Don’t Fear the Weight Room (It’s Good for You! Really!)

(c) Creativa.
I’m a big proponent of weight training, particularly for runners. But you don’t have to be a runner or a bodybuilder to get into weight training because of all the benefits: building strength, preventing injury, and even rehabilitating after injury.

Using weight training to build strength is the most obvious benefit of weight training. This not only helps in the near term with daily tasks like lifting club-size bags of cat litter and climbing stairs but also later in life, preventing muscle atrophy that naturally occurs as part of the aging process. Strength also helps in non-daily occurrences, such as stepping on (or literally running into, as I discovered one morning with SpeedyJ!) a patch of ice and being able to stay upright thanks to strong core muscles.

Weight training also helps manage weight and increase overall health. By building muscle through weight training, you’re able to increase your metabolism, since muscle at rest burns more calories than fat at rest. Since weight training increases your heart rate, it also can help with managing cholesterol levels, preventing strokes, and maintaining healthy body fat percentages by reducing visceral fat. Long-term, weight training can reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and breast cancer, as well as reducing the risk for osteoporosis and decreasing the frequency of colds and illnesses by boosting your immune system.

Additionally, weight training helps build strong bones, as well as rehabilitate bones and promote balance. This means you’re less likely to injure yourself, particularly as you get older. Physical therapists also use weight training to help correct injuries and regain muscle and bone flexibility, since weight training takes muscles through a full range of motion. Weight training can be used to correct issues that are causing pain, such as one glute being weaker than the other and causing unnecessary wear on the knees during running. (True story; this happened to me.) The increased flexibility gained through weight training reduces the risk of muscle pulls and back pain.

The mental benefits are another reason to begin weight training. Scientific studies have found that it helps treat depression, particularly among older people. It also helps with insomnia and stress management and can even increase self-esteem as participants become stronger and fitter looking. Some studies have also found that weight training increases brainpower.

Weight training also helps athletes with their specific sports. For example, runners who train with weights strengthen their cores and legs, allowing them to run faster and prevent injury. Endurance athletes can build non-bulky muscle that will actually help them perform and not slow them down. Cyclists who train with weights increase their endurance. In general, weightlifting increases coordination.

Finally, weight training does result in a much more sculpted, fit-looking physique. This is the most obvious benefit of weight training: sleek, sculpted muscles. And women who are worried about “bulking” don’t need to; unless you train for hours every day, it’s highly unlikely you’ll look like the Incredible Hulk. More likely, even if you’re lifting heavy, you’ll look like a more toned version of yourself.