Why Train with Weights?

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“Why Train with Weights?” Ensign, Feb. 1993, 61–63

Why Train with Weights?

Weight training or resistive training is widely used to enhance health and physical fitness. Whether your goal is to develop a trim and fit physique, boost athletic performance, rehabilitate an injured joint, gain strength and stamina, or simply improve your ability to perform everyday tasks such as digging in the garden or climbing stairs, weight training can help in many positive and healthful ways.

Strength. Resistive training significantly increases muscular strength and also the strength of tendons and ligaments. Stronger muscles protect the joints they cross and reduce the incidence of strains, sprains, and other injuries that often accompany physical activity.

Studies indicate that untrained men and women tend to gain 25 percent to 30 percent in muscular strength over training periods of nine to fourteen weeks.

Muscle tone. When aging is accompanied by decreased physical activity, and it typically is, or when a limb is incapacitated in a cast, muscle atrophy (or reduction in muscle size) results. On the other hand, muscles stressed through resistive training do not atrophy but grow and become toned and defined.

For men, regular, intense weight training results in significant muscular hypertrophy (increased muscle girth). However, women typically experience little muscle hypertrophy as a consequence of weight training.

Flexibility is the range of movement around a joint. As we age, our bodies experience a progressive decline in flexibility, which reduces our ability to function in everyday activities and increases risk of injury during physical activity. Most people believe weight training causes the body to lose flexibility. Actually, the opposite is true if resistive exercises are performed correctly.

Back pain. Research has shown that more than 80 percent of low back pain is due to muscular deficiency. Properly conducted, resistive training results in stronger back and abdominal muscles, which are essential for a healthy back. When combined with appropriate stretching and use of proper lifting techniques, weight training greatly reduces risk of injury to the back.

Osteoporosis, the deterioration of bone due to aging and sedentary living (particularly in postmenopausal females), can be prevented in part through regular exercise. Resistive training actually strengthens bones significantly, more than any other form of exercise, and results in increased bone mineral content and total body calcium.

Cholesterol. High serum cholesterol is a principal cause of heart disease, the leading killer in America. Regular weight training tends to reduce our cholesterol levels at least as effectively as aerobic exercise.

Emotional health. Resistive training tends to promote improvements in emotional health. Weight training serves as a tool to help individuals develop feelings of self-mastery and to move closer to their desired body build.

Weight training is also an excellent tool to help you manage stress for several reasons. First, it helps your body utilize the by-products of the stress response, thereby allowing your body to return to a relaxed state. Second, it helps you to build strength and stamina so you can better deal with the stressors of life without undue fatigue. Third, resistive training can serve as a temporary distraction from impending demands and allow you time to ponder, plan, and meditate. Fourth, it can promote more restful sleep and relaxation. And fifth, weight training can engender feelings of accomplishment, confidence, and self-mastery which can fortify you in times of demand and crisis.

Perhaps the greatest blessing associated with weight training is that it can help you win the battle against excess body fat. The concept is simple. Your muscles demand a lot of energy—they are very active metabolically, and they are great fat burners. As the body ages, your muscles atrophy, and therefore, your ability to burn calories declines. In other words, your metabolism slows down, and more energy is stored as fat. Since metabolism increases as your muscle mass increases, weight training can help you raise your metabolism, which will gradually lead to increased fat loss.

In general, the greater the time and effort you spend training with weights, the greater the changes you will notice. You will benefit significantly, and greatly reduce your risk of injury, by training with only moderate resistance, using just 50 percent to 70 percent of the maximum weight you could lift once for each exercise per session, with two or three workout sessions spaced throughout the week. In fact, recent research shows that workouts including eight to ten different exercises involving the major muscle groups, such as the legs, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms, with the individual performing only one set of eight to twelve repetitions per exercise, performed at least twice each week, will provide substantial rewards.

In order to learn how to best utilize resistive training, consult with a fitness expert or study a weight training book, check with your physician before you begin training, and then spend some time practicing.

The key is to begin now, progress slowly, and make it part of your life. When your training is gradual and progressive, the consequences will be substantial and enduring. The benefits of weight training are guaranteed, but they cannot be rushed. Time and effort are necessary for the body to adapt. A healthy approach is to baby yourself the first few weeks; then as you develop a feel for your new program, progress slowly and gradually. With the investment of just twenty to thirty minutes of resistive training two or three times per week, you will look better, feel better, and be able to participate more fully in life with more energy and strength.—Larry Tucker, director of health promotion, Brigham Young University