Should everyone lift weights?
As human beings, we like to think that we’re special. Not just in an individual way but collectively as a species living on planet earth we are definitely unique when we look at every other living thing around us.
We are special because we are by far the most intelligent organic things that have ever existed on earth, and at this moment in time the most intelligent living things that we know of in the universe.
It’s a good job our ancestors were clever, because from being top of the tree in cerebral terms we’re pretty pathetic physically when we compare ourselves to even the most diminutive creatures in the animal kingdom.
And the thing is, as a species we’re only getting worse.
Health, mortality rates and longevity are certainly improving all the time. But as the world modernises and technology gets better and better we as human beings are becoming more and more special: out of all the animals, organic beings and lifeforms on earth, we are the only ones who increasingly don’t bloody move.
I know, for some the invention of travellators and lifts is progress. This is what separates us from the lowly animals right?
That’s fine, until you think about the proportion of human history in which people have spent the majority of their days sat down and immobile compared to the thousands of years where the human body has had to walk, run, lift, strengthen and stretch on practically a minute to minute basis in order to survive.
Nature spent 10,000 years honing and developing our bodies to move.
Then right at the last-minute, we all sat down in front of our desks, TVs and laptops.
Modern living is profoundly unnatural for our bodies.
Obviously, this is not a new concept. People still like to move. You only have to have a quick scroll through your Facebook news feed to find plenty of marathon sponsorship requests, strava data or MapMyRun statuses. Running and cardiovascular activity is important to be healthy, as everyone knows.
It’s definitely true and as much as I don’t really enjoy it, I try to get out on a run or the bike from time to time to keep myself ticking over.
It’s also great that there are plenty of people who are doing what their body was designed for often in the name of good causes- I’m all for it.
Lifting and weight training hasn’t got quite the same following or visibility (Crossfit ‘lifting’ aside). In comparison with running it doesn’t have the same relatability to the general public.
If you pick a random person on the street and tell them you’re running a 10km next week you’ll most likely get a reaction of recognition and respect. Even if they’ve never run that far before, they have heard ans seen enough to know that 10km is a accomplished distance.
If you tell that same person you’re shooting for a 180 kg squat PR next week you’ll probably get a blank look.
Obviously for most people 180kgs is a lot: heavy weight training, like ultra-running or doing an Ironman is generally the preserve of people who really like and are passionate about pushing themselves in that activity. It’s similar to dedicating multiple sessions a week to improving your squash game or dedicating a lot of free time to fine-tuning your serve in tennis.
Weight training however doesn’t have to conjure up images of chalk, machismo, oversized meatheads and masculine-looking women. It shouldn’t be regarded as the preserve of narcissistic bodybuilders, overmuscled powerlifters or ungainly individuals sticking needles into themselves.
It can, and should be, part of everyone’s fitness regime.
While running and cardiovascular activity is important we should also consider all the physical and manual work the human body has been performing over the millenia that brought us to our current iteration.
Muscles, tendons and ligaments need to be used and tested to stay supple and strong. Bones need to be stressed by the muscles attached to them in order to retain their density and remove brittleness.
In the course of an average modern humans day your musculature is staggeringly underused, more so when you consider the evolutionary permutations that have got our species to look and physically perform the way we do.
Up until less than 100 years ago people were regularly scrubbing, lifting, walking, carrying, pulling objects around as part of a daily ritual of survival. Far from lifting something heavy being unnatural, our backs and legs were designed to pick things up.
Again, I don’t mean deadlifting 500lbs, but relative to your own size and strength lifting is not only good for us, it is unarguably essential for our muscular and skeletal health.
What if I do a lot of sports already?
Most sports are great in that they combine cardiovascular activity with plenty of twisting, pulling, pushing and demand on the muscles, as well as being enjoyable.
But just like doing 10km runs to improve your endurance for playing football is useful supplementing your main sport with some weight training will not only help improve your performance but it can also help prevent injury by working on ligament strength and flexibility.
What if I don’t want to carry too much muscle?
The concept of too much muscle is a direct product of fitness industry misdirection and propaganda. Building significant muscle even for those predisposed to it is a dedicated and often lifelong pursuit.
If you stay off drugs, I promise you’ll never have a problem of being ‘too’ muscular.
These days even serious climbers, who have the best reasons to remain as light as possible, appreciate the benefits of weight training to develop their weaknesses and for overall physical health.
Applied and programmed correctly the only outcome of weight training as a part of your sport or daily activities is increased physical health. It will speed up reaching your goals, especially if that goal is weight loss and tone (How to ACTUALLY get toned).
Should everyone lift weights? If sporting performance, looking good, long-term flexibility and bone health and health in general is important to you, then yes. If that’s not enough, then there’s a hell of a lot of psychological reasons like increased confidence, empowerment, mental strength and discipline that don’t hurt.
The one caveat would be for the very young or those still growing. There’s no hard and fast rule that I know of, but it’s safer to stick to bodyweight exercise perhaps up to early to mid teens.