Why We Should All be Lifting Weights - By Henry ToraƱo

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Why We Should All be Lifting Weights - By Henry Toraño

In today’s day in age we’ve seen possibly hundreds of iterations of what fitness “should” look like. From training systems to training tools, iron weights to cables/pulleys, to bands, lifting heavy to high intensity intervals to high volume low intensity. To the public, it always seems to be “something new”. What many fail to realize is that in most of these concepts the novelty is minimal and it’s really just the same old things with a fresh coat of paint. Note that I say “most of these concepts” just to avoid any potential arguments by saying “all of these concepts”. But let’s stick to big picture here. Now, for the purpose of this article I’m going to be very reductionist and put all types of fitness activities into just two buckets: Resistance Training and Energy Systems Training. My objective is to point out all the reasons why resistance training needs to be a part of all training programs. First, let’s be clear of what each of these buckets represents.

In the resistance bucket, goes anything that requires the body to overcome an external force., regardless of how that force presents itself. Pushing a barbell, pulling a dumbbell, working on cable machines, tugging on bands, bodyweight training, or going to town on a shake weight… I’m calling them all resistance training.

In the other bucket, let’s put all forms of exercise that do not require overcoming an external force. Most people refer to these as “cardio” even though the nature of that word implies a lower intensity variant. This is your running, cycling, swimming, rowing, jump rope, etc. We’re going to call it energy systems training, and include all intensities that it may encompass, from high volume low intensity aerobic work, to low volume high intensity anaerobic repeats.

I feel confident in saying that the biggest misconceptions about exercise is in what each of these two types of training do for us. Traditionally, we’ve erred on the side of favoring energy systems training because it favors weight loss, helps prevent heart disease, and keeps us safe from injury. In contrast, resistance training is thought to expose us to higher injury risk, make us bulky, and not known to present any health benefits. Let’s debunk some of these myths.

Resistance Training for Weight Loss
When you go out for a 40 minute run or hit a session on the elliptical, it is not uncommon to come out of it drenched in sweat. You look at your heart monitor or the iPhone and it says you’ve burned over 500 calories. You weigh yourself before and after your workout and are delighted to see that you lost 4-5 pounds in the process. Compare these factors to those of a single weight training session and it’s no contest. However, these numbers don’t tell the whole story. It’s true that you burn a lot more calories in an aerobic session compared to weight training, but it stops right then and there. The effects on the body post workout are a lot lesser in aerobic training than they are in resistance training. Meaning that maybe you lose that 500 cals intra session, but your body recovers quickly from it and goes back to regular calorie expenditure within under 24 hours. In contrast, a weight training workout, comparable in time duration, may only burn 200 calories, but the body stays revved up, burning calories at a higher rate for up to 72 hours. The net burn is a lot higher. And about that lost weight during your run, you didn’t really lose pounds, you only lost water, via perspiration. Your body will activate the proper mechanisms for you to retain water and get back to the starting point. Within a few hours, you’ll be back to the same weight as you were before that run. It doesn’t stop here. The very effect of increasing calorie burn after a workout is compounded over time. The determining factor of how many calories your body burns is basal metabolic rate (BMR). And the determining factor of how high your BMR gets is lean muscle mass. Put these dots together and you’ll realize that you need weight training to increase muscle mass to enhance your body’s ability to burn calories, not only at rest, but in all daily activities that are not actually exercise, a process known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). High BMR + high NEAT = more calories burnt. On top of this, there’s the fact that fueling for weight training lends itself for more aggressive dieting techniques. Adequate fueling for a good strength session should look quite differently than fueling for longer aerobic sessions, and VERY different than fueling for HIIT or CrossFit Sessions. This translates into you being to cut more calories and adjust macro nutrient profiles to promote weight loss in healthy manner, all the while feeling good in your workouts.

Resistance Training for Health
It’s very true that light aerobic activity improves cardiovascular health slightly elevated heart contractions. In other words, it trains the heart muscle. However, this is not the only factor linked to coronary heart disease. Weight training also elevates the heart rate to beneficial levels and has the added benefit of reducing blood pressure. On top of that, it improves insulin resistance which reduces risk of diabetes. You may have heard that obesity combined with diabetes is a recipe for heart disease. As already discussed above, weight training helps with weight management and this diabetes control factor is very important in maintaining a healthy heart.
In addition, weight training has many benefits in developing strong body structure. It’s the only type of training that increases bone density, which is very important to avoid or control arthritis and osteoporosis. It strengthens ligaments and tendons, which in turn helps protect joints from degeneration and injury. Lastly, lifting weights helps improve and maintain balance and coordination. This leads us to the next point.

Resistance Training for Longevity
As we age, we inevitably begin to lose balance and coordination. So these are not only factors to consider as far as health, but also in an effort to resist entropy, keep us functional for longer so that we’re able to care for ourselves. It’s also important to note that on average, by the age of 25 our muscle fiber counts begin to decrease. Yes, you read that right… 25!!!. This makes it extremely important for us to first, build muscle prior to this point and secondly, continue to lift weights to slow down the muscle wasting process. Luckily, one of the biggest advantages of resistance training is that it is fully scalable to any age, any condition. Exercises can be modified, patterns can be controlled, and intensity can be regulated via weight selection. So we can practice resistance training, to some degree, throughout our entire lives.

Resistance Training for Aesthetics
Very few people come to me saying “I want to be skinny”. In the very rare cases that Ive heard this, when I ask some questions and clarify, it turns out to be poor choice of words. In turn the most frequent statement that I hear is “I want to be toned”. Well, guess what? Aerobic training can help in reducing body fat, but there’s another side to the equation. Body Fat % = fat mass/ total body weight. You can lower BF% by reducing fat mass, but the more efficient way is to decrease fat while increasing muscle. Therefore higher or equal body weight with lower fat mass improves body composition a much faster rate. Being “toned” requires that fat mass is reduced, but there needs to be muscle underneath that to yield the desired effect. During periods of rapid weight loss, up to 25% of the pounds shed are actually pounds of muscle. Just another reason of why it’s so important to include weights into the training regime.

Resistance Training for Day to Day Efficiency
Weight training has a much lower metabolic demand than energy systems training. This results in us being able to walk out of a good weight training session feeling good and energized. It helps maintain cognitive function, in some cases even improving it. This plays a huge role in mental acuity and productiveness in our every day. Several studies also shows that resistance training plays a significant role in decreasing symptoms of depression and managing emotional state. Lastly, there’s way more applicability to daily life in carrying objects. We carry our kids, the groceries, our backpacks or briefcase, the laundry basket, push the lawnmower, etc. Let’s be honest, how many times in your daily routine is there any need for aerobic output higher than walking? I do agree that certain people in certain jobs need to train for higher aerobic demands, but it’s not the case for the vast majority of us.

Resistance Training for Sports Performance
You’d think that this would be a no brainer. In most sports, when you break down athleticism, the greatest advantage comes in expression of power. Power is the speed at which one can produce force. In other words, the faster you are and the stronger you are, the higher the power output power. How do you get stronger? You know it, you gotta lift weights! However, strength training is still met in resistance in many cases where coaches and athletes make the mistake of too much skill work vs not enough gym work. This usually comes back to haunt them as they miss out on the benefits of training that protect against injury risk. 

I’ll add a personal anecdote from my time competing in triathlon. I’ve complete 4 Ironman Events and numerous more Half Ironman. As I practiced myself reflection routine after all these races and in several cases during the race, I realized one thing. NEVER did I tell myself: “I need to get more aerobic”. However, during every race, when fatigue kicked in, I thought: “I wish I were stronger”. 

I hope that this helps in clearing up some misconceptions about weight training. Of course, it is of extreme importance that one engages in the right training program. One that includes proper assessment by a qualified coach and is designed to address the individual’s needs. Proper form is always the top priority and a progressive approach should always be taken to ensure that it is done safely. If you’re looking for guidance on all these fronts call us or email today and we’ll be happy to discuss how to get you started on the right path.

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