Spending some time with the barbell and moving and lifting some weight around is definitely not just for men who want to get massive.
There is a huge misconception, especially amongst women, that the moment they start lifting weights at the gym, they will get huge muscles, and get chubbier because they don’t have enough time for cardio – leaving a bulky and unattractive physique.
Believe me, I do understand this worry.
However the worry is unnecessary, and is nothing more than a very widely believed non-truth.
It has never been, nor will it ever be, an aspiration of mine to look like a lumbering oaf … recall the slightly overweight big guy in the gym, who does nothing but bench press, and you’ll know what I’m referring to.
The physiques I’ve always admired the most have been strong and athletic, such as Brad Pitt as Achilles, and Ellen Hollman as Saxa in Spartacus.
NOTE: To look amazing, I wouldn’t say it’s essential that you have to be a warrior like Achilles or Saxa … but it gives you an edge!
It is widely known that aerobic cardio is not the best path to a better physique, nor is it generally the best path to overall health.
The truth is that all adult populations would benefit from lifting weights including: the elderly, young women, old women, men aspiring get strong, men aspiring to look like a Calvin Klein model, athletes, office workers, nice people, nasty people, people who are kind of cool but who you wouldn’t necessarily introduce your parents to … the list goes on. The one exception may be seriously ill populations.
Now consider this:
Most men actually struggle to gain muscle, even when actually trying to get bigger!
So it completely baffles me why women (who possess a fraction of the testosterone that men have) think they are going to turn into Mr Olympia over night, if they start lifting weights.
The same can be said for some men and their needless worry of ‘not wanting to get really big’.
Newsflash: Hypertrophy (increasing muscular size) is difficult. You are not going to wake up one day and think “Wow. I look like Jay Cutler!”
Body development takes its time, and happens gradually.
And whilst it may come naturally for some people, 90% of guys trying to gain muscle really struggle with it, despite their conscious efforts.
The most likely scenario is that whilst gaining a bit of muscle mass, you’ll simultaneously drop some body-fat and begin moulding a new physique. This is what people typically see happen (both men and women) when they start lifting weights properly.
Provided they are not eating monumental amounts of calories and carbohydrates, you won’t gain weight per se, but instead experience a drop in body-fat. The most impressive result seen from training with weights is a change in body composition. You’ll wind up gaining some muscular definition, and losing the fat covering it, leaving a more firm and defined physique.
That’s enough about the needless worries of training with weights
Now here are 9 reasons why EVERYONE should be lifting weights / resistance training:
1. EPOC and increased metabolic rate
Training with weights is hard, and metabolically demanding. The excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is pretty awesome. It’s an effect that occurs after training as a consequence of the body trying to restore itself to homeostasis. An increased heart rate and the need to replenish energy sources used during training are things that in themselves require energy to achieve, and therefore leads to an overall increase in calories burned by your body.
2. You will lose body-fat
So clearly this coincides with the last point. Resistance training leads to an increased metabolism, and more calories burned daily.
Also, remember that for every pound of muscle added to your frame, you’ll burn approximately 50 more calories per day.
Think about how awesome you would look if you exchanged 5 lbs of your body fat with 5 lbs of lean body mass (remember, muscle is a lot denser and therefore not as big as fat mass. It won’t make you look bulky).
This is before we even consider the hormonal advantages of resistance training (it increases circulating testosterone, GH and IGF-1 – which may create a fat-burning and muscle-building environment).
As well as this, resistance training increases insulin sensitivity. What does this mean?
Insulin is a hormone that clears sugar from the bloodstream, storing it in your cells. In the presence of insulin, glucose can be shuttled into cells. BUT more often than not, your muscle cells will be too saturated with carbohydrates in the form of glycogen, meaning you’re feeding fat cells on a daily basis. Obviously we want to avoid this. What you need to know is that resistance training has a beneficial effect on 1) insulin sensitivity, and 2) expression of glucose transporters.
What this means is that your muscle cells become more responsive to insulin, and manage nutrient partitioning better when you eat carbohydrates. This makes your body’s fat-storing mechanisms far less efficient, which is a good thing if you want to look good. Training with weights is a great way to help manage this, and therefore help manage body-fat levels.
3. Stronger bones
Strong bones are only ever as strong as they ‘need’ to be (regardless of your calcium intake!). What this means is that if your body is made aware that it’s not required to be strong, your bones will be weaker.
Alternatively, lifting weights signals to your bones, telling them to up their game, or so to speak!
The older you get the more of a potential concern hypercalcaemia / osteoporosis / falls / fractures become.
The best thing you can do now is to protect yourself by training with weights, to keep your bones and tendons intact and prevent deterioration. This includes elderly populations.
Falling to pieces with age is not inevitable and is, more often than not, a consequence of not taking care of yourself when you were younger.
In addition to the protecting your bones, another concern with getting older is sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss). This goes often goes hand in hand with osteoporosis. Age related muscle loss is a process which starts very early on in life, from your mid-20s and is something that, without a doubt, will happen unless you protect yourself by signalling to your body that your muscle mass has a use. Q: How do you do that? A: By using your strength and stimulating your muscles frequently with weight training.
5. Reduced risk of injury
As described above, the integrity of your muscles, bones and tendons is crucial for protection of the body. You can ensure you stay strong and prevent potential injuries with a resistance training programme, in synergy with a protein-rich diet that contains enough essential nutrients like vitamin D, magnesium and calcium.
Also, by working a muscle through its full range of motion, you’ll ensure its strong not only in one part of the range, but through all of it. This equips you to move freely and unrestricted, without risk of injury. Let’s take the legs as an example. With lots of running, the repetitive motion over a long period of time signals to your legs that they only need to be strong in an almost extended position, as they are in when you’re standing up or walking. However this does nothing to help you if you need to bend down to pick something up or perhaps squat down to the ground. Too much running, and not enough stretching, may even make these types of movements problematic.
On the other hand, full-range weighted squats signal to your quads, hamstrings and glutes that they need to be strong and stable across the entire movement: in the most contracted position, the most stretched (when squatting right down past parallel), and the mid-part of the range. Stronger muscles that are able to move through a full range uninhibited are far less likely to become injured.
Much of the time, injuries occur due to weakness or muscular imbalances.
Two common examples:
- A slipped disc – often as a result of weak core muscles
- Knee injury – often as a result of poor leg strength / structural imbalance of the quadricep and hamstring muscles * (especially poor recruitment of the VMO).
6. Healthy hormones
Unlike other forms of exercise, training with weights at an intense level leads to an acute increase of circulating growth hormone and testosterone, which have a role in optimising body composition. During the hours following the training, an acute rise in these hormones may contribute towards lipolysis (fat-burning), recovery and general well-being.
It’s important we balance catabolic hormones like cortisol, with adequate amounts of sex hormones – which compete for the same precursors. Bear in mind that any form of exercise for too long a duration (e.g. steady state cardio, or resistance training that exceeds 45-60 minutes) will lead to excessive elevations in cortisol, thus taking away from your sex hormone production.
This is a simplistic explanation, but the important thing to remember is that an acute rise in cortisol is beneficial during training. But the short-and-sharp type strategy to training ensures your anabolic:catabolic balance is favourable to your health, and that your wear-and-tear hormones don’t exceed your recovery hormones over a longer period.
In an ideal world, you would train at a moderate to high intensity level with weights, for no longer than 45 minutes – and avoid more catabolic modalities of training, that place excessive wear and tear on the body.
7. Endless workout variations – Never Get Bored
We have supersets, straight sets, circuit training, German Volume Training, high intensity training, cluster training…
And this is before we’ve even considered varying in your lifting tempo, rep ranges, and how you may split up your routines.
It is virtually impossible to get bored when training with weights because there is always something new to do. You will never have exhausted all options.
It is very important to get in sync with your own body, and to be able to perform dynamic movement patterns. If you ever ask someone who has never trained before to do a proper lunge, their execution is usually abysmal to begin with. They just cannot find balance.
This is an issue which cannot be fixed by repetitive cardio training which would have you perform a single movement over and over, typically in one plain of movement. It is very easy to find a comfortable pace (homeostasis) during jogging, but it will not get you co-ordinated, flexible or strong. Often, it only reinforces already poor coordination and structural imbalances.
However moving weighted objects (open kinetic chain exercises) and moving your body around weighted objects (closed kinetic chain exercises) will get you strong and spatially aware at the same time.
9. Self Confidence
This speaks for itself. I hardly think it requires explanation. Just look at any guy who goes out to a party, having just gone through a successful body transformation: it’s like watching something out of the “Douchebag” manual!
One thing I will say though is this: I find the body and the mind tend to follow each other. I’m a big believer that stepping outside your comfort zone in the gym enables you to make similar steps in other walks of life.
So get over being intimidated by others, focus on your own progress, and your own discipline and determination to get the results you want … and you’ll find this will reflect in the rest of your life.