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  • Lifting weights

    Published: 24-06-2020

    Why you should lift weights

    Strength training, resistance training, lifting weights... whatever you want to call it is an activity that everyone benefits from. This applies if you're a guy, girl, young or old.

    Squatting in the garden

    Lifting weights is beneficial to you irregardless of your background. Most obviously lifting weights makes you physically stronger, but also provides various other benefits such as improved physical & mental health, positive body image, and confidence.

    If you are person (particularly young) with confidence issues lifting weights is a near bullet proof way to raise your self-esteem and make a few friends along the way.

    The benefits I personally found from lifting weights are:

    • Positive body image
    • Pride in my physical strength
    • Satisfaction from goal setting
    • Increased mental perseverance
    • Better understanding of nutrition and health
    • A healthy hobby

    If you wish to skip ahead to simple practical advice, then skip ahead.

    Background for different types of people

    Women

    If you're a women you are statistically 2 to 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder than men. Weight training gave me and many others both physical and general confidence. With that said I would invite you to consider weight training as a beneficial tool for your own self assurance.

    An obvious reason why people excercise in western society is to look attractive and build self-esteem. This is a factor to why I began and continue to do so. Both guys and girls see the need to be attractive for one another and girls tend to invest more in there looks and have more self-critical body image about themselves than men.

    When it comes to physical exercise and attractiveness I feel girls typically aim on losing body fat or restrict gaining excess weight over building muscle. Guys also try to keep fat down too, but they also focus on growing beach muscles (chest, arms and abs). Girls shy away from strength training. You may have found yourself just doing cardio excercises like running. Partly I think this is because girls don't see the appeal of "being strong" as much as men, which makes sense. Probably they feel they can achieve their body image goals through cardio and diet alone. Which they can, but what they should consider that in general, people who train with weights tend to have more favorable body image than those who partake in cardio only. In other words if you are exercising for the aim of looking good, you have more to gain from lifting weights than cardio alone.

    A likely common barrier to strength training for girls, everyone in general actually, is anxiety about lifting weights. Fear of not knowing what to do, getting hurt and looking silly might play through your mind. I want to assure anyone who is feeling this that its really a false problem you get over with on day 1. Looking at few instructional videos on YouTube can give you a bit of confidence. Nobody at the gym cares about what you are doing. What some girls do is try it out with a friend for support. The only caveat with this is that you can become too reliant on your own friends attendance to motivate you. You could also consider a personal trainer who can help you. I am personally a bit skeptical of the necessity of personal trainers because of their varying knowledge and all the information is available for free on the internet. But if getting a female personal trainer helps then more power to you.

    Another barrier to lifting weights is that girls feel they shoudn't weight train in fear they will get an unattractive masculine physique. They think they will turn "too muscley". This is a bit of a silly thought as any serious physique takes years of training and the hormonal differences between the sexes tends to give women a more "toned" look rather than any mass. A year of somewhat serious weight training as a girl will just end up making you look more attractive. Ask yourself how many of the girls you know who go to the gym are built like Schwarzenegger?

    There is a growing idea in culture particularly aimed at women that they should 'learn' to feel comfortable in their body. Likely because women tend to be harsher on themselves in regards to their looks. This idea is known as the 'Body Positivity' movement. I agree to the extent that women (particularly young) set unrealistic standards for themselves. Girls and boys are influenced by marketing and social media sites like instagram. In these cases the persuit of health and looking attractive just ends up making girls feel stressed, under pressure and in worse cases feeling worthless. Excercise should be the opposite of this.

    If you are someone who struggles with body image issues then I argue that weight training is a far stronger antidote to low self-worth than 'Body Positivity'. Weight training is concrete, it's real and it physically changes how you look. If you have tried to be more positive about your image then that is good, but if you feel you have to constantly remind yourself then something is clearly not working and you are clearly not happy. So if you are constantly unhappy then the best solution is to change for good in a positive way. I am not trying to argue that women should strive to be as physically attractive as possible, instead, I want people to realise that excercise (both cardio and strength training) is a gateway to simply being a more happier person.

    Realistic expectations in weight training should be emphasised. For example it is natural, normal and healthy for women to hold more body fat than men. This sexual distinction is what makes the genders so attracted to one another anyway. A healthy amount of body fat remains on both sexes even after weight training. And more so on women.

    2 smiling girls next to barbell
    Nur Adilin Muhamed Ali (R) and Athiyah Abu Bakar, women powerlifters. Photo by Yazit Razali.

    Of course it isn't just about looking better, everyone gets to benefit from improved bone density, improved strength, posture, better sports performance and an increased metabolism which helps burns fat.

    Some of the most common and useful strength excercises are Squats and Deadlifts. These strengthen the lower back, glutes and legs. So for female readers (and some men) this has the added effect of making you not only stronger but works on making the features you likely care about more attractive (🍑👀).

    Speaking more practically, women have plenty to gain by training the same excercises as men. Male and female bodies develop muscle more or less in the same way. The only difference is expectations on how much muscle mass each sex develops. You train your legs as a man they get bigger. You train your legs as a women they get bigger (but less so). It's as simple as that. It is normal for men to generally have more overall strength (especially the upper body) and for women to have more body fat. A women who trains like a man won't end up looking as muscley, but should grow just as confident.

    Older people (aka future you)

    As a paramedic a significant proportion of my calls are to old people.

    Most of the time these people have slipped on the floor and lack the strength to get up without help. This is a common occurance with age but sometimes I am surprised to find that there are people incapable in their 60s. These people are free of serious disease, instead they have led a life of inactivity, smoke and have grown fat and stationary.

    Strength training within this community of people is usually non-existent. If it does exist, its usually found in a leaflet serving as a placemat for a cold cup of tea. It usually consists of a few unremarkable excercises prescribed by the physiopherapist.

    Sure for the very frail something like this is the most appropriate. But for those not there yet strength training has many benefits to provide.

    I was really in pretty bad shape when I first started. I wobbled when I walked and fell easily. I didn't think doing excercise would help any of that but they certainly have. I am walking better. I haven't fallen down since, and I am just a lot stronger in every way and I feel better.
    — Mrs Virginia Rizen, 91

    One memory I have is the pleasure of visiting an old man in his late 70s who still trained with his weights. He was a bodybuilder and traces of that could still be seen on his elderly frame. I had no concerns about this man's ability to get himself up off the floor if he was to fall during the night. He was so delighted when I was genuinely interested, he proudly dug up and showed an old photo of him posing topless in his 30s from his bodybuilding days. Which demonstrates that lifting isn't just a laborious excercise but also a captivating hobby. Captivating enough to connect our age disparities.

    There is always a great deal of admiration for an elderly person who is still capable and independent. I can see this admiration in my colleagues when we encounter such characters. You tend to see them in rural communities who grew up with a lot of physical labour like on farms. For example in my parts of rural Italy, the elderly are more physically vigarous than the English counterparts I visit whilst working.

    Strength training is an area which greatly aids these people in living their lives more independently and not needing to rely on others. A philosophy I sometimes employ with the frail is something along the lines of "don't help someone with what they can do themselves.". It may seem cruel but independence is something all humans desire. Unfortunately, weight training is not a topic which is often discussed because of unwarranted fears of injury by ignorant people (including Doctors).

    Before I started working out if I got on the floor I would need a chair to pull myself up. I could not climb the stairs unless I used both hands on the handrail to pull myself up. Now I can get myself off the floor with no help at all.
    — Shirley Webb, 80

    If you have someone elderly you love, your parents or grandparents for example. Training with them is saving yourself and them a lot of trouble in the future. More importantly its granting them independence which every human craves for.

    Summary

    What I wish to get across is that really weight training shouldn't be thought of something different for men and women, or as an activity solely for the young. It isn't nesseraly a tool for becoming more attractive. Weight training is about you. What it can bring to enhance your life particularly. I used it to become more self assured in myself and it has been a very useful mainstay for keeping me sane through all the struggles that life brings.

    How to do it

    Getting stronger and building muscle mass is basically:

    1. Lifting weights

      Find a gym or buy yourself some equipment

      Choose a sensible lifting program which comprises of simple compound movements with a bar and plates. Compound movements emphasise moving your body as one whole unit. The main compound movements are the squat, the bench press, the over head press and the deadlift. Any program which is based around these excercises are generally good.

      I personally started with Starting Strength which I recommend, but StrongLifts 5x5 is also good.

    2. Eating correctly

      When you first start working out you're in a golden period were you make muscle easily because of "newbie gains". So in terms of eating you don't really need to pay attention as there is so little muscle on your body it can pack it on easily.

      This isn't necessarily what you should be doing and if you want to maximise your newbie gains and time you need to make sure you eat enough calories and protein.

      You should eat between 200-500 (kcals) calories in excess of your maintenance calories and consume around 1 gram of protein per pound in bodyweight. The more in excess of your maintenance the easier it will be to lift weights, make more muscle but you will also make more fat as well. Your maintenance calories are simply the amount of calories you eat in a day which keeps your weight neutral.

      For example the average maintance calories for a man is 2000kcal. This means that he should consume 2200-2500kcal when undergoing a weight training program. If he eats 2000kcal he stays the same, if he eats under he loses weight.

      This tool can help you calculate your maintenance calories. Chances are your maintenance calories probably differ from 2000kcal.

      If you are fat I would advise starting weight training on a caloric deficit so you lose excess body fat. When you start to stall on your progress you can switch back to your maintance. You should still make some strength and muscle gains since you are still a beginner.

      If you are someone more concious of gaining fat then you can still make muscular gains whilst eating at maintenance (or even a slight deficit).

    3. Getting enough rest

      Rest is simply the period were you digest food and sleep. This is when your body adapts to rebuilding your muscles. If you work hard, eat plenty of food but then strain your body further and don't rest enough, your time will be wasted and your progress will be slower.

    Recommended reading

    A frankly better, more detailed and more recommended guide to weight training is found http://liamrosen.com/fitness.html

    Good luck

    If you liked, disliked or found it interesting in anyway please let me know what you think.

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