Why Everyone Should Be Lifting Heavy
In our quest to be healthy and strong, it's easy to over-complicate the concept of fitness. We, as consumers of fitness trends and information, can find ourselves stuck in a cycle of expensive, overly intense workout programs, or fixated on the idea of the perfect workout routine. We can forget what exactly we're working out for, which in many cases is simply to feel, perform — and yes, look — our best.
Most of us want to be strong and fit so that we can enjoy our lives: play with our kids and pets, enjoy the hobbies or sports we love, avoid injury, and feel good as we age. With these goals in mind, one of the simplest and most functional ways to support them is to lift weight, also known as strength training. While this approach may seem intimidating to some, it's truly one of the most natural, simple, and effective ways to improve our fitness, and it doesn't have to be grueling or complex.
Let's break down a few reasons why lifting weight is a good idea:
Lifting weight is both primal and functional.
We're not here to tell you how to be fit– if you enjoy running or pilates, that's great! The best workout plan is the one you enjoy doing. With that said, there is something special about expressing body movement in a way that is functional (meaning the skill or movement you're practicing carries over into other areas of your life) and primal — things like climbing hills, sprinting, lifting things off the ground or carrying heavy objects are all foundational movements that human beings have performed forever, and practicing them under load (with weight) can help you get better at the practical things in your life like carrying groceries or your child, house work or gardening, or whatever else life throws your way.
It can mitigate the negative effects of aging and reduce risk of injury.
Many of us consider the loss of muscle and strength and aches and pains as we age an inevitability — and while we can't expect to function exactly the same at 60 as we did at 20, there are many things we can do to slow the rate of sarcopenia (muscle loss/wasting) and osteoporosis (bone density loss) that so often comes with aging. We can actively work against these issues with load bearing activity like weight lifting, proper fuel, and the maintenance and growth of skeletal muscle to support our frame and our daily movements. Research shows that lifting weights can improve balance, lower blood pressure, and improve insulin sensitivity, which in turn reduces risks of injury, cardiovascular disease, and chronic illness.
Muscle can help you lose fat, look better, and improve hormonal health.
Muscle is a very metabolically “expensive” tissue, which sounds like a bad thing – but what that really means is that it takes more energy to maintain and grow, so having more muscle on your body helps you burn more fat during exercise and at rest. Strength training can also boost healthy testosterone levels in men and women, which is crucial for things like mood and libido.
We may be biased on this one, but we just think lifting weight is fun. It's empowering, and the endorphins released during exercise can improve mood and increase energy throughout your day.
So how do I get started?
This depends on a lot of things, including what kinds of exercises you enjoy, your current fitness level and goals, any injuries, access to equipment, and so on. But it's important to note that you don't have to be strong or have access to a fancy gym to strength train. You can build remarkable strength and fitness using only your body, in the comfort of your own home or outdoors at a park or beach. Think about workouts that you only need your body to do: squats, lunges, pushups, pullups, sprints, planks, and burpees. No barbell required!
With that said, if you do have access to a gym and are interested in lifting some steel, a focus on compound, multi-joint lifts that prioritize full-body coordination and more than one muscle or muscle group will reap the best benefits. Movements like deadlifts, squats, bench press, shoulder press, Turkish getup's, weighted lunges, and farmer's carries are all great options, and will give you greater overall strength in less time than focusing on isolated, body-building style exercises like bicep curls or calf raises, for example.
And while we live in a culture that values “the grind” and tells you that success demands “no rest days” we offer a counter point: the reality is, rest days are when our bodies actually recover, repair, and get stronger from the micro-damage inflicted during our workouts. Without recovery, challenging workouts are just stress and damage. We need both elements of a workout — the work and the recovery — in order to build muscle and get stronger. Research indicates that as part of an overall healthy lifestyle, lifting weights two-three times per week is enough to see progress and growth. You can use those other days for active recovery like walks, swimming or hiking, or whatever else you want to do, but you don't have to lift weight every day for hours to see the benefits.
This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as understanding the ins and outs of strength training, and the more experienced you become, the more you can play with details like exercise selection, sets and reps, intensity, and so on. But the main takeaway is that nearly everyone can benefit from some form of weight lifting, and that you can make it fun, challenging, and effective without exhausting yourself or spending a bunch of money. Being stronger can improve all areas of our lives, and it's never too late to start.