What is a more beautiful sign of health than defined muscles? And, interestingly, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body burns, even in just your daily activities. Aerobic activity like walking, running, or swimming is important, too. It raises your heart rate, exercises your heart and lungs, and brings oxygen to your brain. But for exercise bang-for-buck, you can’t beat the health benefits of weight lifting.
Weight Lifting vs Bodybuilding
And if you are picturing Arnold Schwarzenegger, don’t. Weight training is different from bodybuilding. While you will increase muscle mass, decrease fat, and strengthen your bones, lifting weights twice a week will not result in a bulked-up body. Both women and men will enjoy the beauty and health benefits of getting leaner and fitter with modest weight training.
What benefits are those?
- A leaner body
- Increased muscle and bone strength
- Enhanced energy
- Improved thinking and mood
- Deeper sleep
- Normalized appetite
There is a kind of logic Zen to lifting weights. Whether you are using free weights or weight machines, it is you and the brief, attainable challenge you set for yourself with each exercise. As you go through your training session, you move from muscle group to muscle group, completing, say, two sets of 10 repetitions each, then moving on to the next. You will enjoy both the satisfaction of completion after each station and the variety of performing differing exercises.
How the Body Builds Muscle
Weight lifting builds muscle through a process called hypertrophy. When muscles are stressed during exercise, the fibers break down a little, which triggers the body to repair the damage by generating more muscle fibers. A side effect of this damage, called microtrauma, is minor muscle ache post-exercise. With continued weight lifting, the body adapts to this stress and muscles become better able to endure increasing weight load.
Strength training is most effective using heavier weights, which overload your muscles and set off your body’s muscle-building response. Lift heavier weights with fewer repetitions as opposed to more repetitions with lighter weights. But don’t try to lift more than you’re ready for! You should be able to lift the weight 8-12 repetitions until you can’t lift another rep without resting. If at your next session, you feel you can do more than 12 reps per set, you know it is time to add more weight. That’s progress!
Training Different Muscle Groups
Weightlifters train different muscle groups on separate days. If you go to the gym twice a week, you can work out your upper body one day and lower body at your second session. Upper body includes your chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and back. Your lower body muscle groups are your gluteals, abdominals, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. You can lift weights more than twice a week, but be sure not to train the same muscles two days in a row. Allow 48 hours for recovery and to allow the new muscle to build.
Satisfaction and Benefits
While the saying, “no pain, no gain,” sounds extreme, the gain of achieving a new weight level, adding another pair of 5-pound disks to your barbell or machine, is sweet. You can measure your improvement. There is nothing nicer than the glisten of sweat from a good workout. And afterward, nothing feels better than a few minutes in a sauna, hot tub, or even just a hot shower. A rough toweling off, and off you go, feeling a satisfying tiredness along with a deep sense of accomplishment.
Another reward of weight lifting is: you get to rest. While it is beneficial to do a bit of aerobic exercise every day, even if it’s just taking the stairs instead of the elevator, you need to rest between weight days at the gym to allow your body repair time. That’s how muscle fiber increases. So, luxuriate in your rest days. You will sleep better, too.
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!
People who exercise regularly report becoming “addicted” to their routine. You might have the occasional day where the sofa looks more alluring than your gym shoes. But once you grab your workout bag, you’ll start to feel a high that is both psychological and physical. Weightlifting releases endorphins, the happy hormone.
Likewise, as you build exercise into your life, it will become easier to manage your weight. You will crave healthy foods, while snacks, cakes, and sodas will lose their appeal. Eat lots of protein and fresh vegetables, and fewer carbohydrates, especially white ones like bread and pasta. Read labels to avoid excess sugar and salt in processed and pre-packaged foods.
And, of course, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. If the only thing you drink is water, that’s fine. You don’t need expensive juice smoothies or special sports drinks. Drinking lots of water keeps nutrients circulating throughout your body, and waste products flushing out. Especially when you exercise, you lose bodily fluid through sweat, so it is essential to drink throughout the day.
Build weight lifting into your weekly fitness routine. You will be stronger, happier, peppier, and people will notice.