When it comes to overall fitness, there are countless options available to us. It could be a sport, it might be a group class or a training session streamed right into your living room. It's never been easier to workout and yet the myriad of options can result in a paralysis of choice—that familiar paradox when a multitude of options actually makes it more difficult to choose. Of course, one thing is clear: The beginning of a new year is the perfect time for a fresh start. To take stock in your health and decide to make a change. And whether your goal is to build muscle mass or achieve a fitter, more toned body, lifting weights will help you get there. And it will do it by improving your life in a whole lot of other ways, too.
I was a skinny kid growing up. Puberty introduced a chubby, “husky” adolescence that eventually slid into an early adult laziness that kept me softer than I wanted to be. But try as I might, it was difficult to shed my doughy middle. And my under-utilized arms never helped much when I attempted push-ups. Cleaning up my diet helped me lose weight, but my body shape remained unchanged. That is, until I discovered that the weight rack and dumbbells aren't just for the jacked guys in the cut-off tees. They're for all of us. And they're the key to getting stronger and truly changing your body for the better.
Strength training—also known as lifting, weight training or resistance training—is what builds lean, functional muscles. It strengthens your bones and joints, and can help keep your metabolism firing at peak performance. Which means you'll be able burn more calories even when you're resting. What's more, this isn't just a young person's game. I got serious about weight training in my late 30s and discovered that as we age, lifting can help fight the loss of muscle mass and mobility, as well as improve psychological well-being and endurance while preventing future injuries.
I'm a better man now that I've worked weight training into my day-to-day routine. I'm healthier, happier and more confident. If you're looking for a sustainable fitness solution but have avoided the “bro zone” of weights at your local gym, here are a few reasons why you should consider picking up some dumbbells.
First and foremost, having to lift something heavy (repeatedly) is a physical challenge in and of itself. You'll quickly be humbled by what you can and can't do. But through diligent practice, you'll develop a deeper connection with your body and muscles. What's more, you'll notice that as you put in more work, your abilities grow. This training doesn't just require strength, but mental toughness. Resiliency is built in the process, which cultivates a certain determination. I've found that there are some deeper lessons you'll learn that will help you outside the gym: Life requires us to be fluid and adapt, to trust our instincts, and push our abilities to achieve a goal.
You WillGet Stronger
Like anything related to fitness and health, there are no shortcuts. Genuine strength and carving out a new body with visible muscles does not come easy or quickly. But, the beauty of weight training is that you can see almost instant results in the “pump” after lifting. This is when muscles swell (especially when you use higher reps and shorter rest periods) thanks to a temporary surge of blood, water and other metabolic byproducts like lactic acid that build up in and around the cells. I like to think that it serves as a preview of what your muscles will look like if you keep up the good work. But more than aesthetics, your muscles actually become more effective—that means that everyday physical tasks get easier, and consistent training will increase the amount of weight you can lift.
A Boost inConfidence
The more you do something, the more familiar it becomes and the easier it is to do. I found that once I was comfortable lifting weights and felt like I knew what I was doing, I was no longer intimidated by walking over to the weight racks at the gym. I had my routine down and could happily grab the dumbbells I needed and get to work. I've even shared a squat rack and helped spot a fellow gym-goer. Of course, as you notice positive changes in your body, you'll find that you're a whole lot more confident. And while feats of strength are no longer necessary in the modern world, knowing that you're strong enough to move some furniture or carry a large bag through the airport certainly helps you stand a little taller. In fact, the theory that regular strength training increases one's confidence was scientifically proven to be true.
You’ll Slim Down
Any fitness plan should improve your health, but surprisingly, not all will help you lose weight. After endless hours on a treadmill, I discovered that I shed far more unwanted weight and the pudgy spare tire after getting consistent with weight training. According to the Mayo Clinic, a regular strength training program will help you burn more calories even when you're not lifting. Because you're engaging multiple large muscles, you get the benefit of an “afterburn”, where your body continues to use more calories in the hours following a workout. And the more you continue to increase your muscle mass, the more you improve your ability to burn off calories.
Heavy weights will seemiinly lighten your mood. Regular weight lifting has been proven to develop more than just muscle. It's been found to increase the production of many hormones, including the hormone IGF-1, which helps to stimulate connections in the brain and enhance cognitive function. Pumping out a good set of reps has been shown to reduce anxiety and even ease symptoms of depression. And I can attest to the fact that after a long, stressful day, getting a good sweat on—pushing yourself and lifting weights to some bumping music—is an easy way to help melt away any anger and frustrations.
You might've heard the uncomfortable truth that a man's muscle mass decreases anywhere from three to eight percent each decade after the age of 30 and this rate of decline is even higher once you hit your 50s, according to the National Institues of Health. And while you might be sad to see your biceps shrink, what's worse is that muscle weakness has been linked with an increased likelihood of death in men. The good news? Regular weight training, even light resistance training, has been found to stave off and reverse the loss of muscle mass, while strengthening bones and keeping joints supple enough to move comfortably. Those dumbbells are as close to a fountain of youth as you can get.
Already a regular gym-goer? Ashwin Rodrigues writes for GQ about why you shouldn’t complain about all the new members who show up in January.
Making the gym a welcoming place, or at the least a neutral place, is a great way to start your year.