“I want to get more fit.”
“What about getting stronger?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“You guess so?”
“I mean, I just really want to tone.”
“A strong muscle is a toned muscle!”
“Oh…yeah..I hadn’t really thought of it that way.”
“Wouldn’t it be nice to make your kids lighter?”
Why Lift Heavy Things
There was a time in your life, probably when you were a kid, when you were excited and challenged by something heavy. You would try to push or pull your family’s ottoman or couch across the room. Or maybe you would try to get that big heavy gallon of milk up onto the counter.
Somewhere along the way, you stopped feeling excited by heavy things and started seeing them as “work.” We’re gonna try to reframe that today.
Without even knowing it, when you were a kid, you were doing yourself magnificent favors by moving and lifting heavy things. You were never really concerned about exactly how much things weighed. You wanted to simply help your mom carry the big bag of potatoes from the car. At first things were heavy, but before you knew it, you could really help out. It felt good to be strong!
Along with getting stronger, there was a whole host of other things that were happening to your body as you challenged it with heavy things. And if you kept it up, you’d probably be surprisingly strong.
In general lifting heavy things (as adults, we sometimes call it “weight lifting”) is known to not only improve muscle function and shape, but can also have a very beneficial effect on insulin sensitivity, visceral fat, blood pressure, cholesterol (both kinds), triglycerides, bone mineral density and cardiovascular health. Yeah, that’s all backed up by research too.
With all these sweet benefits, it’s curious that more of us aren’t heading to the weight room. Some people can even admit to wanting to be stronger, but are held back by the intimidation of the traditional weight room or a concern for lifting safely. We’ve started to address HOW you should be moving, so we’re hoping that your confidence is building enough to start giving yourself a challenge here and there.
How Heavy is Heavy
What’s important about the term “heavy” is it’s a completely relative term. This means, what’s heavy for you is probably different, and sometimes VERY different than what’s heavy for someone else. To get the benefits that I’ve listed above, the weight you’re lifting only has to be heavy FOR YOU. There’s no need to compare your heavy with someone else’s. So, no pressure.
Now I know what you’re thinking. You want an exact number, some place to start, like 20 pounds or 20 kilos. I’m going to help you here. I really am, but it’s going to be very individual. And it’s going to be a little challenging to coach you all from the internet.
You need to lift something heavy enough that you hold your breath. For some of us, we hold our breath when we get up out of a chair (you never even noticed, did you?). That means that your own body is going to be enough for a while. It also means that you should do a few sessions of Tabata Squats every week, and maybe dial in that nutrition until you can talk while you stand.
Your body is naturally protective, and has a few safety mechanisms in place that work against you lifting things that are too heavy. This mechanism will usually make you, automatically, hold your breath when anything that requires a bigger exertion comes your way. If your car stalls in the middle of the road and you have to push it, you’re going to naturally hold your breath as you give it a shove.
Luckily for you, I’m not going to suggest that you go push your car around…yet. ;) But you may notice this natural holding of breath happening with other things that can get heavy, like groceries, a big bag of laundry, or your kids/grandkids.
How Heavy is TOO Heavy
Now, we don’t want you to get hurt. Especially if you have a previous injury, it’s not a bad idea to find someone who can help you correct your movement in person, like a personal trainer or coach. This way they can actively see if there are any changes that need to be made. For the rest of us, who may not have access to a coach: If you can’t move it on your first try, then you’re done trying.
The easiest way to get injured is to try to move something heavy, but it doesn’t budge. You get a little frustrated and try to “make” it move. Bad idea. If it wants to stay on the ground that bad, let it stay.
What Should I Lift
One of the easiest ways to practice picking up heavy things is to load an old backpack with a few heavy items. Books, stones, or even dirt/sand will work. You may have a cinder block, an old tire, or even a 5 gallon jug of water lying around that could use moving and would love to contribute to your new strength goals.
When you first start, all you need to do is squat down with a straight back, and pick it up. Just to waist height. You don’t have to lift it over your head, or to your chest or anything, just getting it off the ground, high enough to load it onto a small bench is enough. If you held your breath automatically, then it was heavy enough to activate some of those sweet changes that we talked about earlier.
We’re really talking about deadlifting, and we’ll soon have a whole post about form, for those of us that want to get really heavy!
So there you go! Now go find a kid or a bucket of sand, and pick that stuff up! Your bones and body will thank you.