As much as I write about movement and calisthenics, I do still spend a fair amount of time weightlifting. And to be completely honest, I love it. It may sound like a complete meathead mentality, but I really do like pumping iron!
Regarding my emphasis on movement and gymnastics inspired training, I view weightlifting as complementary to helping me achieve my goals, not opposing.
And so this week I thought I would take a moment to give you an overview of just how weightlifting can be a great thing – an article in defense of weightlifting. So cut the sleeves off of your favorite T-shirt, mix a protein shake and let’s get started!
Here’s a little experiment that I want you to try. You’re going to need a gym with windows. You don’t even need to be a member of this gym, you just need to be able to walk by it.
OK, pick a busy time of the day and take a moment to watch all the people exercising in the gym through the windows. And to really get a feel for what I’m trying to convey you need to be free of all distraction. So, no talking on the phone or listening to music.
Just look through the windows and watch all the folks lifting barbells and running in place on a machine with a TV. They’ll be dressed in a kaleidoscope of different workout attire that probably cost more than the clothes they wear to the office. Some people will have big headphones, others will be wearing earbuds, some will have bulky cell phones strapped to their arms, etc.
And similar to watching a music video without the sound on, I think you’ll understand that a lot of what we consider fitness today is, well, relatively silly. We almost resemble gerbils running around endlessly in a cage – the simulation of movement.
It’s very interesting that humanity has come so far as to need a system to keep our bodies in shape, lest they atrophy from inactivity as a consequence of our sedentary lifestyles.
But I said that I enjoyed this sort of thing, didn’t I?
My reasoning for encouraging you to peer through the window is two-fold:
1. To help you understand how most people view fitness – that it is redundant, seemingly meaningless and boring.
If you read this blog then you probably are a bit of fitness nut yourself. Maybe you’ve been at it for 10 years, 15 years, maybe even longer! And once you’ve spent some time lifting weights or doing group training you start to become very comfortable with the whole thing.
But most people aren’t comfortable with it. Most view the weight room as an extremely intimidating environment. But if you understand how many people view the concept of resistance training you’ll understand their perspective better.
2. That weightlifting is sort of silly
Yes, when we lift weights, we really are just picking up heavy things and then putting them right back down again. We make funny faces and grunt and look at ourselves in the mirror too much. It is what it is.
However, it’s far more than just that. Experienced weightlifters know their stuff. And lifts like the squat and deadlift are very technical.
So, what is it then that makes resistance training worth your time?
It’s synergistic with just about anything
As I mentioned earlier, I focus on calisthenics and gymnastics inspired training for my own personal physical development. But I still include a significant amount of weightlifting in my weekly routine.
However, I am less concerned with PRs and more concerned with work capacity. In other words, I’m not chasing a huge bench or big squat, but instead, I want to be able to handle the weight for a long time. Also, lifts like the squat and the deadlift are fundamental human movement patterns and it’s really important to train these movements.
Lifting weight can also aid in enhancing your mobility. A lot of weightlifting movements do a good job of encouraging you to move through your full range of motion.
That’s right, I’m about to argue that weightlifting can have meditative qualities.
At the risk of opening a can of worms, I’m going to attempt to define what it means to meditate. Regardless of your background or bias, I am willing to bet that you’d agree with me (or, Wikipedia, for that matter) that meditation is “…an internal effort to self-regulate the mind in some way” (1).
And just like yoga, lifting weights is all about the breath. You learn to both exhale and inhale as an aid to your movement. Sometimes, you even learn to hold your breath to facilitate your heavy lifts and keep your body safe (e.g. valsalva maneuver). But unlike most mainline yoga, resistance training helps you learn how to breath under stress.
In fact, the first thing most novices do when they pick up something heavy and try to manipulate it is that they forget to breath! But advanced lifters have learned to apply their breath in the most effective way. So, just like many meditative techniques, you’re taking something that you can control – your breath – and using it to regulate your body and mind.
And so it’s not a stretch to suggest that there is a strong mind-body connection that is nurtured in the weight room. Or, at least there could be.
In addition, no matter what else may be going on in my life, it all fades away and just becomes background noise when I have a heavy barbell that needs moving. I have just one thing that I need to focus on.
Weightlifting may not be for everyone, but I honestly think that most people just don’t understand it.
And when you see many of the personal trainers out there training novices to squat with a barbell or to stand on a BOSU ball and perform bicep curls, it’s easy to understand why weight room criticism is so prevalent.
But lifting weights is only silly when looking in from the outside. Because when you really start to understand how to lift and to make that mind-body connection you begin to realize just how fun and practical it can be to lift heavy things and get really strong.
So, what’s your take? Are you a weightlifter muscle junkie like myself that got roped into all this movement business? Or, have you stayed away from the weight room for exactly the reasons I outlined above? If the latter applies to you, I hope that I’ve helped to convince you that lifting weights need not be territory reserved for muscle bound guys in tank tops, but that lifting iron can supplement your calisthenics training and help you to get into positions and poses for which you lack the required strength.
Plus, as an added benefit to becoming a weightlifter, you’ll discover a whole new genre of jokes!
By Ryan Wagner
We all know someone who views resistance training as silly and pointless, but that could really benefit from being more active. Consider sharing this article with them. Who knows, maybe they’ll become your gym buddy!
(1) Definition of ‘meditation:’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MeditationIn defense of weightlifting by Ryan Wagner