Be stronger than your air conditioner

During my internship this summer, I’ve been staying with friends kind enough to host me during the week. They have four older kids at home, and over dinner one night, one friend suggested to her 20-year old daughter that she a.) sit up straight, and b.) follow my lead and start lifting weights.

I stabbed at my salad and mentioned that the Pirates were sending four players to the All-Star game this year. 

Eliza looked from her mother, to me, and back to her mother.

“Why on earth would I want to lift weights?”

Her mother looked at me again.

"Four players to the All-Star game," I said. "That's the most since that time we sent...five..."

I like Eliza. She is a super smart kid with razor sharp wit and a dry sense of humor. I know she works out at college, mostly by getting on the elliptical machine or treadmill. I think she would benefit from strength training. 

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I don't generally talk people in to lifting weights. I don't generally talk people in to anything. (I was an awful salesperson). But the longer I thought about Eliza's question, the more I wanted to answer it. 

So here are five reasons I think Eliza, and anyone else, should include strength training in their fitness routine.

1. Improved posture

For most of my life, my dad yelled at me to keep my shoulders back. He even bought me a contraption that was meant to hold my shoulders in place. It was like a medieval torture device designed like a backwards bra with no cups. Or something. It was awful and awkward and served only to cut off the circulation in my armpits. And sad to say for me, all of the running I did during my first 15 years out of college didn't help my forward shoulder posture.

The one thing that has improved my posture most dramatically? A smart strength training routine designed to address that issue. Now? Now I could take an eye out with my boobs.  

2. Improved bone density

There is a lot of blahbedeblah blah science to explain how strength training improves bone density. But basically, as you start lifting weights, your body starts adapting by laying down more layers of bone. Onions have layers, ogres have layers, and hey, bones have layers too. And those layers get stronger as you lift weights.

The definition of osteoporosis is severely reduced bone density. The precursor to osteoporosis is osteopenia. Your bones are living tissue, which means they are constantly building and rebuilding. When you lift weights or participate in other resistance-training activities, your bones are stimulated to become denser. (National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases)

That might seem less important to 20-year old Eliza right now, but when 60 year old Eliza (or more likely, 60 year old Kim) does a faceplant on a sidewalk and her bones don't break, she'll be grateful. 

And for any of my female readers over the age of 30, increased bone density is all the more reason to start strength training now. 

3. Better metabolism

I think it’s interesting that when folks want to lose weight, their first choice is often running. I don’t know if that is the statistical truth, but it certainly feels that way. And it’s true that running burns, on average, 100 calories per mile. Ballpark.

But is running the most effective way to burn calories, if dropping fat is the endgame? Not necessarily. If you really want to get your metabolism going and raise your resting metabolic rate, the best method is to increase muscle mass. Muscle uses energy in the process of building, using, and maintaining it. So lifting weights, and having more muscle is going to help you burn more calories in the long run. In many strength training programs, you combine strength training and cardio. 

The question that often comes up, and that Jen Sinkler (check out her site) answers with a now famous phrase, is what do you do for cardio? Jen's answer is to lift weights faster. 

I would argue that anyone who does a turkish get up, sets of KB swings, and a variety of other strength training movements will have no problem getting his or her heart rate up. All while building muscle. 

4. I once heard a story about a woman who fell out of the window by hanging on to her air conditioner. Twice.

Be stronger than the air conditioner. (Full disclosure: it was a one story fall and she was fine.) 

5. I’ve never once regretted being stronger.

A few months into my strength training routine, I’d made some pretty quick gains. They were put to use when my friend and I came upon an elderly couple on the sidewalk. The husband had hit a bump and was thrown from his electric wheel chair. He was fine, but the wheel chair was on its side and there was no way they were going to right the chair on their own.

Judging by their expressions, they didn’t think the two of us smaller women would be much help. As it happens, we were able to lift the chair back on to its wheels with ease, surprising the couple. It surprised me too. Prior to really strength training I always just professed to having little upper body strength. Sometimes it was an excuse, and sometimes just a statement of fact. But I don't have that problem now. I'm stronger. 

And I have no ragrets.