth and strength. The goal of a canine strength exercise is to create an anaerobic muscle contraction that will lead to muscular fatigue, breakdown, and ultimately repair. In my mind canine strength training is very much like human body weight training. The key is to choose exercises and/or equipment that tax the muscular system first (and not the cardiovascular system) and transform the movement into a strength and muscle building exercise. There are some effective canine fitness tools and equipment available to help you accomplish this as well.
Canine Strength Training Examples
How might a dog owner begin to incorporate strength training into their dog’s exercise program? It starts with the idea of taxing the muscular system. Think about what you might do in the gym to build your own strength. You (hopefully) choose exercises, loads, and rep schemes that force the targeted muscles to contract and fatigue way before your cardio system fails. You might do 3 sets of 6-10 reps of squats, using a weight (which might be just body weight) that makes the last few reps hard to achieve.
The same concept should frame your dog’s strength program. Doggy squats, or up-downs are two examples that will work the dog’s muscles more than taxing their cardiovascular systems. Another example is to add resistance to cardio movement, transforming them into strength and muscle building drills. Weighted vests are one tool that can make a typical walk or jog, or almost any exercise for that matter, turn into strengthening movement.
In the coming weeks, I will be sharing some of my favorite strength exercises that you can do with your dog. Remember, strong muscles might just be the key to a long life.