If you think lifting is dangerous, try being weak. Being weak is dangerous.
– Bret Contreras
Till late 2016, I was leading a very unhealthy lifestyle. I was overweight with about 100 kgs of weight and numerous health problems. One day, when I could not tie my shoe laces, I decided this was it and that was the trigger to begin my fitness journey. I took to running as I enjoy this sport and after 5 years I am glad that I am now 71 kgs (29 kgs down) and recently completed my Half Marathon (21.1 kms of run).
In 2018, as a target I had registered for a 5 K Fun run for a marathon organized by Pune Running at the Balewadi Stadium in Pune. For this 5 K I trained for almost 4 months, boosting my running distance from 500 mts to 5 km. When I did complete the 5 K run in 48:14 mins, I was ecstatic. But what followed was a huge learning for me.
After the run, I developed knee pain (I had an injury but it was 20 years old). I visited an orthopedic who suggested that I shouldn’t run since my leg was weak. I was devastated since this was just the beginning of my journey. I almost gave up and did not run for almost a month. Then, when I was discussing with a friend who used to run ultra-marathons (60-73 kms at a stretch), she pointed out to me that I was concentrating too much on my run and not my fitness development. The doctor had pointed out that my legs were weak, so I had 2 choices. First one, accept it and move on to some other form of workout or second: work on the weakness and make it my strength. That is when I was introduced to strength training.
Strength Training is a physical activity designed to improve muscular strength and fitness by exercising a specific muscle or muscle group against external resistance, including free-weights, weight machines, or your own body weight. As I began including strength training in my regimen, I realized that my runs got stronger, longer and more relaxing. As I discussed this with more trainers and fitness freaks, I realized that most of us believe a lot of myths about strength training.
1. Strength training is only for body builders
When we talk about strength training, the first thing that comes to our mind is a picture of a body builder with bulged up biceps and 40-50 kg of weight in each hand, isn’t it? Wrong! Strength Training is not just about body builders lifting weights in the gym, but it is good for all ages and fitness levels to help prevent the natural loss of lean muscle mass that comes with aging (medically known as sarcopenia). It also benefits people with chronic health conditions, like obesity, arthritis or a heart condition. According to an article in Harvard Health, at around age 30 we start losing as much as 3 to 5 percent of lean muscle per decade, thanks to aging. Muscle strengthening activities help preserve or increase muscle mass, strength, and power, which are essential for bone, joint and muscle health as we age.
2. Women will lose their feminine look if they picked up weights
When in the gym, I have noticed that women shy away from picking up weights. They sort to activities like cycling or treadmill or other machines for that do not have weights associated with it. Generally speaking, women are scared to pick up weights and perform strength training assuming that this will make them look like bulged up men. This is a huge myth. Firstly, you do not gain muscle overnight. Secondly, women have lesser testosterone and muscle growth hormone than men. So unless you are working out heavily with a target of building your body, you will just be toning your muscles and building your strength.
Strength training improves functional performance, as well as bone density, structure, and strength in postmenopausal women with low body mass as per a research published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. In fact, there are many trainers who have vouched for the fact that lifting weights reduces symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). So if you ask me personally, women need this more than men.
3. Strength training is all about picking up weights
Adding strength training to your workout regimen you have a lot of options. Most strength training exercises like pushups, squats, lunges, pull ups etc do not require any picking up of weights. However, as you increase your intensity and workout you will realize that your body weight is not just enough and slowly and gradually you may have to shift to picking up weights. But, frankly there are thousands and thousands of options to do your strength training without any equipment or equipment available at home. Using a chair, bucket or a towel and innovating ideas to use them into strength training is the most in thing today.
4. It burns lesser calories and does not help in weight loss
All types of exercises boost metabolism. Combining aerobic, strength and flexibility improves bodily functioning. In fact, the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, stimulates the burning of calories not just while working out but even while you are resting during the course of the day, in order to attain recovery. With strength training, your body demands more energy thus amplifying the effect of burning calories. So it equates to the fact that calories are not just burnt during the workout but also after the workout. Thus, in a day you may probably burn more calories than cardio activities in some cases. Most trainers also suggest picking up weights for body toning and weight loss programs.
5. Spending hours at the gym can make you stronger and fitter
In any form, quality is always better than quantity. I have seen people in the gym chatting over the phone, or with their partners for long periods of time. This is a complete NO-NO. The problem is that when you spend more time in the gym without working out, you convince yourself that you are having a great session. But this is not correct. Concentration is the key when you work out. It is important to focus on the exercise that you are doing. While you rest and recover, you can always have a small chit-chat with your friends and gym-mates, to deceive your mind who keeps telling you “You cannot do it!”. According to WHO, a 30-min workout everyday for 4-5 days a week is an awesome timing. But this should not include the rest times. Secondly, I also see people doing too many repetitions of the same exercise. Please understand pushing yourself too much can only cause injury and overtraining. So focus on a time and fix it.
6. Alternating Upper Body and Lower body workout in the gym
This is something that I have seen many people do. I am not sure how this helps really. There are a total of 600 muscles in the human body. And frankly, when we do a strength training we need to focus on practically 80-90% of them. Now in such a scenario, when we alternate the upper and lower body, we tend to miss certain set of muscles, as we do the same reps for the upper and the lower body on those particular days. Instead, focus on muscles than the part of the body. Try covering the entire body or a couple of muscles in each part.
7. Picking up weights during adolescence stops your height
For the longest period of time, I used to believe this myth. As a kid I used to play sports like football, volleyball, cricket, horse riding and many more. But, someone or somehow I was made to believe that if I pick up weights my height will stop growing. Today, when someone tells me this, I laugh over it. The height or your body structure is very much dependent on your genes. It has nothing to do with the weights that you pick up. So, next time your kid wants to use the gym let them do it, but with supervision.
8. It hinders day to day functionality
Many people assume that weight training makes you stiff. It reduces your flexibility levels, and so this may affect our day to day functionality. Strength training is a very important part of our day to day life. Picking up a bucket filled of water, rolling a chapatti, sitting down and getting up from the floor, squatting in an Indian toilet, tying your shoe lace etc, all makes your muscles work. In fact, sitting for long hours to work also requires a certain level of fitness. Muscle strength is crucial for day-to-day activities. It is also called resistance training because it involves strengthening and toning your muscles by contracting them against a resisting force. Strength training also benefits your balance, coordination and posture according to research.
9. Hitting the gym is more prone to injury
Overtraining and unnatural movements always lead to injury. This can be the case for any sport. So in case of strength training which involves the gym, this can also be true if you are trying something unnatural. Something like picking up a 40 kg weight when you have been practicing with 20, a dead lift of 200 kg on day 1, backward benchpress and many more. To avoid injury in the gym you need to understand the range of motion (ROM) of your muscles. However, it is not right to avoid the gym with a standard assumption that it is more prone to injury. If guided properly, in fact strength training helps you revive faster from an injury.
10. It has nothing to do with mental health
Have you heard fitness enthusiasts mention that they had a relaxing workout? That they were so stressed out that they thought of hitting the gym? Research has proved that exercises boosts mood as it increases endorphins. But in case of strength training, some addition research also indicates that neurochemical and neuromuscular responses to workouts has a positive effect on the brain. Probably the reason, why a good workout may help you sleep better. A good night’s sleep can not only boost your mood, but also help you manage the stress better. Some intense workouts actually help you to manage your anger and frustration as well. Thus, it definitely helps in improving your mental health.
Slow and gradual use of strength training has helped me achieve my fitness goals and now I am slowly moving towards my running goals as well. So overall, I believe by now you must have realized that we all have been living these myths. It is time to accept these myths and start living the facts. It is time to develop our bodies and make them fitter and stronger.
Stay Fit! Stay Healthy!