Although there’s a myriad ways for people to get moving and stay in shape, there may be unique benefits to periodic weight training — especially with heavy, difficult weights.
According to Loren Chiu, an associate professor in the faculty of kinesiology, sport and recreation and a strength and conditioning coach with the Pandas volleyball team, weight training does a lot more than just build muscle and make us look a particular way.
“Weight training increases strength in the muscles [and] increases the size of muscles, which is what most people think of in weight training,” Chiu said. “It [also] increases bone density, which is a problem we see as people get older, especially with low physical activity levels; their bones get weaker and they’re more susceptible to breaking or other problems with having weak bones.”
Those gains in the gym can pay big dividends as people lose muscle mass and bone density as they grow older, and it is something that Chiu thinks students should be concerned about even while they’re young. Chiu also points out the positive affect weight training can have on students’ mental health.
“One of the things about weight training that’s really unique is that you can see that you’re getting stronger because you’re lifting more weight than you did one week ago or one month ago,” Chiu said, “There’s not a lot of types of physical activity that you can track like that. That has a lot of mental health benefits, that knowledge that ‘I am stronger.’”
While Chiu is speaking specifically of “heavy weight training” done with heavy weights for a small number of reps — usually 5-10 repetitions in a set — he also acknowledges that it isn’t necessary for everyone, nor does it need to be. What is most important is that people realize that weight training can be an integral part of a well-rounded fitness regimen.
“One of the problems with people who just do weight training is that there is very little cardiovascular benefits to doing weight training,” Chiu said, “So if all you do is weight training then you lose that part of it, but if all you do is running or biking you don’t get the strength benefits or the muscular benefits of weight training. A good physical activity recommendation is to get a variety of different types of physical activity.”
Weight training isn’t without its issues though, such as the potential for injury, a gym culture that can at times be off-putting, and what is often seen as a very high barrier of entry. With regards to many of these concerns, though, Chiu says the risk is often overblown, or it can at least be mitigated by following a few general guidelines.
“To reduce the risk for injury… as well as to increase the potential for someone to benefit from doing weight training, the best thing they could do is to work with a qualified professional,” Chiu said, “The other option that is becoming more popular is to do group weight training,” which Chiu said is positive because it “builds this nice culture, this environment of people working together, as opposed to ‘I’m in the gym by myself and there’s 300 other people that are in the gym all by themselves.’”
What matters to Chiu is that people know that weight training is an option for more than just bodybuilders, but is something that anyone can do.
“You don’t have to be really strong going to the gym [and] you don’t have to be in great shape,” Chiu said. “Weight training can be personalized and individualized for whoever’s doing it, which makes it a really good option for people of very low physical fitness and people of very high physical fitness, and everything in between.”