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July 26, 2012

12 Ways Lifting Weights Improves Your Wellbeing (& General Awesomeness)

The resistance that you fight physically in the gym and the resistance that you fight in life can only build a strong character.” –Arnold Schwarzenegger

Weight training is not “toning” or doing hundreds of reps to an aerobic beat. In this article, I am going to discuss actual heavy-ass lifting, the transformative kind. I did both kinds of weights for many years, teaching fitness classes and then hitting the free weights for my own workout. Classes are great for building support & accountability, but on the whole, this kind of light lifting cannot touch the power of heavy, intense weight-training for transforming the body and the mind. Simple–it changes you.

For many of us, training with weights has meant so much more than simply changing our physiques–it’s been a tool with which we can feel powerful in a world where nothing is certain. Here are my 12 ways weight training improves us: mind, body & spirit. Holla if you agree :)

1] Physical strength makes us mentally stronger.
Anyone who has lifting intensely with heavy weights for at least 6 months understands this feeling. It’s almost as if getting physically stronger transforms our ability to tackle mental challenges that come up. It equips us with the fortitude necessary to deal with whatever life throws our way. We begin to feel like, “I got this” when obstacles arise. It’s a great feeling :)

2] It make us more goal-oriented and focused.
Lifting is beautiful in that we can start lifting, get stronger, be consistent and then see results. What else in life is that predictable? How satisfying. And how rewarding. Anyone can do it. It doesn’t matter if you are male, female, skinny, overweight, rich, poor, educated or not–it’s a vehicle that can help anyone feel a sense of accomplishment.

3] Helps us feel in control of they way we look.
Like #2 above, we can see physical results with hard work and dedication. One of the most memorable scenes from the Arnold Schwartzenegger documentary ‘Pumping Iron’ for me if when Arnold says lifting is like sculpting. If you need more delts here, you simply “put them on” with the type of lifts you choose to focus on. I always pictured a sculptor adding curves and shapes to a statue. Lifting is an activity that gives us control over our own sculpture, our own physique. It’s a way of exercising control over our own bodies, controlling outcomes physically.

4] It changes the way we hold ourselves.
Admit it, after a good heavy lift, you walk around differently. We all do! Something about pushing weights makes us feel more confident, like we can achieve anything we put our minds too. Funny side story–my best friend from high school, Sally and I both started lifting heavy when we were around 16 years old. We were definitely the most “jacked” of all our friends at that point, mostly because we were the only girls who lifted weights. We felt invincible (or was that just because we were 16? Lol) and literally thought we couldn’t be messed with. We’d go out to parties and whisper conspiratorially that we hope some other girl tried to mess with us because we’d be able to win any fight. Lol. Luckily, we never actually got into a fight! But the bottom line is that lifting increases confidence–the way you hold yourself. You’re more comfortable in your skin. Just be sure not to “step to” someone who’s just left the gym…especially a jacked 16 year old girl. Lol. :)

5] And it changes the way other people interact with us.
This is one of the things that surprise people the most when their bodies begin to change as a result of heavy lifting. All of a sudden, we are thrust into the “expert” role. “You must know what you’re are doing because just look at you!” Is a muscular physique on a woman that out of the ordinary that we stick out? Yes. Which brings up the next insight…

6] We get to be part of the “weight lifting club” of the world.
Lifting weights creates a sense of camaraderie for those that do it, all over the world. Have you ever been out in a public (non-gym) space like the mall, an amusement park or restaurant and see someone else with muscles? How rare is that? Pretty rare. You smile at each other because you know. You are connected through the iron. Only other people who lift “get it.” It’s like how motorcyclists wave at each other, or people who drive old-fashioned VW Beetles–they are in the same club even though they don’t know each other. Same with weight lifters and those with visible muscles–there’s an inherent understanding there.

7] There’s lots of research on how lifting is useful for boosting self-esteem.
It has been shown in many studies that for anorexics and others dealing with disordered eating that implementing a weight training program helps them normalize their eating and feel more confident in their skin. Different kinds of activities do different things (as presented in research). Moderate-intensity cardio is best for mood enhancement. Stretching is best for stress relief. Weights is best for boosting esteem.

8] Build resiliency.
With weight training, you are forced to learn how to fail. That’s part of the “getting stronger” process. When one lift becomes easy, we bump the weight and try again. We go heavier. And at some point, we won’t be able to get the weight. But we practice and we try again. Building resilience in the weight room familiarizes us with this concept. We understand that something worth attaining takes risking failure. We are familiar with the concept of practice. We understand that it takes more than a one-and-out effort. Weight training teach us how to try, fail, and then try again.

9] Teaches us to endure pain.
I remember years ago when I was training a new client (40-something year old woman) and she started really burning in her muscles from the weight being heavy. She immediately dropped the weights and thought she was injuring herself. She believe the bilateral muscle burn was wrong. I was floored. How could someone not know that lifting can be painful or tough? Or understand that kind of feeling? It was a great lesson for me as a trainer, but also taught me not to take for granted the transformative power of physical pain. Many of us who love to lift actually like the muscle pain that accompanies a heavy lift. Why? It certainly doesn’t feel good. I suspect it’s because in those moments we know we are getting stronger, better. If we can endure physical pain, we can certainly endure emotional pain. It’s a physical affirmation of our toughness–mentally and physically. And what can I say–it’s awesome.

10] Lifting builds patience and stick-to-it-ness.
Changing your body doesn’t happen overnight. It takes weeks, months, years. Ask any top physique athlete and they will tell you that building their body took patience, consistency and discipline over a long period of time. It’s something you must work at day in and day out. It’s the “iron lifestyle.” No instant gratification. No miracle pill. Just old-fashioned GRIT.

11] Boosts brain power. 
So long to the old “dumb jocks” analogy. More and more research is emerging to support the link between physical activity and cognition. Post-exercise, people are able to concentrate for longer, think more clearly and sustain brain power longer (acute effects)–presumably a result of increased blood flow to the brain. However, the chronic implications of exercise on brain function are documented too. Let’s just say it: We were smart to start lifting in the first place, and we just keep getting smarter :)

12] Teaches us how to deal with adversity.
I think this is an important insight–not everyone loves muscles on women like we do. Some may find it manly, “too buff” or threatening. When we get wind of those types of comments, it’s a reminder for us to:

  • Reaffirm our choices and stay strong in our convictions. We know what a positive influence lifting has on our physical-mental-emotional spheres. (Check #’s 1 through 11 :)) So it’s a reminder to know and speak our truth, for us.
  • Understand that negative comments from others about our appearance (whether it’s about muscles, being overweight, too skinny, etc) is only a reflection of the person who says them’s own insecurities. It has nothing to do with us. For whatever reason, our being us makes them feel insecure. We see this a lot with men who don’t have muscle–they are intimidated by women with muscle. This is about them, not us. In fact, most men with muscles look for women who are fit too. So relax and know that it doesn’t mean we need to change or do anything differently, we’re perfect. And if someone has a problem with that, it’s not our business anyway.

And the bottom line is just this: Women with muscles rule. Let’s face it :) Now go get your lift on! oxox Jill


Related: 11 Reasons You SHOULD Do (the right kind of) Cardio


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