Everybody should be including resistance training in their fitness routine...
As you will see below, most of (if not all) of the benefits of lifting weights, apply to absolutely anybody interested in health & fitness.
Cardio bunnies... You don't need to give up the treadmill. But you may find that avoiding the weights section of the gym is holding you back from the results that you are chasing...
Here's 18 reasons why...
1. Muscle Strength
Training with weights (including bodyweight, resistance bands etc) directly improves muscle strength. This does require relatively heavy lifting. Weights that challenge you between approx 6-12 reps will send signals to the muscles that they must adapt to that challenge... via increased strength.
The 'traditional' idea that women should be lifting lighter weights, for more reps, in order to avoid 'bulking' is false... Using weights that are too light will not challenge your muscles sufficiently... you WILL NOT get stronger. Of course, this also means that as your strength improves, you must constantly challenge yourself by increasing the weight used.
2. Muscle Hypertrophy
Muscle size can be increased via resistance training. Combined with a suitable reduction in body fat, this is how to achieve the coveted 'toned' body.
Gaining significant muscle mass is not easy... a number of factors determine how successful this is...
- is muscle gain your goal?
- are you training correctly for muscle gain?
- are you eating correctly for muscle gain?
- does your lifestyle support muscle gain?
Muscle gain is a slow, gradual process... suddenly 'bulking up' should not be a concern when beginning weight training. In fact, the unfortunate truth is... a dramatic, visible increase in size, in a very short period of time, is more likely to be due to fat gain than muscle gain.
3. Maintain Muscle Mass
Even if you are not training to increase muscle mass... there are many benefits associated with maintaining a healthy amount of muscle tissue.
Without adequate use, your muscle tissue will waste away... leaving you with lowered strength, slower metabolism and a less 'toned' look.
4. Increased Metabolic Rate
Ever wondered how somebody can seemingly 'eat whatever they want' without appearing to gain weight?
The maintenance/increase of muscle described above, will raise your resting metabolic rate. This means that your body will burn calories at a higher rate compared to somebody with a lower metabolic rate... potentially making weight loss/maintenance easier, and decreasing the need to directly burn calories via long, slow cardio workouts.
5. Increased Bone Density & Strength
The changes to muscle described above, happen due to physical stress caused by weight training. When lifting/training with resistance, you also place physical stress on your bones.
They too adapt to this stress... via increased bone strength and bone density.
After the age of approx 40, a sedentary lifestyle contributes to a natural decrease in bone density (approx 1% per year). This weakening of the bones results in an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.
Weight training helps to reverse/slow down that process.
6. Improved Heart Health
Most people associate elevated breathing rate and heart rate with cardiovascular exercise... running, swimming, cycling etc.
When training with weights, and following an appropriate programme, you can elevate your heart rate just as effectively (if not more so).
Training with weights, following a programme with pre-determined rest times, is essentially mimicing the effects of interval training.
By training in this way you increase the strength and volume of your heart, which makes it easier to pump blood around the body.
The end result is that you will be far more able to cope with physical effort, including exercise, reducing the feeling of effort and fatigue.
7. Improved Blood Pressure
Research shows that resistance training has a positive effect on blood pressure.
This is a vitally important area of your health to take care of... chronically elevated blood pressure increases the risk of heart attacks & strokes.
NHS figures show that 1 in 3 adults in the UK have high blood pressure (many of those people are not even aware).
8. Lower Risk Of Diabetes
Storing excess fat increases the risk of developing diabetes. And as we said earlier, resistance training, combined with healthy eating, helps to reduce body fat by increasing your metabolic rate.
Strength training also helps to improve insulin sensitivity. This means that when you eat and digest food (carbohydrates in particular), your body is better able to remove sugar from your bloodstream, via insulin (Diabetes is characterised by an inability to remove sugar from the blood effectively).
9. Mental Health - Endorphins
Despite the common assumption that exercise is a negative, painful experience, anybody who trains on a regular basis will confirm the powerful psychological effects...
Intense exercise in particular (sprints, resistance training etc) causes the release of endorphins.
Endorphins are chemicals that are formed within the body and released to either;
- reduce your perception of pain
- or as a "reward" to reinforce positive habits such as laughing, sex and eating certain foods.
Endorphins are a naturally occuring opioid, manufactured by our own bodies. Opioid; as in heroin, morphine etc... that should help to illustrate how powerful (and potentially addictive) the effects of exercise & endorphins are.
Studies have shown that this side-effect of exercise can significantly improve symptoms of depression and also generally lift mood in healthy individuals.
10. Mental Health - Increased Body Confidence
The 'ideal' body shape is obviously subjective...
Weight training, plus the physical and visible benefits that come with it, have the potential to significantly increase body confidence.
People often start training/dieting with the aim of 'improving' their body aesthetically. Muscle gain and fat loss are generally accepted as desirable fitness goals.
Regardless of the 'social pressure' and 'fat shaming' arguments, seeing these changes in the mirror WILL produce mental health benefits for most people, in the form of increased self-confidence. As long as the methods used are not detrimental to health, this can only be a positive.
11. Improved Balance
Improved muscle function strengthens balance... especially useful in sports or for preventing falls.
12. Injury Prevention
One of the main functions of muscle, is to support & stabilise your joints. Joint injuries are extremely common and often debilitating... lower back, neck, knee injuries etc' can all have a significant impact on day-to-day life.
Stronger muscles = More support for joints = Lower risk of injury.
Strength training also strengthens the tendons and ligaments, which further increase the durability of your joints.
13. Improved Posture
Mainly due to increased strength in the muscles around your core (not just your abs).
The purpose of those muscles (apart from aesthetics) is to support the spine, hips, neck etc.
Without adequate strength in this area, a combination of bad habits and gravity will cause you to maintain poor posture.
Not only is this visually unappealing, but places you at much higher risk of injury... including back pain, which costs the NHS £1 billion per year and is the 2nd highest cause of sick days taken from work.
Lifting weights can counter the effects of those bad habits...
Not only does strength training directly strengthen the muscles, it also increases your awareness of how your body works and helps to encourage good habits; lifting with correct technique, sitting correctly and knowing when & how to 'engage' your core muscles for lower back protection.
Sitting for long periods (especially while working at a desk) and looking down at phone screens for hours every day, are VERY common causes of poor posture. Your body/muscles are not designed to be held in these positions for long periods of time. Rounded shoulders, neck tension and stiff hips are just some of the common issues that you need to be aware of. While the ideal solution would be to reduce/remove these habits, weight training is a useful tool to reverse potential problems.
14. Better Sleep
An effective workout, at the right timeof day, helps to promote a good night's sleep.
Adequate, quality sleep, helps to manage stress, supports your immune system, helps to control appetite and compounds the effects of your workout due to the release of muscle building/repairing hormones during deep sleep.
15. Weight Training Is A Form Of Meditation
Weight training mimics many of the benefits of mindfulness meditation... renowned for reducing anxiety, increasing concentration and potentially helping to manage physical pain.
Due to the nature of most resistance exercises, you need to concentrate on the movement of the weight and your body. Ideally, you will also be paying attention to your breathing pattern and how your body feels during the exercise.
Naturally, if you are focussing on these things, it's difficult for your mind to drift elsewhere.
It's a good idea to leave your phone in your gym bag to make the most of this benefit.
16. Increased Diet Adherence
Any workout is likely to encourage you to eat more healthily afterwards... why would you dedicate your time and effort to exercise and then eat rubbish for the rest of the day... undoing your earlier efforts?
Weight training increases the body's protein requirements, so it's recommended that you try to include protein in every meal.
17. Advantage In Sports
If you play competitive sport, increased muscle mass and/or strength will give you a physical advantage over your opponent.
(Don't forget, you will also be decreasing your risk of injuries).
Alternatively, if you have been neglecting your resistance training, and your opponent is stronger, has better balance and better body-composition, you are the one at a disadvantage.
18. Improved Movement Efficiency & More Percived Energy
Stronger muscles allow you to carry out physical tasks more easily.
Climbing stairs, lifting heavy objects, carrying bags etc will all demand a lower percieved effort.
As a result, you will feel more energised throughout the day.
You don't need 18 reasons to start resistance training...
Any one of the benefits above will improve your quality of life.
People often 'choose' to focus on more aerobic (cardio) exercises rather than weight training.
Sometimes this is for a good reason. Other times it's simply due to a lack of confidence and/or knowledge.
Hopefully the information here helps to illustrate how important resistance training is. However, if you are just getting started, it's worth starting slowly, and seeking in-person guidance... As with any exercise, due to the nature of lifting weights, there is a small risk of injury.
But... as long as you are following an effective, safe programme... you can start enjoying the results described above.