When it comes to weightlifting, most gym users tend to fall into one of two camps: either they love it or they hate it. Whether it’s down to a lack of knowledge or a bit of ‘gymtimidation’, many people stick to cardio and bodyweight exercises, thinking the weights area is exclusively for bulking up.
But don’t let this stigma fool you into thinking that weightlifting isn’t for you. There are a number of amazing health benefits that come with choosing dumbbells over the treadmill — and some of them may surprise you.
To help show you the value of strength training, we’ll walk you through the health benefits of lifting weights and some top tips to get you started.
What is strength training?
Strength training — also known as weight training or muscular training — is a form of exercise that focuses on building and developing muscular strength and endurance.
It involves performing various resistance exercises, including traditional weightlifting with dumbbells and barbells, utilising resistance bands, or performing bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats.
The benefits of lifting weights
1. Increases strength
Let's get the obvious one out of the way first: lifting weights can make you stronger.
Even exercising with light weights will help to build your muscular endurance, but if it's physical strength you're looking for, the heavier, the better. By adding compound lifts like squats and deadlifts to your regular workout routine, you'll increase your strength at an incredible rate.
This newfound strength isn't limited to the gym; from lifting shopping bags to carrying luggage, you'll feel more capable and confident in your physical abilities. And let's not forget the aesthetic perks that come along with it — you'll not only feel but also look stronger than ever before!
2. Helps burn more calories
Although cardio workouts might initially burn more calories, don't underestimate the impact of strength training on your metabolism. Strength training can elevate your metabolic rate - the rate at which your body burns calories to sustain daily activities and basic functions. So even when you're relaxing after your workout, your body continues to burn calories efficiently.
In fact, a recent study focusing on resistance training in women revealed that their overall basal metabolic rate remained elevated for up to 48 hours post-exercise! And that's not all – another study published by the National Library of Medicine showed that just ten weeks of resistance training can boost resting metabolic rate by a remarkable 7%.
3. Strengthens your bones
Weightlifting doesn't just strengthen your muscles: it strengthens your bones, too. A study found muscle mass decreases by approximately 3–8% per decade after the age of 30. And this age-related decline can lead to reduced strength, mobility, and overall functional abilities.
Thankfully, studies have shown that regularly lifting heavy weights can not only maintain bone mass but can build bone density, too. And, according to the NHS, if you regularly participate in strength exercises that naturally improve your balance and coordination, you are also less likely to become vulnerable to falls and accidents — especially as you get older.
So, the next time you hit the gym to lift those weights, remember that you're not only building strong muscles but also a foundation for long-term bone health and injury prevention.
4. Tones your body
Have you ever wondered how people achieve that perfectly toned physique? While cardio workouts like HIIT are undoubtedly effective for weight loss, they may not be enough on their own if you want to tone up.
This is where weight training comes in! Adding a set of toning exercises with your cardio workout will help to tighten and strengthen your muscles. As you lose body fat and simultaneously build stronger and larger muscles, you start showcasing more muscle definition, creating a leaner, athletic appearance.
Plus, muscle is denser than fat, meaning it takes up less space in your body — even when you compare the same weight of each. As a result, you might drop inches around your waist without noticing a significant change in your weight when you step on the scales.
5. Reduces your risk of injury
Have you ever woken up after a long session on the treadmill with sore knees and stiff hips? Well, weightlifting may be the solution you're looking for. And it's not just running it’s good for: weight training is also great for sports with heavy footfalls, like football or tennis.
Training your muscles with weightlifting can lead to improved strength and enhanced mobility. You also strengthen the muscles surrounding key joints, like your ankles and knees. And this means they become more resilient and better equipped to handle the stress of physical activity, whether you're engaging in sports or hitting the gym, limiting the risk of injury.
6. Helps improve your cardio performance
If there's one universal truth to strength training, it's that stronger muscles mean better performance.
Adding weightlifting to your workouts is a brilliant way to improve your running and swimming pace, as stronger core muscles will help to better support your body's weight. Plus, once you've built up strength in your arms and legs, they'll become more powerful to give you the boost you need to hit your personal best!
As your muscles become stronger and more efficient, they also require less oxygen and energy to perform everyday tasks, allowing your heart and lungs to work more effectively during cardio exercises. So whether you're training for a marathon or just want to improve your swimming results, remember to incorporate weightlifting into your fitness routine.
7. Improves your mood
The benefits of lifting weights are not just physical — you can also receive a serious boost to your mood and self-esteem.
Exercise releases neurotransmitters like endorphins and dopamine, which are often referred to as the body's natural "feel-good" chemicals. According to the NHS, these neurotransmitters play a crucial role in supporting good mental health, improving your mood and motivation and reducing feelings of stress. They also stimulate your brain, helping you stay focused and energetic.
It's not just these hormones that make you feel good, either. For first-time weightlifters, watching yourself progress and lift heavier weights than you thought possible is a fantastic way to build your confidence, too!
Begin with the basics
When starting with weight training, safety should be your top priority, particularly if you're a beginner.
Begin with the basics, focusing on bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, and push-ups, as they help develop proper form and establish a strong foundation. As your confidence and strength grow, you can gradually introduce resistance training with dumbbells or free weights.
If you're unsure about where to start or how to progress, seeking guidance from a fitness professional or personal trainer can be incredibly beneficial. They can provide valuable insights into correct techniques and design a personalised program that aligns with your goals.
Prioritise proper form
When learning how to lift weights properly, focusing on the correct technique over simply lifting heavy weights is key. By mastering proper form, you ensure you're targeting the right muscles for the best results. Plus, you avoid putting unnecessary stress on joints and ligaments, reducing the risk of long-term injuries that could hinder your progress. Remember, quality over quantity!
Start with lighter weights to practice and perfect your technique. Then gradually increase the weight load only when you feel confident that you're maintaining proper alignment and control throughout each repetition.
Always warm up first
Always remember to warm up before diving into your strength training. Gentle exercises increase blood flow, elevate body temperature, and effectively loosen your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. By warming up your muscles and making them more flexible, you significantly reduce the likelihood of experiencing strains, sprains, and other common weightlifting-related injuries.
Light cardio exercises like jumping jacks or a brisk walk, followed by dynamic stretches like arm circles, leg swings, and hip rotations, are great for preparing your body before lifting weights. A warm-up routine lasting around 5 to 10 minutes should do it!
How long does it take to lose weight lifting weights?
The time it takes to lose weight while lifting weights varies based on several factors. One crucial aspect is your diet — what you're eating plays a significant role in weight loss. A balanced and calorie-controlled diet complements your strength training efforts, helping you shed pounds effectively. How often you go to the gym also matters; consistent and dedicated workouts yield better results.
To learn more about nutrition and how it can support your weight loss journey, read our beginner's guide to protein and nutrition.
How long should a weightlifting workout last?
How long your weightlifting workout should be depends on your fitness level, experience, and what you want to achieve. If you're new to lifting, shorter sessions of around 30 minutes are usually best, easing you into strength training while giving you time to focus on getting your form right.
As you get the hang of things and get stronger, you can stretch your workouts to around 45 minutes to an hour. That way, you can do more exercises and target different muscle groups effectively.
You might go beyond an hour if you're a seasoned lifter or going for specific goals like bodybuilding or powerlifting. But remember not to overdo it — taking breaks and giving your muscles time to recover is key to avoiding burnout and injuries.
When should I increase weight when lifting?
Knowing when to increase the weight while lifting boils down to your progress and comfort level. As you gain confidence and feel like you can handle more, it's time to level up. But remember, don't rush it — listen to your body and go at your own pace.
Adding more weight gradually is the key to keeping yourself challenged and continuously getting stronger. So, when you feel like you've got a good grip on your current weight, go ahead and take that next step.
Get into weight lifting with Fitness First
At Fitness First, we offer a diverse selection of strength classes designed to cater to various fitness goals. From SHREAD, which combines compound lifting with high-intensity interval training (HIIT), to BodyPump, which focuses on low-weight loads and high-repetition movements, there's something for everyone with our group fitness classes. Or, if you're looking to strengthen your abdomen and lower body, try our Legs, Glute and Core (LGC) classes.
Our team of specialist trainers are also here to help you reach your fitness goals with personal training.