The Rock-Solid approach to a superior exercise routine would include some combination of three modalities: Resistance training for muscular development and bone health. Aerobic training for cardiovascular fitness. And flexibility training, for keeping your whole body loose and supple.
That said, resistance training (in the form of weightlifting) has always been the proverbial crown jewel of my program, so I thought I would offer a sort of crash course on many of its intricate facets. You might find that there is a lot more of a science to it than you thought.
Why Weight Training?
Weight training strengthens and conditions the various muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments throughout the body, as well as improves overall circulation. Ideally, you will want to use some combination of free weights and machines, in either a home gym or health club. But before we talk about the variety of possible exercises and routines that will sculpt your body into its ultimate shape, let’s take a moment to focus on weight training and its many undeniable benefits.
From a general health perspective, modern technology (with its automobiles, escalators, elevators, chain saws, etc.) has paradoxically created the need for us to find alternative means of robust physical activity. While these conveniences help us to live more comfortable and time-efficient lifestyles in the modern age, they do not take into account that our bodies must be active to be fit. And if we don’t use our bodies, as the old saying goes, we lose them…to the relentless Law of Atrophy. (Inactive adults over age 30 will lose around 3 to 5% of their muscle tissue every 10 years.) And seldom, if ever, do any of us in the course of contemporary living, have occasion to utilize all of the different muscles throughout the body with any degree of intensity. This is where weight training comes into play. With minimal time, we can keep our bodies fine-tuned with a well-rounded lifting regimen.
I wish I could tell you about some nifty new machine or home workout device that you could use for 15 or 20 minutes, a few times a week, to get you the same results you could get at a gym. Instead, I’ll leave that for the television marketers (who hire people who go to gyms to demonstrate their products!) and give you two irrefutable truths about weight training.
Truth #1: For the quickest, most thorough way to transform your physique and stay in excellent condition for a lifetime, there is simply no substitute for weight training. Period.
Truth #2: There are a number of techniques and approaches to resistance training that will get you maximum results in minimum time, without you having to become a gym rat. (You can feasibly even develop your own home gym, so long as it includes some free weights.)
There’s no question we’ve come a long way with regard to our societal perception of weightlifting. We’ve gone from the freak show, bully-kicking-sand-in-your-face-type imagery of the barbaric musclehead heaving iron around in the basement, to homemakers and accountants lifting weights alongside competitive bodybuilders in state-of-the-art health clubs around the world. Why? Because weightlifting remains one of the most effective and important forms of exercise in the world today.
Health Benefits Galore
We often think of weight training as an activity that produces primarily aesthetic benefits, giving us attractive, muscular and/or shapely physiques. That it can do. But what about the many health benefits it offers? For these, lifting takes a back seat to no other form of training. A well-rounded program forces blood into all areas of the body, aiding in superior circulation. It strengthens muscles, tendons, ligaments and actually increases bone density. It also promotes deeper relaxation, both physically and mentally and, contrary to popular folklore, it can improve flexibility and even increase aerobic capacity (depending on exactly how you lift).
Superior Athletic Conditioning
Once upon a time (when dinosaurs roamed the planet), many coaches and trainers advised against weight training, thinking that their ball players, swimmers or track stars might tighten up and get too bulky. But over these last few decades, we’ve learned that the appropriate lifting program can improve performance in virtually any sport. In fact, it would be difficult to find a sport where many of the top contenders do not lift. From football and golf to mixed martial arts and tennis, most everyone is integrating weight lifting into their training routines. Ever take a close look at our new breed of home run crushers in the major leagues from the past decade or so? These guys are pretty buffed out. Questionable performance enhancement substances aside, most of these guys would not be doing the kind of numbers they’re doing without weight training.
This is a reoccurring theme in most other sports, as well. From Buster Douglas’s shocking knock-out of Mike Tyson in 1990 to Michael Phelps seven medals at the ‘06 World Championships, the common denominator in each of these performances was the addition of weight training to their normal training regimens. And on a personal note, it was weightlifting that really took the speed, power and endurance aspects of my drumming to an entirely different realm.
Increased muscular density combats weight-gain and obesity by raising your metabolic rate as it allies the body with coveted, lean muscle mass. Within this muscle mass are muscle cells called mitochondria, which house little power centers that burn calories and fat. So, the more muscle you have, the more of these power centers you’ll have available to burn away extra calories, even while you sleep.
Also, do you like to eat? Weight training is one of the only forms of exercise in the world where, assuming you’re looking to gain or maintain a certain amount of lean muscle mass, it behooves you to eat a higher number of calories. This generally gives you carte blanch to actually eat more, as it has been estimated that one pound of additional muscle requires between 50 and 100 calories to maintain. This means more food! It also means that (within reason), you should be able to indulge in many of your favorite vegan goodies regularly without any visible consequences. (Many folks are blown away by my calorie totals at times. Just another benefit of hitting the ol’ iron!)
So…regardless of your age, gender, body type, athletic or physical goals, I would strongly suggest adding at least some form of resistance training to your regimen if you haven’t already.
Next time, we’ll get into the nuts and bolts of weight training, including terminology and basic protocols.