I’ve dabbled in my fair share of fitness options: I like to run, I find yoga relaxing and challenging, using the row machine, stair master, and bike is always a good use of my time, and trying to be active is never a bad idea. However, I used to be genuinely intimidated by the free weights section of the gym, especially at the on-base facilities. However, curiosity tends to get the better of me so a few months ago I coaxed Jordan into teaching me some weight-lifting basics, and with the input of our very dedicated weight-lifting friends, I’ve learned at least enough to say that I’m sorry I didn’t start sooner. So why weight-lift?
- Strength training increases your physical capacity to complete daily activities with increased efficiency and performance. By this I mean, you’ll be able to do a lot more, for a lot longer, with better results. Have a friend who’s moving in soon and needs a hand? You’re going to prove a lot more useful without the strain it would normally cause you. In general, the sometimes exhausting tasks you face on a daily basis will definitely become easier.
- Weight lifting improves bone density. This is especially important because as we age, we lose bone density, which is why we get bombarded with ads about osteoporosis during the evening news. This means more broken and brittle bones, greater overall frailty, and a higher risk of injury when we’re old. At any age, weight bearing and lifting exercises actually slow the rate of bone loss and improve bone density by stimulating bone formulation. The same logic applied to muscle growth also works with bone growth: place more demands, reap more rewards. The best part is, you don’t have to be lifting an absurd amount of weight to see results. Simple exercises help generate bone health.
- When people want to lose weight, they often turn to cardio. However, while cardio is important and effective, weight training is another valuable option for effectively burning fat calories and creating muscle. Cardio may burn more calories during an hour-long work out, compared to the calories burned during an hour-long weight lifting workout. However, weight training boosts your metabolism for the following 24 hours which means you actually burn more calories throughout the day after weight training than from cardio. Also, where you lose is important. Sometimes cardio means losing weight, but not in a meaningful visual way. Weight lifting helps you lose in places that you might actually like to improve.
- Weight training also helps improve muscle, tissue, and tendon functions which means an overall lower rate of injury, and better performance.
- Improved quality of life. While this reasoning may seem heavy on the bull and low on substance, weight lifting has been a proven source of effective weight management, helping individuals feel better about their body, while improving their overall health with lowering their risk of injury.
There are an endless supply of ways to get started but the most important lessons I’ve learned as a novice lifter are:
- Start small: there’s no need to get competitive with other lifters in the gym–it’s important to respect your limits and lift what’s appropriate for your abilities.
- Form, form, form, form and form: The best way to get hurt is to lift too much and lift incorrectly. By using a reasonable amount of weight to get started, you are able to focus controlling your form so you do the exercise effectively.
- Rest: It’s important to isolate muscle groups and give them a rest in-between workouts. That’s why you always hear lifters talk about backs, chests, shoulders, arms, or legs. Rotating these muscle groups helps them recover from the workout, build muscle, and get ready to do it again.
- Ask questions from people who know more than you: how many reps should you do? how many sets? how much weight? can you spot me? Odds are, you have a wealth of valuable information at your disposal in the gym from your friends and other weight lifters. While it’s rude to interrupt someone’s workout, it never hurts to ask a question when someone is resting between sets, or from an on-site personal trainer.
Now that you’re ready to lift, you’re going to quickly realize there are a lot of exercises to choose from and memorize. It’s always a good idea to start small, but there are undoubtedly three main exercises to learn and incorporate into your routine for great results. Known to most weight lifters as ‘the big 3’ the following exercises make up the three canonical powerlifting exercises.
- The deadlift at its most basic involves lifting a loaded barbell off the ground, to the hips, and back down. It’s called a deadlift because the weight is ‘dead’ from the start, or lacks momentum because it’s on the ground.
- The deadlift involves a compound movement which engages a variety of muscles including: abdominals, the back, quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, glutes, and forearms.
- Grip: you can hold the bar with either an overhand grip, or a mixed grip with one hand overhand and one hand underhand to help evenly disperse the weight.
- Position: You want to stand with your legs shoulder-width apart, and grasp the bar with your hands just outside your knees. Keep your head slightly up and drive upwards through your heels while pulling your shoulders, hips, and back forwards. When you lower the back reverse the motion, keeping your back straight and pushing your weight through your glutes and heels.
- When you get the bar to your knees don’t pull with your back, instead jut you hips forwards to lift the bar.
- This video gives you an easy to follow and understandable look at how to do deadlifts properly.
- Another example of a compound exercise, the squat strengthens your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and hips while also engaging your arms, abs, and back too.
- Squats are versatile: you can do them with your body weight, dumbbells, a barbell, a medicine ball, kettleballs, etc. The options are limitless.
- Form (with barbell): Stand with your legs shoulder width apart, your chest out and your head slightly up. Step up to the bar so your back is in front of the bar in the cage. Ideally, the bar will rest below your neck, centered, with your hands holding it a bit wider than shoulder width. After you unrack and back up just slightly to clear the rack, you want to make sure your stance is back to where you were (shoulder width or slightly wider) with your feet pointing out about 45 degrees. When you descend, act as if you are sitting down in a chair behind you–your knees should not go past your toes, your back straight but moving at an angle, not directly down. Make sure you contract your abs while descending, until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Do not let your knees bow inwards. Once you’ve gotten parallel, or as close to parallel as you’re able, move upwards to your start position immediately.
- To see a squat in action, click here.
The Bench Press
- This exercise is exceedingly popular, and works your chest and arms, but when performed correctly it engages your core, shoulders, back and even legs.
- Form: lie down on the bench and make sure your head, shoulders, back, and butt all have good contact with the pad. You want your neck in a neutral position. Place your feet firmly on the ground on either side of the bench, at a comfortable and neutral position. Your feet should not leave the ground because you’re going to use your legs to help drive the bar up with your body. You can grip the bar neutrally, about shoulder width apart, with your hands also in a neutral position–not strained back or forward. Your four finger knuckles should be behind the bar, not under it. As you get ready to lift, squeeze your shoulder blades together a little, along with your core, glutes and hamstrings. Unrack the bar while staying tight and engaged to lift.
- Lower the bar to roughly your mid-chest, keeping your elbows in and never letting them flare out perpendicular to your body. When the bar is lowered, your forearms should be perpendicular to the floor. Be sure to keep your head on the bench the entire time to not strain your neck. Right before the bar touches you, begin to drive upwards, engaging your core, and legs as discussed before. Keep pressing forwards until your arms are once again straight and keep your shoulder-blades tucked behind you.
- For a video look, try this one.
Once you get started you’ll realize it’s much easier than it sounds, and much more rewarding than you imagined. Plus, you’ll officially be entitled to quote videos like this (endlessly popular amongst our lifiting friends):
So enjoy being a genetic beast lobster–if that’s your thing–or at the very least, embrace a healthier and stronger you!