Why lift weights?
Weight lifting is very important for those age 16 and up. You are never too old to begin a weight lifting program. In fact, it can add years to your life, years full of good health, activity, and energy. It also has been shown to help build bone mass which is very important in injury prevention, such as falling and break your arm or hip, and in maintaining good posture as we get older.
Many people avoid weight lifting because they do not want to add bulk. However, for the average population, training with resistance actually will be reducing bulk because muscle, built from resistance training, takes up less space than fat. The only way you can build bulky muscles is through lifting heavy weights and eating excess calories, more than your body needs, and having a genetically predisposed body that allows you develop large muscles. Bodybuilders that you see in magazines and in bodybuilding competitions lift very heavy weights 4-6 days a week and spend about 2-3 hours a day working out. They also eat lots of calories (upwards of 5,000 a day) and some even use weight-gain supplements or steroids in order to develop their unusual size. The majority of the population who lifts weights 2-4 times a week for about an hour will notice increased muscle tone, decreased bodyfat both within the muscle and subcutaneous bodyfat. However, you must pay attention to your diet and not consume excess calories or fat; you must reduce bodyfat in order to see the muscles you have built.
It also has been shown to help build bone mass...
After age 40, we typically lose half a pound of muscle every year and add a pound of fat. However, you can reverse this process and add muscle simply by doing a resistance workout 2-3 times a week. All it takes is one or two sets of each exercise, and enough repetitions to cause a slight "burn" in your muscles, usually about 10-15 reps for most people. Resistance workouts can include free weights, machines, resistance bands, plyometrics, and much more. Taking measurements, both bodyfat measurements and circumference measurements with a measuring tape, and taking pictures of yourself will help to give you feedback about your progress. Weight scales often do not reflect how much bodyfat you are losing and how much muscle you are gaining. Though you may begin to lose bodyfat and inches, the numbers on the scale may not change much because you will be adding muscle which weighs more than fat. Another way to keep track of your progress is to log your workouts. That way, you will be able to see the difference month by month in the amount of weight you are lifting and, if you keep track of the intensity level (felt hard, felt pretty easy, etc.), you will be able to tell if you are getting stronger on a consistent basis. Eventually, you will probably get to a level of strength, energy, and obtain a physique that you would like to maintain. So there will no longer be a need to keep increasing your intensity and weights and reps. You will simply need to be consistent by continuing the latest workouts which you have worked up to.
You can actually increase your metabolic rate, the rate at which your body burns calories as energy, by lifting weights. It is a common misconception that you must do hours of cardiovascular work each week in order to burn fat and increase your metabolism. However, weight lifting elevates your heart rate not only while you are working out, but for hours afterwards while your body is working to rebuild the muscles which you have broken down during your weightlifting workout. When you lift and lower weights (notice I say 'lower' because that is actually when you are stretching and lengthening the muscle fibers) it cause microtearing of the muscles. When you rest the muscles, they repair and rebuild thus growing stronger. This is why rest is very important. Exercising the same muscles in the same way without adequate rest can lead to overtraining and eventually injury. Give your muscles at least one day rest between workouts. If you are lifting really heavy weights and producing very sore muscles, you will want to wait 2, 3, or even 4 days before repeating a workout for that muscle group. During your workout, you can rest in one of two ways: actively or passively. If you want to make the most out of your workout in the shortest amount of time, you can do a Chest Press set, then a Lat-Pull Down set, then repeat those two. If you are lifting really heavy weights and need recovery time for your hands and forearms, you may want to wait 1-3 minutes between sets.
You can split your weight lifting workouts in many different ways: upper body and lower body; pushing exercises versus pulling exercises; chest and triceps, back and biceps, legs, and abs and shoulders, and more. Serious bodybuilders may lift weights for only one body part per day and do up to 12 sets for that one body part. Then, that body part has a chance to rebuild for 6 days before they repeat a workout that intense for the same muscle group. The general population is looking for muscle tone and strength therefore does not need to spend 6 days a week in the gym and wait that long between workouts. Generally speaking, once your muscle soreness has subsided, it is okay to work that muscle again. Elite athletes, such as bikers training for the Tour de France or Olympic athletes, do not take a lot of time off to recover. However, they have slowly built up their strength to be able to withstand multiple workouts back to back without compromising their health and risking injury. Start with light to moderate weights and see how your body responds. If you are so sore 1-2 days later that you are hardly able to get through your daily activities without discomfort, you lifted a little too hard. Back off the next time by reducing your weight by a few pounds or reducing the repetitions that you did in order to prevent injuring yourself and to reduce time you have to spend away from training due to being too sore. If you are very sore, do light cycling or walking to increase your circulation, then stretch lightly. A little bit of movement will help to flush out soreness better and faster than sitting still will.
It is best to work with a weight lifting coach or personal trainer to learn the correct form for lifting weights to prevent not only acute, or sudden, injury but also prevent doing any long term damage to your muscles or joints by lifting with incorrect form. They will teach you to lift larger muscles before smaller muscles, which allows your larger muscles to get the workout they need. For example, if you exhaust your biceps and triceps before you do chest and back work, your arms will be too tired to lift the weights needed to strengthen your chest and back. If you are lifting heavy weights, it is a good idea to have a partner to lift with so that they can spot you during your workout in case your muscles reach complete fatigue before you have set down the weights. Having a partner can help you prevent getting injured as well as provide companionship during a workout, and accountability on days when you might not feel inspired to go to the gym. Knowing he or she is at the gym waiting for you will usually be just enough to get you there, and their energy can help inspire you to have a good workout.
Make sure you talk to your doctor or health professional before starting a weight lifting program so that they give you clearance to begin. It is important to avoid doing anything that will exacerbate an old injury or health condition that you may have. Whether you do resistance training by yourself, with a partner, or in a class setting, you will soon reap the benefits of stronger muscles, fewer aches and pains caused by poor posture and weak muscles, and increased energy. Work consistently, work hard, and enjoy the results of resistance training.