If you look at the type of sports I’ve competed in over the last 10 years, you would say that my main focus has been endurance events. I think anyone that completes Ironman triathlons, much less a stand-alone marathon would have trouble convincing anyone that they were not an “endurance athlete”. But prior to starting swimming, biking and running, I lifted weights. I was a gym rat. I always had a gym membership and I would only do “cardio” as a warm-up for my lifting sessions. I lifted heavy stuff. Often. I was focused on increasing my bench and squat and not my bike FTP. Once I got hooked on triathlons, I quit paying the gym memberships, but never took weight lifting out of my training routine. I changed how often and how much I lifted, but it’s never gone away. Why do I think weight lifting is so important? Keep reading to learn why.
REASON #1: BODY COMPOSITION
Being completely honest, I like the way I look with some muscles (and my wife does too!). I can’t ever imagine myself bring a bone rack like some elite triathletes or marathoners. I got down to the leanest I’ve ever been for Ironman Louisville last October, and I lost some muscle in the process. I was lean and fast, but I didn’t like the way I looked. I’ve enjoyed putting muscle back on since then through simple kettle bell and sandbag workouts in my basement. I haven’t had a gym membership in over seven years and I can work every muscle group and put on lean muscle with just a 30 pound kettle bell and a 60 pound sandbag.
REASON #2: INJURY PREVENTION
Endurance athletes have historically believed that strength training will bulk them up and slow them down. All tissues have the capacity to handle a certain level of work before fatigue. Load is the amount of stress you put on your body through training. Load limits determine how resilient your tissues are. When those limits are low, the odds for injury go up and performance can go down. This is where strength training comes in. If you build strength, your body can handle more stress from running, cycling and swimming (and just daily life). If you don’t make time to lift weights, you will eventually make time to sit out your training due to an injury. I suffered from IT Band Syndrome in 2011 thanks to weak hips. I’ve incorporated hip strengthening into my weight lifting ever since then and the injury has not returned despite logging more miles on the road.
REASON #3: HORMONE BALANCE
The most important hormones for muscle growth are testosterone and growth hormone. In fact, high testosterone level is what makes men more muscular than women. So, ladies, no need to worry about getting swole, you don’t have enough testosterone to support a muscular physique. In fact, improving your body's natural production of testosterone is a safe way to address perimenopausal symptoms. Studies have shown that strength training boosts these testorsterone and growth hormones in both young and old people. Research also shows that strength training lowers cortisol and estrogen levels – hormones which hinder weight loss. So men, if your doc tells you that you have “low T”, try lifting some weights to increase it naturally before taking an injection or rubbing on some cream.
REASON #4: BONE HEALTH
Strength training forces the bones to become denser and stronger because it puts pressure on them. This reduces risk of injuries and bone fractures. As we grow older (I’m about to turn 40), bones start to weaken. Strength training will keep bones and joints strong at old age. Muscle weakness in combination with brittle bone structure is a recipe for falls that can result in a crippling disability.
REASON #5: OVERALL HEALTH
Research confirms that exercise can help prevent many common ailments and chronic diseases, psychiatric disorders, pain, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. People often equate exercise with cardio. But a big part of exercise is weight lifting. Strength training is overlooked by many for a number of different reasons. But no matter what your age or sex, you will benefit from strength training. Working your muscles will help you shed excess fat, maintain healthy bone mass and prevent age-related muscle loss.
Even if you have never lifted weights or strength trained, it’s never too late to start. Part of my first Holistic Hundred involved just doing body-weight exercises. If that’s too strenuous, you could even just do seated balance and coordination exercises. Kids are never too young to start doing strength training. Simple push-ups, lunges and squats can be beneficial to children as they grow. If you are an athlete that is interested in incorporating strength training into yourtraining schedule, I have a whole section (15 pages) of my book, The Balanced Approach, dedicated to the strength movements that I have used to be healthy and injury free for the last seven years while training for endurance events.
Now stop making excusese. Pick up that full paint can out in the garage or your five year old and start getting stronger!
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Wishing you optimal health and peak performance,