[Note: The scene above of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger in the documentary 'Pumping Iron' is hilarious but also a bit salty, not kid-appropriate. Also, it is included for its entertainment value but is by no means intended to portray him as a role model. This post discusses moderate, healthful weight training, not extreme body-building.]
The other day, I was in an awkward spot at the gym: The shoulder press positioned me face to face with a woman who was using an arm pull-back machine just a few inches away. As we sat oddly nose to nose, she made a friendly effort at pleasant conversation:
“I hate the weight machines, don’t you?”
Of course the correct answer for social easing was, “Like poison.” But I found I just couldn’t say that.
After an entire lifetime of despising and avoiding strength training, I’ve become a convert over the last year, to the point that I actively long for it when I skip more than two days. Unimaginable, right? The reasons are many, from now-effortless grocery-bag lifts to the sense that in one small way at least, I can fight aging and win.
My motivations are not only emotional, they are data-driven: “The research shows that strength training is really almost like the elixir for aging,” said Prof. Miriam Nelson of Tufts, author of “Strong Women Stay Young.” “Whether you’re 30 or 85, it helps you be as strong, healthy and vital as possible.”
The ideal routine includes both aerobic exercise and strength training, she noted, but “We know strength training is critical for maintaining and strengthening bones and muscles; it helps with glucose control; it helps with your cholesterol.” Also, sleeping better and mental health. “So it’s the physical as well as the functional and emotional.”
But let’s face it: Long-term effects and abstract data are just not enough to get most of us past our abhorrence of the leg press. And it’s almost New Year’s resolution time, so well in advance, here’s an evangelizing attempt to reframe the experience of strength training in terms of all sorts of actual pleasures and gratifications and even, yes, joys.
1. Sex – Arnold Schwarzenegger says it inimitably in the clip above:
The greatest feeling you can get in the gym, or the most satisfying feeling you can get in the gym is ‘the pump.’ Say you train your biceps. Blood is rushing into your muscles, and that’s what we call the pump. Your muscles get a really tight feeling, like your skin is going to explode any minute. It’s really tight, it’s like somebody blowing air into your muscle. It just blows up — and it feels different. It feels fantastic. It’s as satisfying to me as [...] you know, having sex with a woman… So can you believe how much I am in heaven?
For some mysterious reason, I couldn’t find a fitness expert who wanted to go on the record likening the engorgement involved in strength training to the engorgement involved in sex. But I can tell you that the comparison helps me in two ways: Continue reading