Weightlifting Benefits | 11 Reasons to Lift Weights
More people than ever before are lifting weights. Men, women, youths, seniors, complete beginners and elite athletes - and that's because everyone's slowly realising that weightlifting has some insane benefits to offer. We're talking everything from the obvious physique transformations, through to major health benefits and even significant positive impacts on mental health. This article looks at 11 of the biggest reasons to lift weights, as well as providing a brief guide at the end if you're thinking of getting started.
1) Weight Training Builds Muscle
We've got to start with the obvious, ever since Arnie popularized bodybuilding back in the 70's and 80's guys have been hitting the gym to build up their chest and biceps. The general idea is that weight training damages muscles, and then with enough food and sleep those muscles recover to become slightly bigger and stronger than before. And who doesn't want a more muscular, defined or 'toned' physique?
2) Lifting Weights Supports Fat Loss
Weight training is also a FANTASTIC way to lose fat, so much so in fact that as a professional coach I recommend it above cardio for anyone wanting to lose weight. It's so good for two reasons... a) Weight training burns calories both during and after training.
Since muscles have to repair, your body stays in an elevated state of calorie burn long after your workout has ended.
b) A person with more muscle mass burns more calories. Let's say you have two guys, both of whom are about 180cm tall (just under 6ft) and both weigh 80kg. One of them has 22% bodyfat and not much muscle, the other has 14% bodyfat and quite a bit of muscle. If you use a TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) calculator, you'll find that the person with more muscle actually requires 200 more calories per day just to maintain their current size. That means that across a week, the person with more muscle burns 1400 more calories just by existing. That's one hell of an advantage if you're looking to lose weight.
3) Weightlifting Can Boost Your Sport Performance
Pretty much every major sport now utilises strength training as part of their physical preparation plan. Top-level football, rugby, basketball, baseball and cricket teams all tend to have their own dedicated, full-time strength and conditioning coaches specifically for this reason. The same goes for many high-level triathlon and athletics centres as well. Fundamentally, weight training creates stronger muscles, stronger muscles produce more force, which means athletes can run faster, throw further, swim quicker, tackle harder and generally just be better at what they do (Suchomel et al. 2016)
4) Weight Lifting Prevents Injury
If you play sports (even recreationally) or just enjoy going for a regular run, you're putting yourself at risk of injury. It might be something minor like pulling a muscle running or developing shin splints. But it could also be something major like an ACL tear, especially if you play sports that require frequent changes of direction. Weight training allows you to prepare your body to handle these stresses by doing three things... a) strength training builds stronger muscles which can absorb more force, reducing the impact taken by your joints. b) strength training strengthens your connective tissues, tendons and ligaments so that they can withstand greater loads and challenges. c) Targeted weight training allows you to address postural and structural imbalances, allowing your body to properly distribute forces and not excessively overwork specific body parts. Strength training is so useful in fact, that a review article in the Journal of Clinical Orthopaedics said that "Musculoskeletal fitness is the keystone in overall well-being and injury prevention" (Hunt 2003)
5) Weight lifting Improves Your Proprioception and Balance
Proprioception is defined as your body's ability to know its own position in space. It allows you to coordinate your movements, balance and maintain stability. It underpins every physical skill or action you perform, as so without it you couldn't walk in a straight line, let alone do things drive a car, type or write. Weight training helps to develop this skill by exposing you to a wide variety of movement types and challenges. Squatting, lunging, horizontal pushing and pulling, vertical pushing and pulling, hinging at the hips and rotating are all common parts of weight training programmes. By doing so as an already healthy person you can expect improvements across a HUGE range of other physical activities. But the real magic is that when weight training is used for people with specific illnesses or lacks of function, it can offer life-changing improvements. Examples include for patients recovering from strokes (Jung 2014) and the elderly (Thompson 2003)
6) Weightlifting Improves Your Health
Maybe you've heard the saying "strong people are harder to kill." Well, turns out it's incredibly true. Weight training has been shown to provide a huge selection of health benefits.
A) Weight Training Reduces Blood Sugar
Research in Mayo clinic proceedings looked at 4681 adults over an 8-year time span, finding that a moderate level of muscular strength was associated with a 32% lower risk of type II diabetes.
B) Weight Training Supports Your Heart
We tend to think of cardio as being the only way to improve your heart, but research is increasingly showing strength training as having significant heart health benefits. For example, one large scale study asked 35754 women to conduct yearly health questionnaires for multiple years, and found that a"risk reduction of 17% was observed for cardiovascular disease among women engaging in strength training" (Shiroma et al. 2017) There is also the UK Biobank Population Study (Sillars et al. 2019) in which 374,493 people tested their grip strength as well as being assessed for heart failure and heart failure risk factors. Results showed that increased grip strength was associated with a 19% reduction in heart failure risk.
C) Strength Training Gives You Healthy Bones and Fights Osteoporosis
It's well established that weight training improves bone density. This improved bone density can help to counteract the effect of osteoporosis (bone weakening) that occurs as we age. For older people, this means a reduced risk of falls, as well as a reduced risk of injury should a fall occur.
D) Weight Training Helps You Live Longer
A Study in the British Medical Journal (Zhao et al. 2020) assessed 479 856 people through repeated surveys. They found that both strength training and cardiovascular training were associated with a lower all-cause mortality and a lower cause-specific mortality, with an even stronger reduction in risk if cardio and strength training were combined.
7) Weightlifters Have Better Testosterone Levels
Testosterone is generally known as the male sex hormone, but it plays an important part in both male and female biology. Low testosterone levels in either sex can lead to...
Low sexual desire
Increased Body Fat Levels
Low Blood Counts
None of which sound like much fun. Luckily, studies (Vingren et al. 2010) have shown that regular strength training is one of the best ways to naturally raise your testosterone levels (alongside things like getting more sleep and reducing stress)
8) Weightlifters Sleep Better
Sleep is one of the best things that you can do for your body. It allows you to physically and mentally recover and recharge. Sleep is so important, in fact, that even a few days without sleep can have serious health consequences. Research by the National Sleep Foundation has demonstrated that exercise of any kind is positively associated with improved sleep, and that vigorous exercise such as weightlifting has the biggest positive impact.
As a longtime weightlifter, I 100% agree, I'm basically asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow, and it's very rare that I have trouble sleeping. This has been the case for a lot of my athletes too.
9) Weightlifters Have Better Sex
Yep, you heard correctly, research shows that people who regularly strength train have better sex. Tina Penhollow, Associate professor in the Department of Exercise Science and Health Promotion at Florida Atlantic University, says that "maintaining a regular exercise regimen that increases heart rate, breathing, and muscle activity can enhance sexual performance and sexual satisfaction which can ultimately lead to a better sex life." Makes sense really, if you've got better blood flow, more confidence, less anxiety and a higher libido, chances are you're going to be having better sex. *Remember, though, whilst exercise is great for your sex life, too much exercise (overtraining) can have the opposite effect, so make sure to increase your weekly exercise gradually.
10) Weight Training Makes You Happier and Improves Mental Health
There's a reason that #metalhealth is growing in popularity online. Research strongly shows that exercise of any kind has significant positive impacts on mental health and overall happiness. That's why it is recommended as a healthy coping mechanism for many mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.
Moreover, as well as being an effective coping mechanism, strength training based interventions have been shown to be effective at reducing experiences of depression (O'Conner et al. 2010) as well as reducing self-assessed ratings of both pain and stress (Atlantis et al. 2004) Anecdotally as well, having worked as a coach for more than 7 years, I've had the opportunity to chat with hundreds of people who have successfully used weight training for their own mental health and wellbeing.
11) Strength Training Builds Confidence
There are two uniquely confidence-building things about strength training... a) Stepping under a heavy bar to squat, or approaching a heavy barbell with the intention of clean and jerking it can be scary. Scary in a way that going for a run or a swim never can be. Success requires you to overcome your fears, and that builds confidence. b) Strength training equipment is microloadable. You can lift 20kg today, and then 21 or 22kg next time. Your success makes you a little bit stronger every single time, so you end up stacking up hundreds of tiny wins across the year. That's a huge confidence booster. And when you add favourable physique changes onto that you've got a pretty powerful combination for improved confidence.
How to Get Started With Weightlifting/ Weight Lifting
Alright, so you've got 11 solid reasons to start lifting some weights. If you're new to the resistance training game, here a few things you'll need to know. A) There's actually a difference between weightlifting and weight lifting. Weightlifting is an Olympic sport where you snatch, clean and jerk maximal weights (I've written a beginner guide for that here) whereas weight lifting simply refers to any form of weight training, barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells etc. B) To get started with weight lifting it's all about learning basic technique. Start with a small selection of movements, personally I recommend squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, (assisted) pull ups and barbell rows. With these 6 exercises you'll be able to accomplish a lot, without having to learn loads of different movements. C) Start light and work on adding weight over time. Even if you only add 1kg to your lifts every week, that's still 52kg across a year. Consistent progression is key. . And that's it for today, go out, lift some weights and reap the benefits. If you want more info like this (plus some in-depth training guides) then you can sign up to my mailing list. And if you're looking for training programmes, templates or coaching then consider checking out those sections of my website. 'Til Next Time Alex
MSc Strength & Conditioning British Weightlifting Tutor & Educator
References / Further Reading on the Benefits of Weightlifting
Atlantis, E. et al. (2004) An effective exercise-based intervention for improving mental health and quality of life measures: a randomized controlled trial. Preventive Medicine, Volume 39, Issue 2, 2004, Pages 424-434,
Kyoungsim Jung, Young Kim, Yijung Chung, Sujin Hwang (2014) Weight-Shift Training Improves Trunk Control, Proprioception, and Balance in Patients with Chronic Hemiparetic Stroke. The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine. 232;3, p. 195-199
Hunt, Andrew MD (2003) Musculoskeletal Fitness: The Keystone in Overall Well-Being and Injury Prevention. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research: Volume 409 - Issue - p 96-105 O’Connor PJ, Herring MP, Caravalho A. (2010) Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training in Adults. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine;4(5):377-396. Shiroma, E. J., Cook, N. R., Manson, J. E., Moorthy, M. V., Buring, J. E., Rimm, E. B., & Lee, I. M. (2017). Strength Training and the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 49(1), 40–46.
Sillars et al. (2019) Association of Fitness and Grip Strength With Heart Failure:
Findings From the UK Biobank Population-Based Study. Volume 94, Issue 11, P2230-2240.
Suchomel, Timothy & Nimphius, Sophia & Stone, Michael. (2016). The Importance of Muscular Strength in Athletic Performance. Sports Medicine. 46.
Thompson, KR ; Mikesky, Alan ; Bahamonde, Rafael E. ; Burr, David B. (2003) Effects of physical training on proprioception in older women. Journal of Musculoskeletal and Neuronal Interactions, 3(3), 223-231.
Vingren, J. L., Kraemer, W. J., Ratamess, N. A., Anderson, J. M., Volek, J. S., & Maresh, C. M. (2010). Testosterone physiology in resistance exercise and training: the up-stream regulatory elements. Sports medicine, 40(12), 1037–1053.
Wang, Y. et al. (2019) Association of Muscular Strength and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Volume 94, Issue 4, P. 643-651.
Zhao Min, Veeranki Sreenivas P, Magnussen Costan G, Xi Bo. (2020) Recommended physical activity and all cause and cause specific mortality in US adults: prospective cohort study. BMJ 2020; 370 :m2031.