Thinking of taking up the challenge of weight lifting? Do you want to tone up and lose that excess body fat?
Many fitness enthusiasts take up weight lifting for its wide range of benefits. Resistance training is a highly enjoyable workout that offers an efficient way to improve all components of your fitness – strength, endurance, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness.
The benefits of lifting weights are relevant for both men and women alike. Understanding its benefits allows you to make the right choices when personalizing your workouts and maximizing your progress from each session.
Let us briefly go through the fundamentals of weight training.
What Happens to Your Body When You Start Weight Lifting?
Your body undergoes different physiological responses when you engage in weight lifting. This all depends on what component of your fitness you wish to target, and what methods and variations you plan to adopt in your routine.
If you are looking to achieve “muscle growth”, you may want to consider lifting heavier and performing fewer repetitions. If you are looking to increase your “muscle endurance”, you might want to consider lifting lighter and performing a lot more repetitions.
Let us start with adaptation. This phase usually lasts roughly 4-6 weeks and can be the most mentally challenging part.
It is natural for everyone to experience soreness when they start weight training (people complain most about this in their arms and legs). This is the body’s natural response to identifying physical activity as new.
This may be because your muscles have not engaged in physical activity for a long time or it may be the first time They simply need time to get used to the new routine.
The onset of this pain, stiffness, and achiness commonly occurs 48-72 hours after performing weight training on targeted muscle groups. This feeling usually disappears after a few days.
Many people can get demotivated or be tempted to quit during this phase. The reasons may vary, but most commonly, it is because people have high self-expectations or do not expect the initial response of their body.
The key is to know that your body will experience this during the adaptation phase. These feelings will decrease after every workout and eventually disappear after about a month.
It is also important to not over-exert your body when adapting to weight training. Doing too much too soon can lead to injury.
Start with simple exercises as opposed to complex movements. Choose lighter weights instead of heavy ones, and perform lots of reps to allow your body to get used to weight training.
As your body gets used to the physiological response of exercise, you can then focus on more fitness goals, such as muscle building from weight training.
Standard Recommendation: 3-4 Sets, 15-20 Reps per exercise
Muscle Breakdown and Growth
Before your muscles can grow, they must repair and develop by enduring small microscopic tears directly after a vigorous weight training session.
The tears in your muscle fibers are caused by the repetitive contraction of the muscle(s) used in a single weight training exercise. This is the first step to building lean and active muscle mass.
The most effective method of breaking down muscle cells, so they can repair and grow, is a process called hypertrophy. Hypertrophy is best achieved when we lift the maximum weight we can over 8-12 repetitions in a single exercise of a given set.
Building Muscle Through Hypertrophy
There are two important factors for building muscle through hypertrophy: mechanical damage and metabolic failure.
When we lift weights, there are two contractile proteins in our muscle cells, actin, and myosin, that help generate force to overturn the resistance we are lifting. Mechanical damage to these proteins stimulates a response in our body for our muscles to grow.
It can take between 2-5 days for your muscles to recover, especially if you are a beginner. It is important to allow at least 48 hours rest after training a particular muscle group before performing more weight training exercises.
Metabolic failure refers to exhausting all the energy in our muscle cells when we lift weights. These energy molecules in our cells are called ATP. You can certainly feel these stores depleted on your last rep.
These energy stores regenerate pretty quickly. That is why it is recommended to rest for 30-60 seconds before performing the next set of exercises.
For more excellent advice on the basics of hypertrophy, refer to the guidelines instructed by the National Association of Sports Medicine.
Tip: While in Recovery From Weight Training
While actively resting your muscles before your next workout, it is important to incorporate the right nutrition to accompany your body’s recovery. This includes supplementing the right enzymes, amino acids, and protein. Consuming protein directly after weight training is essential for muscle recovery.
Standard Recommendation: 3-4 Sets, 8-12 Reps per exercise
Perhaps you are more conscious about gaining that bulky look? Maybe your desired goals are to simply feel, look leaner, and be stronger. For that reason, you may want to focus more on your muscle endurance.
When we perform higher repetitions without achieving hypertrophy, we put our muscles through a vigorous weight-training session without breaking down as many muscle fibers. This helps us get more of that toned look as opposed to when we tear and repair more muscle fibers, building that aesthetic growth or bulky effect.
Muscular endurance is the ability to continuously contract a muscle against a given resistance. It involves performing higher reps at a lower weight and building muscle stamina.
Another way of improving muscle endurance is by performing exercises that require you to hold a position for an extensive period (e.g., plank, wall sit).
If your fitness goals are to improve repetitive functional activities in your daily life like shoveling your garden or home renovations, then improving your muscular endurance is key to cope with such activities
The same can be said from a sports-specific point of view. If you wish to climb a mountain or tackle long hills on your bike, you must practice your endurance to build fatigue-resistant muscles.
Standard Recommendation: 3-4 Sets, 15-30 Reps per exercise
Myth About Women and Weightlifting
The common myth that has surrounded women and weightlifting is that “if women lift weights similar to men, then they will start to become more masculine”.
This story has resulted in a “mental block” for many women who wish to gain lean muscle mass through resistance training – the irrational fear or thought of having bulky muscles like men. Although women have the tremendous ability to lift the same weight as men, they do not have the same capacity for increasing muscle mass.
Due to human anatomy, men produce a lot more testosterone than women. So, regardless of how many times women perform resistance training weekly, they will be able to increase muscle mass, but not add pounds of bulk like men.
According to the American Council of Exercise, strength training can cause women to produce more somatotropin. This hormone helps metabolize fat and is said to reduce the effects of biological aging. But it does not promote stimulate the response of bulking muscle.
What Are the Benefits of Lifting Weights?
From the many physiological responses we get from lifting weights, there are many rewards for both men and women. Here are 5 key benefits of how you can live a healthier life from lifting weights:
1. Weight Loss
One thing we have learned from modern exercise science is that weight training is just as effective as a cardiovascular activity when it comes to weight loss.
Weight training allows our body to utilize its aerobic and anaerobic systems when done efficiently. This means we can burn calories from all energy stores when performing resistance training – carbs, sugars, and fats while still targeting muscle groups and putting on lean muscle mass.
When we start to produce lean muscle mass on our body, it promotes weight loss further. Now, when you consume energy or food, your active muscle needs calories, before being stored in your body.
Having new muscle helps shed pounds and boost your metabolism to new levels. Having lean muscle mass can still burn calories when at rest.
2. Musculoskeletal Health
The musculoskeletal system is made up of your muscular and skeletal systems. The function of this system is to support the whole body through the support of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, and organs.
Weight training can reduce the symptoms of musculoskeletal health conditions by aiding in joint lubrication and reducing joint pain and stiffness. It also prevents muscle stress and imbalances.
By training our agonist and antagonist muscles (opposite muscle groups) the correct way, we can avoid any biomechanical issues that can lead to bone and organ issues down the road.
This is especially important for people who have a sedentary lifestyle and sits for long hours or demonstrate bad posture throughout the day. Weight training for your hip flexors and postural muscles is essential for musculoskeletal health as it can lead to spinal or pelvic complications if neglected.
3. Improved Mood, Confidence, and Self Esteem
Building muscles or feeling leaner can certainly improve the physical balance of our body and our functional strength. Just as importantly, it improves our mental health.
Looking and feeling aesthetically better restores feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem, and this has a positive impact on our social health. Lifting weights also releases feel-good endorphins in our body and increases the level of serotonin, making us feel more alert and productive!
The release of these feel-good chemicals in our body also reduces the risk of depression and anxiety.
4. Sports-Specific Performance
Athletes need to practice what they preach if they want to perform on game day. Depending on the specific sport you perform, you need to mimic your weight-training program to match what you do against your competitors.
For example, if you are a 100m sprinter, you are going to want to do a strength program your legs to achieve explosive power. If you are a basketball player, you are going to want to outjump your opponent, so adding a plyometric program to your training regiment would be necessary.
Regardless of your abilities, it might be a good idea to consult an experienced strength and conditioning coach to take your weight-training program further at a competitive level.
5. Healthier Heart
While it needs no introduction that cardio is essential for maintaining good cardiovascular health, it is also proven that weight training can help strengthen your heart.
Although you can get an effective cardio workout from weight training, there are several reasons why resistance training can improve your heart health.
When we lift weights, we increase our rate of circulation. Blood is sent more efficiently around our body to the muscles being worked. When we increase muscle mass, we send oxygen and other nutrients around our body a lot easier and more frequently. This improves our vascular system and promotes a healthy heart.
Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
Weight Training helps fight against the risk of various heart-related diseases. Because weight training increases the rate of cardiac output and reduces BP, it also decreases symptoms that can cause heart attacks such as stress and arrhythmia.
Resistance training also stimulates weight loss. Weight loss is the key objective for avoiding medical conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, and stroke. An interesting case study from Harvard Health explains how weight lifting can reduce heart-related diseases. 
Better Sleep Quality
As mentioned before, weight training helps to release endorphins and serotonin in our system, helping us to feel more relaxed and less tense. This helps people who exercise wind down and sleep better at night time.
Good sleep decreases the work rate of your heart as it allows more oxygen to enter your system, therefore, reducing blood pressure.
How Long Does It Take to See Benefits From Lifting Weights?
Everybody wants to see fast results from weight lifting, but resistance training is a patience game.
During the adaptation phase (4-6 weeks), you will observe more physical benefits than aesthetic ones. In other words, during this time, your body will learn to cope with recovery.
Your muscles will feel less and less sore between every workout (there will be some off days), and you start to feel stronger, thinking you can take on more.
You will begin to see aesthetic differences within the first month regarding changes in your body composition.
You may see small to significant differences in lean muscle mass versus body fat. The variations of how your body composition will change within this time will depend on the intensity of your workouts (sets, reps, speed, rest time).
Although you do not quite see that warrior in the mirror just yet, your jeans might be fitting better.
If you are a beginner to weight lifting, your body should adapt to putting on muscle size after 4-6 weeks. It is then time to decrease the reps, increase the weight, and reduce your rest times a little.
Your body should now be ready to endure those muscle tears for muscle growth. If this is your primary goal, you should start to see big differences within 8-12 weeks if you are consistent with your program.
Tips to Takeaway
It is important to be particular of your fitness goals when it comes to weight training.
My advice is to train all components of your fitness as they are all necessary for different stages and aspects of your life. There are many benefits of lifting weights, and you have the power to maximize them.
Your musculoskeletal health is especially important. Keep your weight training programs dynamic so they include a lot of movement. This adds extra value to your cardiovascular health.
If you are an office worker who sits for long periods of the day, it is vital that you improve your posture, hip strength, and your core through corrective exercises.
If your job requires heavy lifting, like working in a warehouse, it is essential to practice your strength and endurance.
No matter what your situation is, practicing what you read will help you to enjoy the later years of your life.
If you are looking to compete in any high-level competitions, I recommend consulting with an experienced personal trainer in your area.
More Benefits of Lifting Weights
Featured photo credit: Anastase Maragos via unsplash.com