Resistance training – the use of bodyweight, free weights (and now machines and other equipment) to resist movement – have been utilised by peoples dating as far back as the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, to increase an individual’s strength, athletic ability and effectiveness in combat. Depictions in ancient Egyptian tombs show groups of men lifting, throwing and swinging bags of sand, while the Greeks trained at gymnasiums to compete in public games (athletes at public games competed naked, to encourage aesthetic appreciation of the male body and in a tribute to the Gods).
The historical connotations of a muscled, aesthetic physique are that of a powerful, healthy individual, a strong warrior, athlete and bread-winner. These have been ingrained in human nature by natural selection, “survival of the fittest,” by the paganism of the ancient civilizations, their depiction of Gods and Heros, and then by religion.
But gone is the age of the hunter-gatherer, the gladiator, the feudal warrior, the Knights of the Round Table. In post-industrial Europe and America, we have easy access to everything we require and being fit is no longer a necessity to survive!
While being fit is no longer a necessity, the human body and mind has not yet adapted to the modern way of life. We are still wired to survive pre-civilization, constantly expecting a time of famine, so we naturally seek out energy dense foods (those high in sugars and fat) which we then store as energy reserves (fat) if we ingest significantly more calories than needed to sustain our bodies. Coupled with a lack of exercise, we have been getting fatter and unhealthier – imposing a multitude of health risks upon ourselves and families – this is the obesity pandemic we are seeing spread throughout our society.
Health is so often the source of happiness or unhappiness, hence the Latin quote ‘Mens sana in corpore sano’ (a sound mind in a healthy body) is used by so many institutions. Therefore it makes sense to change your health for the better, the key aspects that affect it being:
Focusing on exercise
Exercise such as jogging and cycling are essential for cardiovascular health; increasing the strength of the heart, improving blood circulation and utilisation of oxygen, and reducing fat and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. But by itself, cardiovascular exercise will do little other than strip an individual’s body to their minimal functional muscle: examples of this are long distance runners and Grand Tour cyclists.
Achieving a more athletic physique, similar to that of Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt or Jessica Ennis requires the use of resistance training – which offers many benefits that cardiovascular exercise does not:
- Increased muscle, bone, ligament and tendon strength
- Increased joint function
- Increased bone density
- Accelerated bone repair, and even bone growth in older participants
- Reduced muscle wastage in over 30’s
- Elevated HDL levels (good cholesterol)
- Stimulation of the CNS (central nervous system)
- Stimulates muscle growth and increases muscle tone
- Increased Basal Metabolic Rate via increasing muscle mass
Therefore I would advocate resistance training to anyone wishing to improve their health, physique and sporting performance, who meets the following criteria:
- Is of an able body, with no health concerns or injury
- Is above the age of 14 or of post-pubescent morphological development
- Is under 20% body fat as a male or 30% body fat as a female
The reason I believe people above 20/30% body fat should not initially consider a resistance training program is because it is more important they concentrate on improving their cardiovascular health and reducing their body fat in a safe manner, rather than attempting to build muscle.
Finally, ladies, don’t think doing push-ups or picking up a dumbbell twice a week will turn you into a she-hulk or Jodie Marsh, because it won’t. But what it will do is tone you up and improve those saggy and wobbly areas. And gents, don’t avoid stepping in the weights room because you’re intimidated by the other guys in there. Remember – they all started out just like you! Don’t be afraid to ask for tips either, chances are people will be flattered you want their advice!
So there it is – there are really no excuses for you to be avoiding resistance training!
But remember, if you really are unsure; consult with a doctor or physician before starting any new exercise program, diet or dietary supplement.