Why Everyone Should Lift Weights

I'll say it plain and simple: you should be lifting weights.

But not for the reasons that most people think.

For example, I don't believe that strength is the main benefit of weight lifting.

Don't get me wrong. I love being strong but there is way more value in weight lifting than simply gaining muscle or burning fat.

When I think about the value of weight training and what it means for me physically and mentally; it's a no brainer.

Exercise is the closest thing to a miracle drug [1, 2, 3] and strength training is one of the best kinds of exercise, practically like magic: more healthy and more efficient than most people realize, and a valuable component of fitness and most injury rehabilitation.

But why don't more people pump iron?

Aside from the gym-addicting, load-bearing exercises that bodybuilders love, nearly everyone else ignores strength training, except during the occasional New Year’s resolution phase, or when prescribed and/or supervised by a therapist or trainer.

In this article, I will share a few reasons why strength training really matters to ordinary folks and not just the bro's.

While I hope anyone who’s ever spent time in a gym will find this helpful, it’s especially written for people with chronic pain and stubborn injuries who are wondering: Where does strength training fit into my recovery plan?

3 Benefits of Weight Lifting Most People Don't Think Of

Over the past 10 years, I have come to love strength training for many reasons, but not exactly the conventional ones.

1. Lifting Weight Gets You Stronger Mentally

First, pushing yourself physically is a way to measure yourself mentally.

This is also why I like running.

Sure, there's cardiovascular benefits, but the challenge of endurance training and the satisfaction of pushing myself beyond what I'd normally do, gives rise to so much more than physical health.

The same is true with strength training.

Challenging your own body is the greatest method for discovering the strength of your mind.

There will be days when you don't feel like walking into a gym.

There will be sets that you don't feel like finishing.

There will be times when everyone else in the gym will see you fail.

But if you keep showing up anyway, then you'll develop the mental fortitude to get past failure, work when you don't feel like it, and discover what you're really made of mentally and physically.

2. Lifting Weight Training Solidifies Your Self Worth

Something you will absolutely learn from a year of lifting weights at the gym… it doesn’t matter how much weight you can or can’t pull; what matters is that you can grow, build up strength, tweak and experiment with whatever’s necessary to get better.

You will realize that you're not defective.

There’s confidence that comes with that — wisdom enough to know when it’s too much weight, confidence enough to know what you can do.

Confidence changes the kinds of thoughts you have.

There is nothing more personal than your own body. Having confidence that you can move yourself through physical space with control and competence is a deeply satisfying feeling that filters into every other area of life.

3. Lifting Weight Gives You Opportunities to Contribute in Life

Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

This freedom — this enhanced ability to explore, create, connect, and contribute to the world around you — is one of the greatest benefits of weight training.

This is one of the biggest benefits of weight training: it enables you to transform into a better version of yourself (more confident, more self–aware, more mentally and physically strong), so that you can become a better person for the people around you.

I promise to take care of myself and be the best version of me, for you – and I hope you are doing just the same!

Strength Training Might Be Better Than Cardio (Say What!)

Let me say that I'm a big fan of cardio and endurance training and I personally love running.

And while running, cycling, rowing, swimming or spending countless hours doing any other cardio workout can have all sorts of health benefits, the key differences with strength training include:

It’s much better for general fitness, health, and weight loss.

Specifically it can partially replace so-called “cardio” workouts, which are highly repetitive and time-consuming and are a risk for all of the common repetitive strain injuries (RSIs like iliotibial band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, shin splints and several more).

For instance, it’s “essential” for people with diabetes, because there’s evidence it controls blood sugar more easily than aerobic workouts (and certainly at least as well). [4]

Strength training can be done safely and precisely.

Especially when aided by machines, you can pursue fitness without aggravating existing injuries or risking new ones — a critical rehabilitation advantage that is under-rated or missed entirely by nearly all professionals.

Strength training enhances metabolism better than cardio.

Most people believe — ever since the “aerobics” fad in the 80s — that you have to train for hours and hours and burn all the calories to get in shape, but that's simply not true.

Turns out, it is primarily skeletal muscles that adapt to all kinds of exercise, which in turn get you more metabolically efficient, do more with less oxygen and nutrients, and then demand less from the heart. 

All of this comes from strength training and lifting weights.

So muscle substantially defines fitness, and therefore considerable fitness can be achieved with strength training alone — all without the time-taxing relentless cardio workouts, and without their injury and re-injury risks.

Strength training is amazing for circulation.

Blood flow is increased far more than any massage, foam roller or pill could ever do.

Capillaries open up and your entire vascular system (arteries, veins and capillaries)  mobilizes resources to supply hungry muscles with oxygen and nutrients you so desperately need.

Detoxification pathways are enhanced.

Metabolic waste products accumulate in our bodies and exercise is a great way to eliminate them.

The mechanical act of pumping your muscles aids in the removal of these waste products.

Brain Function and Coordination Improve.

Coordination and neurological function improves with every workout as you “learn” how to actually recruit a respectable number of muscle fibers, which is responsible for most early strength gains.

How To Get Started With Strength Training

First realize that the physiological changes associated with strength training occur when you exhaust a muscle within a minute or two [5].

If you’re not doing this, you might be doing something worthwhile, but it’s not strength training (or at least not the most efficient strength training).

When you’re training, you can either count repetitions or just go for as long as you can. I prefer to workout to exhaustion or until I cannot press or pull anymore, but it’s far more common to count reps.

Now there’s a never-ending scientific debate about how to optimize the variables for different types of people and different goals by fine tuning the number of sets, the length of the break between sets, the number of workouts per week, and so on — although the last of those, frequency, is quite settled down now. (Hint: less than almost everyone else assumes.)

Certainly, some of us can build muscle easier, with less effort, whereas others may take more effort to get the same effect.

Regardless, there are going to be individual differences for everyone — and the evidence strongly suggests that some people are literally genetically incapable of strength training [6], but most people will be just fine with a program that looks like this:

  • only a few key exercises per workout
  • 1–2 sets per exercise (if you exhaust your muscles)
  • sets separated by a couple minutes rest
  • each set lifting about as much as you can lift for a couple seconds, or 10–20 slow- to medium-speed repetitions per set
  • about a week of rest between workouts (yep.. I said it, a week per muscle group)

Most people assume that you have to train muscles three, four or five times a week to make them stronger.

Believe it or not, scientists actually agree on this one thing: More is not necessarily better.

I know a lot of people will be skeptical about this, but nine key scientific papers between 1988 and 2007, all show clear evidence that most people can probably reduce their training frequency with little or no change in the results they are getting [7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13].

Basically, all the studies and even review of all the existing studies looking into frequency [14], suggest that there is “insufficient evidence for the superiority of any mode and/or type of muscle action over other modes and types of training.”

In other words, results were pretty good and roughly equal across the board, regardless of how regimen variables were tweaked — both lower and higher frequency, intensity and volume were effective.

All that said, you simply cannot find any research showing that twice as often is twice as good, let alone three times as often being three times as good.

The point I'm trying to make here is that 2 weight lifting sessions per week is enough to start getting results!

In Closing

Strength training is essential to overcoming every injury or pain problem and it has the highest level of clinical evidence when compared to other therapies.

However, strength training, by definition, demands exactly the worst possible conditions for muscle knots, namely severe muscle fatigue — so please be careful when strength training.

So if it aggravates your symptoms or leaves you feeling drained … slow down and ask for help!