When most people think of weightlifting, they think of huge bodybuilders with bulging muscles flexing in front of the mirror. For many people, those barbells and dumbbells can be intimidating, and the common thinking is that lifting heavy weights is only for people who want big muscles.
But after a month of training with Health and Performance Specialist Sophie Reid at Coastal Fitness Performance Training, I learned what a difference strength training can make.
The first step was an assessment with Head of Health and Performance at Coastal, Andy Bratsanos. Andy explained that while a lot of people think that cardio is the best way to get fit, strength training can do much more for your overall health. To make improvements in body composition, he says, you need to build muscle and burn fat. “Traditional cardio only burns fat,” he explained. “Strength training does both.”
More than that, it’s important to have a foundation in strength to be able to keep up with other forms of exercise. “For example,” said Andy, “if you enjoy running but don’t have the necessary strength to squat your own bodyweight, then how do you think your body is going to respond to the constant impact of running multiple times per week? No wonder you have sore knees and ankles!”
Andy also explained that women especially are concerned that they’ll become “buff and bulky” if they start lifting weights. But it’s not something to worry about, he says. Testosterone is the main hormone which helps build muscle, and women simply have lower testosterone than men. “You will not get arms like Arnold Schwarzenegger!” Andy exclaimed, adding: “Strength training is a fantastic way for women to lean up!”
Now it was time to put that to the test. In the first week of personal training, Sophie started things out slowly. Getting the movements and technique right is crucial to being able to build up the weights without injury. But even those low weights were a real struggle during those first few sessions. It takes time for muscles to loosen up, especially if they haven’t been used much.
Each session went through a series of different movements and exercises in several sets. For example, the first set might start with 12 repetitions (or reps) of split squats, and then move into 12 reps of dumbbell presses, and then repeat for four rounds. That would be followed by another round of two or three different exercises. Each session would end with an intense round of circuit training, which might include anything from burpees to rowing to pushing a weighted sled. Sophie kept motivation high with constant encouragement, but also made sure there was no slacking at any point.
Following the three personal sessions during the week came the group Strongman class on Saturday with Andy. Just as the name suggests, the whole point of the class is lifting heavy and getting strong. Pushing the weighted sled, carrying massive loads back and forth across the length of the gym, and swinging heavy kettlebells were all included in the routines. The exercises, outlined and demonstrated by Andy, were completed in mixed teams of both men and women so that we could all help encourage each other to finish strong and keep going.
As the weeks and sessions went on, the benefits of the training became more and more apparent. Once the muscle aches from underuse had stopped, the numbers on the weights started to go up. Being able to lift heavier each time was great motivation, and provided a constant sense of achievement. Weights that had seemed impossible during the first week were considered too easy by week four. And everything else felt better too. Waking up in the mornings was no problem now after a more restful sleep at night, and staying alert and focused throughout the day was easier too.
Andy explains that the benefits of exercise extend to every part of your wellbeing, both physically and mentally. “Staying fit and healthy is incredibly important for de-stressing and mental restoration,” he says. “Not only will you be able to physically handle any tasks which come your way, but you are also mentally prepared for anything too.”
While strength training is not easy, it certainly can be fun. Whether in the supportive group atmosphere of the classes, or simply being able to lift bigger and heavier weights on your own, there are endless sources for motivation. So grab a friend, grab some weights, and start getting strong!