A while back I made a thread about how my school newspaper is running a "health" issue and I'm doing an article on the benefits of weight lifting and debunking myths. This is supposed to be aimed at the general student body (3,000 teenagers). So the article is REALLY REALLY basic. But I wanted to cover some basic stuff, amd even though few people will actually READ the thing, I want to make sure it is basically correct. So read this thing and give me feedback, but dont laugh if i screwed something up. It is a difficult task I undertook, imo, summarizing as much as I could, trying not to make too general or too specific of statements....
Weight Lifting: Not just for Body Builders
Maybe you've never thought of yourself as the weight lifting type. Maybe you believe that the size of one's muscles is inversely proportional to the size of one's brain. Maybe you think it's a "guy thing" and don't want to "bulk up." Perhaps you refuse to partake in an obvious display of vanity. Finally, there is no need for a survey to reveal that the weight training room over on first floor east is small, crowded, and hot. Serious use of it seems to be reserved for a few sports teams during their respective seasons; gym classes tend to be filled with casual chatter interspersed with a random bicep curl every now and then. For the inexperienced lifter, this atmosphere can be intimidating and does little to encourage progress. But what most don't realize is that avoiding the weight room, for whatever reason, is a true tragedy--whether you are an athelete or a complete beginner. There are just far too many benefits that can come from a regular lifting program--you owe yourself to take advantage of them.
Why should you pick up those dumbells?
How about the way it makes you feel--strong, fit, powerful, energetic--which is pretty decent for a seemingly simple pattern of motions. Or the way it lets you live--staying strong for everyday life is useful on a day to day basis; that is, of course, unless you plan to spend the rest of your days in a La-Z-Boy. Forming good lifting habits at this age is a great strategy --people who don't exercise lose thirty to forty percent of their strength by age 65--and strength is one of the easiest physical abilities to retain. ***Then there is the way weight lifting keeps you living--building strong muscles and strong bones keeps you away from injuries. Weight lifting also helps you look better. Call it narcissism if you must, but getting your hands on some dumbells (and not the pink, plastic kind) can help you transform your body. Of course, your training won't mean much if you don't have a correct diet, but armed with some basic knowledge you can firm, lift, build, and shape your muscles into a healthy, fit physique. You can run, walk, cycle, and do as much tae-bo as you want to burn calories and keep your heart healthy, but until you put little tears in your muscle tissue via significant resistance (lifting your legs to jog does not count as significant resistance) so that your muscle fibers can be stimulated to grow over and above what you had before, you will not experience the body-transforming effects of weight training. Your posture improves as well, which always positively affects appearance. Finally, lifting weights, unlike magical pills or herbs, will actually work in speeding up your metabolism. First, on a day to day basis, there are the hormonal effects of lifting, which are quite complex but definitely positive. Just one example is HgH (human growth hormone) which is released if the intesity of your anaerobic weight training workout is high enough and is quite possibly the most powerful fat-burning hormone in the body. Second, on a long term basis, increasing your lean body mass (everything in your body that is not fat) helps raise the amount of calories your body needs to maintain its vital functions. Muscle, unlike fat, is active mass--for every 2 pounds of muscle you gain your body may burn an extra twenth to thirty calories a day. If that doesn't seem like much consider the fact that if you don't lift, your muscles will waste away, your metabolism will slow, and you will gain weight as the decades go by. Hopefully this is enough to get you intrested in the possibilities that await. Make sure however, that you don't fall prey to common myths...
Won't lifting make me huge? I don't want to look like a body builder.
First off, the really built people you see on tv and in magazines have spent years and countless hours training and dieting--don't be afraid of looking like them any time soon. Some of the really massive lifters out there are also on gear, something you will hopefully never touch. Finally, most people just don't have the genetics to develop huge muscles or a routine that is of elite-athlete intensity. The average woman especially, lacking the testosterone of men, cannot achieve a masculine monster look simply through strength training. You're not going to wake up after a workout and be huge. You don't believe me? OK, then, try to get huge. Just try. And see how far you get.
But I want to lose weight, what do I care about muscles?
Far too many people set a goal of "losing weight" and bounce from one fad diet to another, never really understanding what they are doing to themselves and why it's not working. Teenagers in general should really not be concerned with restricting caloric intake as they are still growing--however, since many ignore this and insist on messing with nature, some general information may be helpful. First, if you are truly concerned with "losing weight" examine if your opinion is justified. Are you overweight according to medical guidelines? Has your doctor suggested something? If not, then losing weight is not really what you want to do. You are probably actually looking to lose bodyfat and generally get some "tone". That is where lifting is comes in. If you try to restrict caloric intake your metabolism will slow to adjust to your new levels and your body, as it is starving, will actually consume your own muscle mass in an effort to stay alive. Lifting is essential in preserving muscle mass, helps raise metabolism, and releases all sorts of potent hormones. It is muscle that will help you get the sleek look you want; losing weight will probably just make a smaller flabby person. Instead of making you huge, lifting may actually make you smaller, as muscle tissue is more compact and dense than fat. So you may not lose weight, but your clothes will fit better and you'll see positive changes in your body.
If I stop lifting, won't my muscle turn to fat?
Can rocks be transformed into gold? Fat and muscle are completely different substances. One cannot turn into the other, plain and simple. If you stop lifting, your muscles will probably just shrink in size. Also, don't expect this equation to go the other way--you cannot turn fat into muscle either. Nor can you build up lean body mass while losing fat. You can lose bodyfat through a caloric deficit and lifting, and you gain muscle through consuming extra calories (used to build muscle fiber) and lifting--it is very difficult to do both at the same time.
More is always better, right?
You grow out of the gym, not in it! Far too many people make the mistake of training too hard too often. Your muscle fibers need that time of rest to recover and rebuild themselves. Recovery times are very individual and require personal experimentation, but a beginner could start with something like three days a week, allowing each muscle group to rest at least forty-eight hours. And don't try to do a million different exercises. Focus on big compound movements--squats, bench press, deadlift, etc--that work lots of different muscle groups. Finally, eliminate the word "tone" from your vocabulary. Girls and guys do not tone, sculpt, or firm--their muscles either grow or they don't. Don't waste your time on little weights and high reps--as I've already explained, you are not going to get "bulky." Girls especially have a tendency to pick up a weight and lift it something like twenty times; the truth is, if you can lift a weight more than 6-15 times, it is too light. Try alternating between the lower and high end of this range to train the several types of muscle fibers. But remember to choose weights that are heavy enough to completely tire you on the last rep--enough to do your chosen number of reps with good form and absolutely no more but not so much that you are struggling with form and annihilating yourself. Women and men actually have the same skeletal muscle composition--it would not be possible to tell biological sex from muscle tissue alone.** Therefore, girls and guys training routines should really be quite similar in terms of exercises preformed, reps, and tempo.
Women shouldn't work their leg and butt muscles, otherwise they'll get too big. Also, I think I'll wait until I lose weight to lift weights.
Once again, the myth of "too much bulk" comes up. This will not happen--instead, taking a advantage of weight training means experiencing a metabolic boost both on a daily basis and over the long term, via the added muscle mass. This helps the body lose fat in the long run. The butt and legs are the largest group of muscles in a woman's body--they are the best area to try and build the calorie-burning muscle. And do not think for a moment that you will swell like a bubble, pushing the fat out more as you build muscle. The amount that muscle contributes to visible size is negligible compared to the bodyfat.**
Stay away from free weights. Just use machines and you'll be fine.
This is a very common mistake. It is true that for the beginner, free weights are slightly intimidating, and it takes a little extra effort to learn proper form. However, machines tend to isolate muscle groups--this can sometimes be an advantage, but in terms of real life application, when do you use just one muscle to do something? Free weights can closely mimic real life movements, and instead of isolating a muscle, free weights recruit several small and large muscles to steady, balance and move the weight. You will grow in strength and size much faster if the majority of your exercises use dumbells--with correct form of course, since mistakes and injuries are very real possiblities. This is not to say that machines are an absolute waste of time--quite the opposite, it is quite possible to make progress with machines, especially for beginners, but as time goes on, try to get your hands on some free weights.
I just want to train my upper abs. Or my upper chest. Or my lower abs.
This ties in to the idea of doing thousands of crunches every day to get a flat stomach. First of all, the rectus abdominis (your single long ab muscle) should be trained like other muscle groups--no need for hundreds of reps daily, but make sure you are using sufficient resistance the few times a week you do train it. Hold a plate to your chest for crunches and make sure to do them slowly--using momentum is quite simply cheating. Crunches, low ab crunches, etc, all work this one rectus abdominis, so don't try to separate a muscle into two imaginary ones. And don't expect a six pack from crunches either--muscle size will come with training, but to see that muscle through muscle definition requires the shedding of body fat--something crunches cannot help you with. Same for the pectorals (chest)--there are far too many arguments on different inclines for the bench press, etc, in an effort to train certain parts of the chest. You are not the divine creator of anatomy for the human body--stick to the basics.
Hopefully by now you are astonished at what you have been missing and can't wait to get started. Or, at the very least, you are willing to grab a friend and give it a try. What do you have to lose? If you'd like to learn more there is an unbelievable amount of information out there on the world wide web. Skip over the endless supplement sites until you know what you're doing, but make sure to look into places like www.stumptuous.com, or run a search through a search engine. If you belong to a gym or are planning on joining one, make sure to get a trainer to help you learn some exercises--most offer a free orientation when you join the gym, or a free session as part of a several-session purchase. Some of you are lucky enough to have decent free weights at home (no, water bottles or soup cans do not count, regardless of what you read in magazines) and can get a ton of exercises done using them. The rest of you could look into the mysterious little room behind the school gym that's filled with mirrors and blaring music, take a deep breath, and step inside.
Table 1. Strength Training Benefits for Women*
Enhanced bone modeling to increase bone strength and reduce the risk of osteoporosis
Stronger connective tissues to increase joint stability and help prevent injury
Increased functional strength for sports and daily activity
Increased lean body mass and decreased nonfunctional body fat
Higher metabolic rate because of an increase in muscle and a decrease in fat
Improved self-esteem and confidence
*Ebben, William, P., and Jensen, Randall, L., "Strength Training for Women: Debunking Myths that Block Opportunity." The Physician and Sportsmedicine, Vol 26, No. 5, May, 1998.
**"Lies in the Gym." World Wide Web. Home Computer. 1 December 2001. Available http://www.stumptuous.com/gymlies.html.
***Schlosberg, Suzanne, and Neporent, Liz, M.A., Fitness for Dummies. Foster City: IDG Books Worldwide Inc, 2000.