5 health benefits of lifting weights and how to do it safely

You don't need to be a bodybuilder to gain the health benefits of lifting weights.vitapix/Getty Images
  • The benefits of lifting weights include building muscle, burning body fat, strengthening your bones and joints, reducing injury risk, and improving heart health.
  • To lift weights safely, it's important to start slow, take rest days, and always use proper form.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Joey Thurman, CSCS, CPT, FNS, a Chicago-based fitness expert and MYX Fitness coach.

Weight lifting brings more benefits than just stronger muscles and a toned body. Adding strength training to your workouts is a great way to improve your overall fitness, from burning body fat and strengthening your bones to preventing injury and making your heart healthier.

Here's what you need to know about the health benefits of lifting weights and how to safely add it to your workout routine.

Lifting weights is the best way to build muscle

Weight lifting increases hypertrophy, or the growth of muscle cells, says Jonathan Mike, a strength and conditioning coach and professor of exercise science and sports performance at Grand Canyon University in Arizona. Advertisement

This works because weight lifting boosts the body's production of testosterone and growth hormone. When you lift weights, your body releases these hormones, which promotes tissue growth and allows your muscles to get bigger and stronger.

It's important to build muscle even if you're not interested in looking ripped. Lifting weights helps the body build and maintain muscle mass through late life, says Michelle Gray, director of the Exercise Science Research Center at the University of Arkansas.

"This muscle mass is important for performing activities of daily living and helping older adults remain functionally independent for longer periods of time, potentially pushing back the time when they need more direct care," Gray says.
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Lifting weights effectively burns body fat

By building stronger muscles through lifting weights, you're also making your body more effective at burning fat. The reason is simple: muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue does. So in addition to burning more calories while at rest, you'll also naturally boost your metabolism as you add lean body mass through weight lifting.

For example, a 2017 study in the journal Obesity on overweight or obese adults, age 60 and over, found that the combination of a low-calorie diet plus weight training resulted in greater fat loss than a low-calorie diet and walking. As an added bonus, the adults who did strength training maintained muscle mass while losing fat. "Decreased body fat decreases the overall risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancers, obesity-related health risk, and much more," says Mike. "Having a higher ratio of lean body mass versus body fat will always serve the individual to more positive health changes every time."Advertisement

Lifting weights strengthens your bones and joints

Lifting weights doesn't just strengthen your muscles. It also helps to improve your bone and joint health. Having strong bones and joints is important to fight the natural weakening of bones that occurs as we age.

If bones become too weak, osteoporosis can occur, a condition where bones are so fragile that even minor stressors can lead to broken bones or fractures. Specifically, strength training targets bones in the hips, spine, and wrists, which are the sites most likely to fracture.

A 2013 study in the Journal of Sports Science and Physical Fitness, for example, found that full-body strength training was an effective way for premenopausal women to maintain bone mineral density, or the strength of the bones. Advertisement

Moreover, a 2018 study published in Endocrinology and Metabolism concluded that resistance exercises, including weight lifting moves, "may be the most optimal strategy to improve the muscle and bone mass in postmenopausal women, middle-aged men, or even the older population."

Lifting weights may reduce injury risk

Muscles form the foundation for all the movement, balance, and coordination of your body. So, a body strengthened through weight lifting may be less likely to suffer injury.

"Resistance training is beneficial for both injury prevention and rehabilitation," says Gray. Specifically, strengthening muscles around a joint — like the knee or elbow — can increase its stability and reduce pain, even helping to relieve chronic conditions such as arthritis. Advertisement

According to a 2015 review in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, strength training increases the number and diameter of collagen fibrils in your tendons. Strong tendons are beneficial to prevent injury because they connect your muscles to your bones, providing support and flexibility.

However, it's important to maintain proper form when you lift weights, otherwise you can increase your injury risk. If your form is incorrect, you may be putting extra stress on your muscles and joints, which can lead to tears or strains.

Lifting weights can improve heart health

While you might not associate weight lifting with your heart, weight training has significant cardiovascular benefits that can improve your long-term health. Advertisement

For example, a 2017 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that women who engaged in weight lifting had a 17% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than those who didn't lift weights.

And the results aren't limited to women. A 2018 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that lifting weights for as little as less than an hour a week may reduce the risk for a heart attack or stroke by 40% to 70%.

How to lift weights safely

You don't need to spend hours in the gym to see the benefits of lifting weights. In fact, you can gain many of the rewards with just two or three 20 to 30 minute weight lifting sessions a week. Advertisement

Gray suggests the following guidelines:

  1. Start slow with light weight that can easily be lifted several times without taking a break.
  2. Do three sets at that weight for 12 repetitions, with at least a 60-second rest between sets.

When it comes to incorporating weight lifting with a cardio routine, how you decide to do so is entirely based on preference, says Mike. Some people do it prior to cardio, after, or even on a separate training day. It all depends on your goals.

You can also do different types of weight lifting that focus on different parts of your body. For example, you may find it useful to train your upper body one day and lower body another. Or you can be even more targeted and work your back and bicep muscles one day, and your chest and shoulders another.Advertisement

Regardless of how you add weight lifting, it's important to be safe if you're new to it. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you get started:

  • Use proper technique. Having good form will help you avoid injury and set a solid foundation to lifting weights.
  • Start light, and add weight as you get stronger. You may even decide to use resistance bands or bodyweight exercises first to get used to the movements and workout.
  • Incorporate rest days between your weight lifting sessions. Taking a day or two off will allow your body time to recover. You can also alternate between upper- and lower-body lifting days to allow more time for your muscles to rest.

If you have a chronic condition like heart disease or diabetes, or are older than 40-years-old and you haven't been active recently, be sure to check with your doctor before beginning a weight lifting routine.

Takeaways

There are many benefits to incorporate weight lifting into your workout routine, from a more lean appearance all the way down to the cellular level. And if you're new to lifting, as long as you start slowly and listen to your body, you'll start reaping the rewards with your first session.Advertisement

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