As each exercise fad comes and goes, there is one method of training that never goes out of fashion and that is weight training.
When thinking of weight training many people visualise huge bodybuilders. This can induce a feeling of intimidation in many and is one of the main reasons people are discouraged from going to a gym or taking up weight training.
However, there are also many antiquated notions about what weight training can do for both your physique and health. No, it won’t necessarily make you “too big”, and no, it won’t wreck your joints.
Weight training is widely regarded to just be about building muscle strength and/or size, but strengthening bone, supporting muscles, tendons and ligaments has probably more importance when it comes to long term health and function.
Exercise science has shown us that weight training, using either weights (free and machine) or bodyweight really is the best all-round exercise for lifelong physical function and fitness.
The benefits of weight training
- It will improve overall body strength and general fitness
Weight training when performed on a consistent basis and applying the principle of progressive overload (i.e. adding more weight or reps over time) will lead to strength and fitness gains. Weight training in this manner should also lead to increases in muscle mass, although the extent of that will vary individually, depending on style of training, genetics, diet and recovery ability.
As we age we are more likely to not only lose bone mass, but also muscle mass. In addition to gaining muscle mass, weight training can also delay the loss of muscle loss in older people. Muscle loss can pose all sorts of mobility problems in the elderly, but this can be reversed through regular training. In my opinion, weight training becomes more important as we age, not less.
- It can help you move better and reduce risk of injury
Weight training will help you move better and more efficiently, by improving your mobility, balance, coordination and posture.
It can also help reduce your risk of injury when exercising. This point is especially important for people like runners who don’t currently include lifting weights as part of their training. Weight training will make you more robust and can address current muscle imbalances, thus reducing injury risk.
- It can improve bone strength and health
The load applied during training can be particularly important for bone health. As we age we gradually lose bone tissue. This process is accelerated in those people who are sedentary, and in women affected by the menopause, leading to a higher incidence of bone disease in these groups.
Load bearing exercise can reverse this process of bone loss by initiating the same process as that following a broken bone, where new bone tissue is formed. While traditional cardio type exercise can achieve some of these benefits, total body bone strength will be much more enhanced by following a weight training regime.
- It can aid and maintain weight loss
Weight training can aid you in achieving a calorie deficit, thus promoting fat loss.
Our muscles are metabolically active, that is they use glucose (the main form of sugar in the blood) for energy. Muscles are also our main energy stores. The more muscle mass you have, the more ability you have to store energy, reducing the chance of excess calories being stored as fat.
Also, weight training increases what is known as the ‘after burn’. Following exercise, the body returns to a resting state. During this process, extra calories are burned (although nothing like as many as when you are exercising). Weight training (especially when using heavy compound exercises) increases the extent and length of this ‘after burn’, compared to traditional cardio or boot camp style training.
- It can make you feel and look better
Weight training can boost your energy levels, and help improve mood and sleep quality.
Weight training like other forms of exercise boosts endorphin levels. Raising endorphin levels is well known to be beneficial to our mental health. Endorphins act as painkillers, but also improve mood by giving us a natural high.
Weight training has also been shown to improve self-esteem and self-confidence. Much of this is down to looking and feeling better.
- It can help improve the health of those with diabetes and metabolic disease
There has been some suggestion that weight training can help manage insulin sensitivity in those with diabetes or pre-diabetes.
As I stated above muscle is metabolically active, using glucose for energy. During weight training our muscles are rapidly using their stored glucose for energy, and this process can continue for up to 24 hours following training.
This use of stored glucose means that management of blood sugar levels is more easily achieved as further consumption of carbohydrate foods will lead to muscle glucose replenishment, rather than the raising of blood sugar out with the normal range.
There is also some evidence to suggest it can aid in treating high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
If you are interested in improving your overall fitness and health, it is really important to incorporate some weight training. There really is no other form of training that offers this wealth of benefits.