Weight Training: What’s the Big Deal?

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This article is the basis for the ABC FM Life Matters segment, ‘The Exercise Room.’

The broadcast can be listened to here.

What is weight training?

Weight training is one form of resistance training. Weights – barbells and dumbells – are the implements that immediately come to mind for most people, but there are a multitude of different tools you can use, all of which will give you a different result.

It’s also important to get away from the notion that weights are a tool in the service of aesthetics. Their applications are far greater. And far more satisfying.

Why should I do weights?

Because it’s fun, for starters. It’s meditative and calming. This is not a matter of opinion; weight training has also been specifically linked to alleviating symptoms of clinical depression.

Weight training will also increase your bone density, boost circulation, develop core strength and improve your posture. A greater proportion of muscle mass will help you lose weight by speeding up your metabolism.

Weight training helps fight the degenerative effects of ageing. Once our hormones change, our shape changes with it. If you build the muscle, you’ll retain your shape. The musculature is the scaffolding beneath the skin.

Muscles are well-described as pools of energy. It’s not simply about size and shape; it’s about actual function. Weights can be used to calibrate the way the muscle fibres fire.

All athletes employ weights as part of their competition prep to regulate speed and power, as well as for rehab to counteract overuse injuries and imbalances that result from high volumes of specific work.

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Where do I start?

Start with callisthenics, which are body-weight exercises; push-ups, squats, chin-ups and lunges. It also makes you think in terms of working your full-body, which is always the best bang for your buck. Anything full-body will also offer a measure of core conditioning.

Dumbbells and barbells make up the vast majority of what you’ll find in the weight room of a conventional gym. They’re the easiest weights to use because their centre of balance is located in the middle of the bar, or handle. This makes them easier to balance and easier to manipulate.

Dumbbells and barbells are described as ‘free’ weights. Essentially, when you perform a movement such as an overhead or military press, your entire body is involved in establishing the posture and supporting the primary muscles involved in the movement.

Implements like kettlebells have a centre of balance located some distance from the handle in the centre of the sphere. In the case of a sandbag, that centre of balance is constantly shifting as the sand moves around inside the bag. This means your balance is constantly challenged, so developing core strength, as well as targeting the legs and back.

What about machines?

Machines can be helpful for people who are injured and can’t support the weight or maintain the posture necessary for the movement. A machine like the lat pulldown is a cable driven machine that allows you to work your back the way you would in a chin up in the event you’re not strong enough to shift your body weight.

As a rule, if you don’t need them, don’t use them.

What is ‘core’ conditioning?

The core is essentially the fundament of your physique.

The deepest of the four layers of abdominal muscle is the transverse abdominus. It’s like a belt that issues from and inserts into the spine. Its role is to hold the viscera and support the spinal column. It is the seat of your balance and all of your limbs are anchored into it.

When you perform a full-body exercise, you’re developing the specific muscles that are moving through that range of motion (such as your chest and shoulders in a push up) but also the core by holding the posture and the relationships between all the body parts involved, including your legs.

After all, a bicep curl is a bicep curl; you perform it in the gym and leave it there. An exercise like a push up is something that goes with you into the rest of your life and supports every single thing you do.

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Aren’t weights for body-builders?

The body-building methodology – the idea that you train each body part separately – is how most people approach the weight room, particularly those who haven’t been into one before. Weight training for athletics, however is focused on training movement patterns.

There are seven different movement patterns:

  1. Pushing
  2. Pulling
  3. Bending
  4. Twisting
  5. Squatting
  6. Lunging
  7. Gait pattern

The movements are relatively easy to learn, and once you know what you’re doing, you’ll shift your attention from the implement and then to your body. And this is the fundamental secret of weight training, and the thing I’d like you to take away;

The essence of weight training is posture. Your principal task is to maintain a given posture as the weight travels through its range of motion.

The thing with weight training is that although it’s simple, it’s not natural. And once you get into a gym and start focusing on your movements, you’ll come to realise that the walls of mirrors aren’t there for you to stare lovingly at your reflection; they are there so you can see what you’re doing.

The unfortunate fact of life is that what something feels like to you isn’t necessarily what’s going on in the outside world.

It’s very helpful – I would say essential – to engage a capable personal trainer to teach you the movements, make sure you understand them and then, after a month or so, get them to review your technique to ensure that you’ve got it right.

You’ll almost certainly be surprised at how easy weight training is and if you’ve never done it before, it’ll change your life within the space of about four to eight weeks. If you train in terms of movement patterns instead of muscle groups, you’ll be fit for every event in the decathlon of everyday life.

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