Should you lift weights?
If you’ve ever asked yourself “Do I need to lift weights?”. The answer is maybe.
If I tweak the question a bit and ask “Should you be doing strength training?” The answer is YES!
Everyone should be doing strength training in some capacity. It’ll vary from person to person, based on goals and health history, but believe it or not, for many people strength training is often the better option.
What is Strength training?
Strength training is planned activity that makes you stronger. Go figure! Strength training involves challenging the body to improve performance against the forces of everyday life. It’s not just about pumping iron.
It’s scalable across all ages and populations, and can be achieved with or without equipment. Grandma can use nothing but gravity and a Young Buck can use a washing machine if he wants to.
Important note – Heavier does NOT always mean stronger. Performing a 100lb Deadlift with perfect form will bring more strength gains than a 200lb Deadlift with rubbish from. The point is to have improved performance, therefore bad form doesn’t cut it.
The Who’s and Whys of strength training.
Overweight / Obese
Through strength training one improves muscle tone. With improved muscle tone comes higher caloric expenditure. Even when sleeping.
Done correctly, strength training is often safer than running or walking. Hitting the pavement means literally hitting the pavement with all of the joints – knees, hips and lower back. Sadly I’ve seen it too often.
Strength training 2-3 times per week with compound (multi-muscle) exercises and large core focus is the most suitable. By all means after building a solid foundation, introducing some running would be beneficial too.
Women / Mums
One of the best things cross fit did for fitness was popularizing weight training for women. Being strong and performing feats of strength is incredibly empowering.
The most satisfying thing for me as a coach is the look on the face of a female client when they perform a Deadlift PB. AAAAND the way they feel about themselves thanks to their strength.
For soon to be mums or new mums, strength training is so beneficial. It keeps the body strong through the latter months of pregnancy. It helps protect the low back, hips and knees as ligaments throughout the body become more lax). It facilitates quicker recover after child birth, and optimizes strength for the physical demands of a new born.
Lastly, strength training gives you a great arse.
A soccer player sprints, decelerates, cuts, turns, accelerates and jumps. No matter if you’re a pro athlete, hike on weekends or join a pick up game a Tuesday nights, you’re an athlete.
Athletes put their body under enormous stress. It’s good stress without a doubt, but with repetition of the same movements, it can lead to muscle imbalances and potential injury.
Many people have muscle imbalances without knowing it (even the greatest athletes), and as result suffer serious injuries. ACL injuries for example, are a often a result of muscular imbalance stressed for too long. The moment of injury was just “the straw that broke the camels back”.
Strength training teaches the body to automatically load and de-load (land upon jumping) safely and efficiently. Not only does the the neuromuscular system produce more force, but correct mechanics allow for optimal expression of that force. Jumps het higher, balls thrown further, balls kicked harder and marathons run faster.
Kids are little athletes too. They’re climbing, running, throwing, lifting, jumping – the lot. On the other hand they’re also spending a lot of time at a school desk.
To mitigate the affects of prolonged sitting, specially programmed strength training will help build resilience, reduce injury risk and help them excel as athletes. They’ll run faster, climb with better balance, and sit up taller in class.
Core and glut strength are key areas and bodyweight/resistant band exercises are most suitable. Minimum age to start strength training should be about 10 years old.
In 90% of the active rehab clients I work with, I’ll identify a postural or mechanical issue that very likely contributes to the pain. Now pain is not straight forward by any stretch of the imagination, but when we use strength training in conjunction with mobility work we often see big changes in the person’s pain experience.
Back pain is correlated with core strength.
Neck and shoulder pain is correlated to chest tightness and upper back weakness.
Knee pain is often correlated with core and glute weakness.
Strength training IS mobility training: We have mover muscles and stabilizer muscles. The core is the king of stability. When the core is weak, the only way we avoid collapsing to the floor in a heap, is when our movers become the stabilizers. Hamstrings, hip flexors, groin, chest, upper traps and neck all become tight to help the core “pick up the slack”.
Floor based or resistance band exercises are best to start – progressing to functional movements such as deadlifts and squats.
In the US 300 000 people over the age of 65 are hospitalized each year for hip fractures. 95% of these are cause by a fall.
It’s without a doubt that strength training reduces incidence of falls in elderly. Balance is improved through core and lower body strength, and a more responsive nervous system.
As we age, bone density deteriorates (osteoporosis). A sad reality, but thankfully we can slow it down. The best way to do this is by stressing the skeleton with resistance.
Bone growth is stimulated optimally when it’s stressed in varied ways. With strength training, we can carefully select the type, direction and intensity of load.
General movement is great, however it often doesn’t stress the upper body as desired, and in order to progressively stress the skeleton, we’ll eventually need more than just gravity.
Floor based exercises, resistance bands and light dumbbells are the best options to start for the elderly population.
In a nutshell, diabetes is the condition of excess blood sugar in the blood stream, that leads to many undesirable symptoms and health conditions.
Research has found it difficult to determine whether strength training alone can reduce or treat diabetes, however combined with aerobic exercise, it’s often proven to be more beneficial than aerobic exercise alone.
Some of the symptoms of diabetes is oedema (fluid build up) and nerve/capillary damage in the feet. This can make walking or jogging very difficult and even dangerous. Carefully programmed weight training can be a very good option in this case.
In some cases exercise can cause rapid drops in blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). Strength training can often be controlled more than aerobic type training. If I had the choice, I’d rather drop a dumbbell on the floor than fall off a treadmill or a road bike.
So should you lift weights? Whether you fall into any of these categories or not, you should perform some form of strength training. It may be the best bet for you or part of a well rounded exercise regime. Strength training is a skill, so if you’re not familiar, catch up with a good personal trainer to get you started.
’til next time
Like an Oak, we grow slowly but surely
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