Why should you lift weights?

Why should you lift weights?  Sure, you’ll look better at your next pool party but does it really improve athletic performance or prevent injury?  Well, washboard abs and chiseled biceps non-withstanding, improving muscular strength and function can help in a variety of ways.

A great deal of research has validated the effect of improving strength on endurance exercise performance.  Improved strength made runners and cyclists faster at the end of a long race, improved efficiency and increased muscular power.  One such study in which cyclists were asked to pedal at maximum intensity for five minutes at the end of a three-hour ride improved their performance when they combined their traditional endurance program with strength training.  The improvements were significantly greater than those of a group that only followed an endurance program only.

Play golf?  Researchers in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine concluded that, “Training leg-hip, trunk power and grip strength are especially relevant for golf performance improvement.”

But what does that mean for those that don’t regularly toe the line at the San Francisco Marathon or race Ironman Triathlons.  Well an unfortunate fact of aging is muscle atrophy and loss that begins in the 30’s and 40’s.  This loss in muscle, while sometimes offset by the purchase of a shiny sports car, can have far-reaching effects on the body, including but not limited to; decreased metabolism, weight gain, increased risk of injury and osteoarthritis.  If that’s not enough to send you racing to the gym, how about this fact; the age-related loss of muscle and strength can lead to a greatly increased risk of falls and fractures.  Additionally, a study in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism linked decreased quad strength with an increased risk of osteoarthritis.

The importance of muscular strength and function for the prevention and treatment of orthopedic injuries is well established.  For virtually every orthopedic ailment, improved strength can lessen the chance of being sidelined with injury.  A 2011 article in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found an association with lowered calf strength and the increased incidence of stress fractures in the lower leg.  Similar studies on swimmers have found that decreased shoulder strength increases the risk of swimming related injuries.  As mentioned in previous blog entries, quad and hip strength are important in preventing running related overuse injuries.

So if you’re looking for a reason to start using that dormant gym membership, whatever your motivation or activity level, strength training can improve health, reduce injury and enhance performance.