The Greeks told a vast collection of wondrous myths which served as stories to learn, entertain and explain the world around them. Unfortunately many myths have crept into the health and fitness industry, confusing people about exercise and how to achieve a healthy lifestyle.
Weight training is one of the most powerful medicines we have to combat sickness and aging however there are a lot of myths out there which can discourage people from starting or stop people from reaching their potential once they have started.
Lifting weights in the gym for strength training can be one of the most effective forms of exercise to help build a robust body that keeps you confident and strong in everyday activities. It is an incredibly potent stimulus and can help in the fight against many conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, metabolic disease and much more.
So maybe Athena, the Greek Goddess of reason, wisdom and intelligence could lend us some of her thoughts in the matter. With her help and the help of evidence based medicine I want to dispel five myths about weight training as you age.
Myth 1 - Lifting weights is dangerous.
Many of the activities that we do every single day involve risk, like driving a car, walking down steps or even carrying a hot oven tray full of cookies, the greater risk there being finishing all the cookies in one sitting! So of course when lifting weights there is risk involved like anything else we do. However weight training is safe when performed correctly and under the right conditions. There have been hundreds of studies which have utilised weight training in the older population and have shown it to be safe, enjoyable and beneficial for overall health. Warming up properly and gradually progressing in weight as the weeks go by ensures safety and reduction of injury risk.
The core movements performed in strength training, the squat, the deadlift (picking weight up from floor), the press (pushing weight over head or pushing up from ground) and the carry, mimic very functional movements performed in everyday life. Adding weight to these movements only makes you stronger in order to keep performing these everyday tasks at a fraction of the energy cost to your body.
The amazing benefits you get from strength training far outweigh the risks. What is more dangerous; wrapping yourself in cotton wool and avoiding the outside world or getting strong and enabling yourself to deal with the stresses life throws at you? Like many of my clients, they have chosen the second option and reaped the rewards.
Myth 2 - I am too old to start weight training.
There is never a bad time to start weight training. Age should not be a barrier to start lifting weights and the scientific literature is mounting on the side of strength training for older adults. I have many clients who started lifting weights in their nineties and have progressed consistently. One of my clients, a 95 year old gentleman who came to us with crippling back pain, is now lifting 30 kilograms (66 pounds) and reports feeling the strongest he has been in the past ten years. So if you think you are too old to lift heavy things up and down from the ground then reconsider.
Myth 3 - Weight training will make me too bulky.
This is one concern I hear mostly from women who are afraid that by lifting weights they will be turned into something resembling a balloon filled with chestnuts. This will simply not happen. Building lots of muscle is far more concerned with how many calories you take in than with how heavy you lift. Weight training will more likely tone your body up in the process of making you strong, not necessarily muscular.
In some cases people can lose weight when they start weight training, due to the increased demand the training has on our body and the speeding up of our metabolism. In addition, women will find it harder to put on muscle due to the higher estrogen and lower testosterone levels than their male counterparts.
Myth 4 - It is bad for my joints to do weight lifting.
No. Strength training improves joint health, joint range of motion, bone health, tendon strength and overall functioning of the musculoskeletal system. In fact the guidelines for the management of knee and hip osteoarthritis that was recently put out by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners strongly recommends strength training as a treatment to reduce osteoarthritic joint pain and improve function.
A study from the Journal of Rheumatology also showed that high intensity home based strength training for adults with knee osteoarthritis was met with improvements in strength, pain, physical function and quality of life. Therefore weight training can be an amazing form of treatment to keep joints lubricated and moving in their full ranges of motion.
Myth 5 - Gardening and walking up stairs is strength training.
No it isn’t. There is no doubt that lifting heavy objects in the garden can potentially make you stronger in the short run if you haven’t lifted heavy before however it is not training. Strength training involves graded progression in the amount of weight you are lifting.
Training manipulates variables such as load (how much weight is on the bar), frequency (how many times you train per week) and volume (how much total weight is being lifted in the session) in order to improve general fitness. Being a green thumb myself, I am an advocate for gardening however it is not a structured program which utilizes these variables.
Perhaps the most useful outcome of strength training is to increase your functional capacity, meaning the ability for you to complete everyday tasks. So if you train the squat, overhead pushing movements and the deadlift (picking weights up from the floor) you will increase your ability to more easily get down to the ground, pick things up in the garden and place them over head in the shed. Or next time you walk up that long set of stairs nearby your house, you will do it without expending as much energy and feel stronger as you do it.
Time to get strong!
Now whilst the Greeks told myths, they were also huge proponents of getting stronger through lifting heavy objects, as evidenced in the Greek myth of Atlas who was condemned by Zeus to hold up the sky on his shoulders as punishment. Not bad at all!
So let us join the Greeks in weight training and recognise that it is safe, good for your joints, able to be performed at any age, muscle toning and not bulking and lastly the best way to improve your functional capacity in day to day life.
If you are already strength training that is great! But if you are in need of some guidance, we can help you get started on your journey to a stronger you. Happy lifting!