Do you lift weights as part of your workout? The World Health Organization says that there are three things that everybody needs to stay in good condition: fitness, flexibility, and strength. Many people focus exclusively on fitness, however, and only get the other kinds of exercise as a by-product, falling short of the recommendations. Including strength training in your workout can do a great deal to improve your overall health, and weightlifting is the simplest way to approach it.
The benefits of weightlifting
The obvious benefit of weightlifting is that it increases muscle strength, making it easier to do everyday things from carrying your shopping to moving furniture in your home. What you may not have realized is that it also has several additional benefits. Because it builds up muscle, which burns calories fast, it helps you to burn off unwanted fat. In the process, it speeds up and steadies your metabolism, reducing the risk of illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and helping to control blood sugar so that you have good energy levels all day long. It tightens up and tones your body, providing better all-over support and improving your posture, and it also strengthens your bones. Both of these latter factors decrease your lifelong risk of disability and make you more likely to enjoy good health, free of aches and pains, in later life.
Before you begin any kind of exercise, you should warm up, and with weightlifting, this is more important than ever because you can seriously injure yourself by putting too much strain through a muscle that’s not ready. For the same reason, it’s important to make sure that you approach each lift by the book, with advice from a trainer if possible. It’s also a good idea to invest in some gear to aid in proper posture – a posture shirt will decrease your risk of injury while helping you to get more out of each movement.
Mixing weights and cardio
A simple way to fit weightlifting into your existing regime without cutting back on other exercise is to combine it with cardio. Doing a lot of lifts with small weights is just as effective as doing a small number of lifts with large ones, and when done at speed, it will exercise your heart and lungs just as it builds up your muscles. You can also get more out of your lifting sessions if you break them up with short, high-intensity cardio activity such as sprinting on an exercise bike or jumping rope.
As you add more weightlifting to your regime, it’s important to make sure that you’re approaching it in a balanced way, so you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the main muscle groups. Ideally, you should do something for each of them over the course of each week, though you don’t need to work on all of them every time you work out, and it’s okay to focus on specific ones to build up the body shape or abilities that are particularly important to you.
Isometric and isotonic exercise
Weight exercises can be divided into two groups: isometric and isotonic. The first of these involves holding a weight in a fixed position where your muscles are flexed. The second involves moving with it. You should aim to incorporate both into your workout because they benefit your muscles in different ways, with the former particularly useful for building up endurance and improving your ability to keep steady.
Just as isometric and isotonic lifts have different benefits, so do lifts in which you use the whole of the body and lifts in which you use only one side at a time. The latter – unilateral exercises – are particularly good for building up muscle quickly when you’re just starting out, changing your appearance and very often building up your confidence in the process. They can also be useful if you find that you’re naturally stronger on one side than the other – as most people are – and want to even this out.
Though taking a yoga class might sound like a very different thing from weightlifting, the two can work surprisingly well together. That’s because yoga has a strong focus on breathing and on control of the core muscles, both of which help a great deal when you’re lifting. It’s particularly useful if you’re trying to work up towards heavier and heavier weights, something that most lifters do over the time for the simple reason that it’s a far less time-consuming way to keep pushing boundaries than increasing the number of lifts with weights of the same size.
Overall, weightlifting has great health benefits and is simple to incorporate into your existing routine. Why not give it a try?