Taming the Weight Room

My original intention for this blog post was simply to lay out some basic tips for getting started with weight lifting, form a ‘total newbie’ perspective. I asked for questions on my facebook page, though, and was so inundated with questions that I realized this will probably need to be a series of blog posts. Thank you for all the input you guys! I had no idea how needed this post was!

To keep things simple, today I’ll begin with a brief rundown of the benefits of weightlifting, and a brief description of the different forms of weightlifting. In future posts I’ll cover the basics for getting started, how to ensure proper form, a discussion of women and ‘bulking up’, and nutrition tips for supporting a weight lifting program.

First lets touch on WHY weight lifting is important. If you haven’t read my Strength Trianing For Women post on 180degreehealth.com, go do it now. In it I discuss the health benefits strength training provides, especially for women:

-increased bone density
-fat loss
-improved metabolic function
-lean mass preservation
-relief from anxiety and depression
-pain relief
-improved insulin sensitivity

And more.

Now that we have that out of the way, lets talk about some basics.

What IS Weight Lifting?

There are several different approaches to weight lifting and strength training. I’ll discuss some of the most common here.

Bodybuilding is focused on aesthetics, with a primary goal of building muscle mass and achieving a desired physique. A bodybuilding program typically will include more isolation exercises that focus on a specific muscle or muscle group; bicep curls and tricep extensions for instance. Workouts are typically dedicated to working a different body part each day, ie ‘leg day’, ‘bis and tris day’, ‘back day’ etc. Building mass and definition is a higher priority than building strength.

Powerlifting is focused on building strength. The primary goal of powerlifting is to lift the most weight possible in a single repetition, and there are three lifts that powerlifting focuses on: the squat, the deadlift and the press (usually bench press). Weights are heavy and rep ranges are usually low.

Olympic Lifting is the form of weight lifting that is featured in the Olympic Games. Like powerlifting, the primary goal is to lift the heaviest weight possible in a single rep, but the lifts are different. The Olympic lifts are the Clean and Jerk and the Snatch. Both involve moving a weight from the floor to overhead in one or two quick, explosive motions. Both are intricate lifts that require a high level of skill and athleticism.

Bodyweight Training is a form of training that utilizes the weight of a person’s own body to provide resistance to increase strength and muscle mass. Pushups and pullups are the bodyweight exercises you are probably most familiar with. Plyometrics are explosive bodyweight exercises, such as jump squats, that increase speed and power.

Circuit Training combines weight lifting exercises, bodyweight exercises and aerobic exercise in a fast moving, high intensity series of exercises, performed consecutively, with the goal of increasing strength, endurance and cardiovascular fitness.

Crossfit is actually a fitness company with thousands of affiliates around the world. Crossfit workouts include elements of powerlifting, bodyweight training, circuit training, Olympic lifting, gymnastics, and other modalities with a goal of building a broad base of competency and fitness across disciplines.

What is Best?

There is no ‘best’ form of weight lifting. Each discipline has it’s strengths, and the key is finding one that you enjoy and will be consistent with. No matter which one you feel drawn to, there will be people who will tell you it is ‘wrong’. People are as passionate about their exercise dogma as they are about their diet dogma. Any of the disciplines I listed above can provide the health benefits of weight lifting. It is important to find a competent coach to teach you proper form, especially when getting into heavy lifting. I’ll discuss how to find one in a future post.

My own training includes many of the disciplines I listed but if I had to classify it I’d say it is a combination of powerlifting and bodywieght training. That is what I enjoy the most. And enjoying what I’m doing is what keeps me engaged and consistent, and THAT is what is ultimately most important. So experiment, find what you enjoy!