In college, I avoided the “bro zone” of the gym like it was a frat house after a rager. I was intimidated by the grunting, the weird machines, and the almost entirely male population outside of the cardio section and free weights. I didn’t want anything to do with their protein shakes and bro tanks. Instead, I used the cardio machines and would do the same one to two exercises with 8-pound weights every time I went to the gym.
But I really wanted to lift.
A taste of CrossFit was all it took to get me addicted to lifting heavy. After a couple of months, I was lifting more weight than I thought possible. Five years later, I regularly squat more than I weigh, and 25-pound dumbbells are my go-to. Today, I feel at home under the bar.
While there are great weight loss and calorie-blasting benefits of lifting heavy, it’s not why I do it. Weightlifting makes me care more about the weight on the bar than on my body. I work hard at the gym to push my body and mind. It’s about what my body is capable of, not what it looks like.
Lifting heavy, for example using a weight that you can only do 1 to 6 reps with, has made me battle the voice in my head — it’s far more crushing than any weight could ever be. With heavy plates on the bar, there isn’t room for self-doubt or negative thoughts. It takes all of my focus to step up, to stay in control, and to crush the lift.
Weightlifting makes me feel powerful. Confident. My lifting shoes are my “power heels.” When I hit a big lift, I’m unstoppable. I’m capable of moving the weight and handling the other challenges in my life. I walk down the street knowing the physical and mental strength inside of me.
The lessons I have learned in the gym bleed out into the rest of my life. They have made me a faster runner, a more independent person, and a confident woman. Before you get to the heavy lifting, here are a few reasons why you should take this on.
It’s not just me. Training with heavy weights is shown to improve your self-confidence. Weight training can also reduce anxiety, ease depression, and increase happiness. While it might be hard at times to get motivated to hit the gym, the benefits outlast the initial struggle.
Get going and get happy.
2. Get stronger
Heavy weights increase the power and strength of your muscles without significantly adding bulk or size, especially for women. This means that everyday physical tasks get easier, and consistent training will increase the amount of weight you can lift. You’ll look stronger, too. Strength training with heavy weights enhances your muscle mass and definition.
Hello Michelle Obama arms and Beyoncé abs!
3. Cut the fat
Everyone knows that exercise helps you to burn more calories, but according to Mayo Clinic, a regular strength training program can also help you burn more calories when you’re not in the gym. You get an “after burn,” where your body continues to use more calories in the hours following a workout. In addition to that, strength training builds muscle. That larger muscle mass increases the calories you burn daily without exercise.
Just like a double chocolate chip brownie, heavy strength training gives you a double reward when burning calories.
4. Build your brain
Heavy weights develop more than just muscle. Lifting heavy increases the production of many hormones, including the hormone IGF-1, which helps to stimulate connections in the brain and enhance cognitive function. In a recent study, leg strength was positively linked with stronger minds that are less susceptible to the negative effects of aging.
Simply stated: Strength training can improve your ability to learn and think as you age.
5. Prevent injury
Resistance training using body weight and with free weights, strengthens more than just your muscles. It also strengthens your bones and connective tissues. This added strength and stability will help you ward off injuries and keep a strong body. It can also help reduce symptoms of many conditions like back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain.
In this case, the game reduces the pain — the game of strength training, that is.
6. Improve endurance
It seems counterintuitive, but strength training has been shown to improve endurance, speed, and running economy (the amount of energy and effort it takes to do something like run a five-minute mile). A recent study showed that lifting heavier weights improves economy more than lighter weights. That extra weight on the bar will pay off during your next run or spin class.
So don’t lighten on the weights. The heavier the better.
7. Fight aging
Inactive adults can lose 3 to 8 percent of muscle mass per decade. You might lament the loss of your rock-hard arms or killer abs, but even worse, muscle weakness is linked with an increased likelihood of death in men. Heavy resistance training can help fight, and reverse, the loss of muscle mass. It can also strengthen bones and help prevent osteoporosis, especially in postmenopausal women.
The old saying, “Use it, don’t lose it” seems appropriate for your muscles.
8. Next steps
Learn how to get started with the weightlifting guide for beginners. Or, get stronger at any of your lifts with the Smolov program, a 13-week long guide to improving your squats of all types, and gain strength. All it takes is one lift to get started!
Follow these tips to stay safe in the gym:
- Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning a heavy lifting program, especially if you have high blood pressure or any vessel disease.
- It’s very important to use proper form anytime you are lifting, but it’s even more important when you are lifting heavy.
- Meet with a trainer if you have never lifted, or if you have never lifted heavy weight, to get started. Ask them what weight you should start at to stay safe.
- Pay close attention to your body and adjust lifting as needed to avoid injury.