By Lee Jay
In my experience as a personal trainer specializing in women new to fitness, puzzled faces are often the norm when weights are introduced into a session.
"Won't these make me super muscly?", I've been asked countless times.
As conflicting opinions circle the fitness sphere, it's no surprise many gym-goers shy away from the weights in favor of the treadmill. But the truth is, weights are an extremely effective way of shredding the fat and building lean muscle - and yes, without adding 'bulk'.
Some who hear "lifting weights" think "weightlifting," and whilst the two indeed involve lifting, pushing and pulling weight, they are each in fact a category of their own. Lifting weights can range from high repetitions using dumbbells, to tone the muscles, to lifting heavier weights at lower reps, with the aim to build strength and muscle. These forms of weight bearing exercises benefit people of all ages, genders and size.
Weightlifting is a major athletic sport, famously competed at Olympic level, whereby participants complete specific lifts at their maximum weight to be crowned champion. This is also the type of heavy lifting reserved for bodybuilding, hence someone mutters the word 'weights' and miraculously, Arnold Schwarzenegger conjures in the mind.
Heavy weights, the amount the average person is unable to lift without major strain, are used to build extreme muscles. But in reality, creating bulk and growing muscles of this strength is a long journey, where the masters undertake grueling weight training sessions, day in and day out; not to mention consuming a strict diet consisting of individualized macros.
Why lifting weights is important at any age
As we age, we naturally lose muscle - even more so if the body is not moved on a regular bases. Research has found as much as 5% muscle mass is lost every decade past the age of 30, whilst fat percentage is shown to increases annually. It's therefore important to lift weights in order to maintain and/or build muscle.
Why is it important you might ask? Simply put, the more muscle mass we obtain, the more calories we burn, as muscle tissue burns more calories.
Think of it as follows: More muscle = more calories burned. This keeps our fat percentage at bay, thereby reducing the likelihood and effects of a multiple of health ailments.
Lifting weights has other benefits too. For example, it prevents bone loss, which is good news for anyone with osteoporosis, which, in contrast, breaks down bone. As long as there are no underlying health conditions contradicting exercise, it is safe for people of all ages to lift weights. For those new to fitness or who would describe themselves as 'lost' in a gym setting, it's best to kick start your fitness sessions with a qualified trainer who will be able to guide you through a personalized plan.
Why a barbell sesh won't 'bulk' you
The misconception that lifting weights is reserved for men on the gym floor, or that lifting in general will cause the body to 'bulky' is ever more frustrating. It's one of the biggest industry myths which holds very little truth.
Allow me to break it down for you.
Adding bulk is a discipline, involving specialized training session, hour upon hour of heavy lifting and a regimented eating plan the average person would struggle to adhere to.
For women especially, it's crucial to understand that men have a much easier journey in gaining muscle mass. Their levels of testosterone (the primary male sex hormone responsible for improving muscle mass) is 10-20 times HIGHER than women, meaning building muscle is far more of a challenge for the female population!
Why heavier or overweight people should absolutely lift weights
Trainers will generally ease overweight and new to exercise clients into fitness with a low impact workout. In this case, even a short burst of cardio is often enough to achieve results with someone who hasn't moved in a while, and will incur less 'shock' and risk of injury on the body.
But once a person adapts to movement and is able to manage increased demands, there is no reason an overweight person (with no serious health conditions) shouldn't hit the weight rack.
The concept here is simple: lift the weight to shift the weight.
Fitness science has proven time and time again that each pound of lean muscle tissues aids the body in burning calories, and at a much quicker rate than a pound of fat. Therefore, the more lean muscle on the body, the higher number of calories burned, e-v-e-n a-t r-e-s-t! Yes, you read that right. Lifting weights is effective at trimming belly fat as the body continues to burn at rest.
Whilst cardio may well burn more calories during a session, after a weight lifting session, the metabolism is fired up for longer resulting in a higher calorie burn overall and more chance of keeping fat off the body - for good.
The bottom line
Regardless of size, gender, age or fitness, weights play an important role in everyone's' workout agenda, so let go of those misconceptions, lift those weights with confidence and reap the benefits of a leaner and stronger body!