Why is lifting weights important?
The goal of the CrossFit methodology is to increase your capacity in three main domains: weightlifting, cardiovascular endurance, and gymnastics. But, beyond looking like a superhero, why is lifting weights important? What makes it one of the three primary pillars of fitness? And, why does lifting weights matter for those of us who are just trying to live a higher quality of life outside of the gym?
Weightlifting, in essence, is strength training, and can be done with barbells, dumbbells, bands, or bodyweight. Typically we think of weightlifting as movements such as the squat, clean, press, jerk, bench, snatch and their variations. Each of these will cause muscle hypertrophy (mass-building), and muscle stamina-resistance or endurance.
All of these lifts will build strength, which is the ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force. All of these movements will also boost our power capacity, which is the ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time. In essence, getting stronger and more powerful means we can do more work, exert more effort, and apply more force, and thus, get more done. All of this is great in the abstract, but what does it look like in more concrete terms?
Bone and Joint Health
To begin, getting stronger and more powerful is good for our bones. Your bones help your muscles defy gravity. They give a structure from which the rest of your bodily context operates. Without bones we’d just be goo on the floor. Strength training increases bone density, which means your bones are less likely to break or suffer damages in the normal wear-and-tear of ordinary life. It also reduces the risk of osteoporosis. The stress of the load your muscles are having to move requires your bones to “toughen up” in order to handle it. This is why astronauts lose bone density during their time in space where gravity isn’t a constant stressor. If you want strong bones, you can skip drinking milk and focus more on lifting weights. Furthermore, when we lift weights we strengthen the tendons and ligaments surrounding our joints (hips, elbows, wrists, ankles, knees, shoulders) and joint health is also incredibly important for a well-lived life. Think how awful stairs are when we can’t bend our knees.
Gym Strength Transfer to Non-Gym Life
Obviously, lifting weights will make you stronger, and gaining strength allows you to perform daily tasks much easier and more safely. When we learn to properly execute a heavy back squat or deadlift, it makes non-gym life demands easier and safer to do as well. Picking up children, moving furniture, putting a bag of dog food into our cart become less dangerous, and also, less taxing. Learning how to move our body under control through time and space with a load is a gift to embrace, and will be highly useful in various dimensions of our life.
The more we squat, the easier it is to squat. The more we put our arms in an overhead position, the more comfortable that position becomes.Think of how often you squat down and stand up, or bend over, or reach up in the course of the day. Now, if you were able to do that with less effort and hit those positions more easily, life overall would be better. Your opportunities for activities and experiences increase as well.
As we lift weights, our body burns calories and begins the process of generating muscle mass. This means we’ll lose weight and add muscle. Both of these things are good overall biomarkers for a healthy life.
With that, the more weights we move in various combinations, the leaner and more defined our muscles will become. That typically is thought of as attractive. The Greeks, where we get the term ascetic (which is a combination of “beauty” and “strength”) portrayed their ideals of the human body onto their gods, and all of their gods were muscular, lean, trim and fit-looking. This doesn’t mean we all need to look like Instagram influencers, elite athletes, or magazine models, but each of us would probably like to have more sculpted muscles and a little less pudginess.
Weightlifting naturally leads to goal-setting and accomplishment mapping. To perform any weightlifting exercise requires proficiency in technique, and a gradual increase in load. Both of these things provide us numerous challenges that we can rise up to meet, and in doing so, develop confidence, a sense of capacity, resilience and our belief that with time, effort and intention we can accomplish a great deal. As we continue to add weight to our bar, or we recognize that a complex movement is now becoming second-nature, it reminds us of all the growth we’ve already done, and inspires us to keep moving forward. Very little is as satisfying as hitting a PR on one of your lifts!