Weightlifting has been controversial in the fitness industry, in medicine, and in social discourse. However, new scientific research on the health benefits of weightlifting is beginning to debunk many myths about working out with weights. The studies focus on the physiology and biomechanics of strength training and bring us more evidence than ever before about what we need to do in order to be in good health and great shape through all stages of life. The evidence also recommends ways in which we must workout with weights specifically to achieve the best results for our own individual bodies.
I recently read “The First 20-Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better Train Smarter Live Longer,” by The New York Times writer, Gretchen Reynolds. The book is illuminating and I was particularly fascinated by what I learned about weightlifting. Reynolds pulls together several cutting-edge scientific experiments that have been done on humans and mice and that illustrate the health benefits of weightlifting.
I also spoke to Pat Manocchia, CEO of the LA PALESTRA Center For Preventative Medicine in New York City. Manocchia is passionately devoted to preventative exercise, a methodology that brings together fitness, education, and community. Manocchia is devoted to combining fitness and medicine. LA PALESTRA “is a business that truly integrates the assets, technology, and resources of both industries; a business that utilizes existing information in an innovative way, providing services of the highest quality, which are delivered and enforced through an integrated team approach by professionals from multiple disciplines.”
At each LA PALESTRA location of which there are now seven including the newest space at The Plaza, Manocchia has created not only beautiful architecture and interior design but also has brought together incredible teams of experts including M.D.s, nutritionists, physical therapists, orthopedists, and psychologists in addition to trainers. Manocchia, who works with a wide range of clients from triathletes to stage-four cancer patients, has deep knowledge about the science of exercise. LA PALESTRA is a state-of-the-art center that caters programs to best meet each client’s needs and goals. Prospective clients can only join LA PALESTRA after undergoing rigorous evaluations and examinations, which enable all of their workouts to be based on metrics.
Below I will highlight some of the research Reynolds analyzes in her book regarding the health benefits of weightlifting.
1. Boston University School of Medicine Scientists performed a study using a “push-up” gene in a mouse to examine how strength building affects metabolism and other physiological systems. The scientists concluded that weightlifting helps to “regress obesity and resolve metabolic disorders.”
2. Weightlifting can create non-bulky muscles that have stronger thicker fibers, which with power training has shown to enhance performance in endurance sports (the myth has always been that weight lifting builds bulk which slows down athletes in endurance sports).
3. Reynolds points to studies that show that cyclists who do resistance training and plyometrics (a specific type of training designed to produce fast, powerful movements and improve the functions of the nervous system) have “far more genetic remodeling within their muscles than cyclists who did no strength training. Their muscles contain twice as many various signaling molecules that jump-start adaptive changes and make muscles better able to use oxygen–to have in other words, great endurance.” Reynolds continues, “Resistance exercise, authors wrote, ‘amplifies the adaptive signaling response in the muscles. It redoubles the benefits of the cycling or running. It also, as other shows, tunes up an out-of-shape nervous system.’”
4. Weightlifting improves the coordination of muscles working together, which increases an athlete’s power.
5. Even if no greater muscle mass is seen weight training can increase the activation of motor units within muscles.
6. In skeletal muscle, studies have shown evidence of newly formed nuclei, as well as additional nervous system connections.
7. Resistance training requires an upsurge in brain usage.
8. Certain weight training regimens, without any additional endurance exercise, can in fact replicate most of the health benefits generally associated with running, swimming, and walking.
9. Building muscle tissue increases the muscles’ demand for glucose. The muscles pull glucose from the bloodstream so that blood sugar levels don’t rise dangerously. This helps to prevent diabetes. Studies have shown that people who weight train had better blood sugar control than those who did not weight train.
10. Weightlifting helps to melt away visceral fat as well as fat that builds up around the body’s organs, which has been associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
11. Weight training on its own boosts VO2 max, the maximum capacity of an individual’s body to transport and use oxygen during incremental exercise, which reflects the physical fitness of the individual.
12. Lifting less weight more times produces greater strength gains than the reverse.
13. Weightlifting has been shown to greatly help the elderly stay in shape by keeping the brain active and the nervous system and body attune to the coordination of movement. All of the above help to prevent Sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass that begins in our 40s.
14. Strength training helps to avoid the loss of joint flexibility that comes with aging.
15. Using one’s own body weight in exercise such as yoga and Pilates, has shown to prompt muscular remodeling almost as readily as has working with weight machines.
Turning to my interview with Manocchia, I share some of the health benefits of weightlifting from his perspective:
According to Manocchia, the health benefits of weightlifting include:
- Requires and improves focus
- Positively affects bone density
- Positively affects range of motion
- Positively affects fall prevention
- Positively affects stability and balance
- Develops and or maintains lean muscle which provides several physiological benefits
- Improves work capacity
- Heightens perception
- Improves cardiovascular function
- Relieves stress
Despite the many positive health benefits that weightlifting can have on us, both Reynolds and Manocchia strongly concur that all depends on how individuals perform their activities and programs. They also agree that people should be educated about fitness themselves and should only work with highly educated trainers and coaches. As we all know, it takes a micro wrong move to get injured. Manocchia asserts however, that weightlifting correctly is not solely about injury prevention. He believes that weightlifting, when done correctly, implies the right program, vocabulary, progression, and rest. Furthermore, Manocchia states that lifting weights improperly in any of the above ways will be ineffective and sooner or later demoralizing. Then he says, “People just stop doing it.”