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What If I Stop Weight Training?

As a Senior Fitness Counsellor for a major fitness training academy in India, I am posed the above question multiple times in a month. It could be from a 25 year old PYT (pretty young thing!!) or a 42 year old gentleman. The conversation goes somewhat like this:

Member: “I’ve heard, if you stop weight training, the body becomes ‘loose’, and you also gain a lot of weight. So, is weight training really necessary?”

I am amused and smile inwardly. Amused because here is a person who has not yet started weight training, but is already anxious about what terrible things would happen when he stops!!

I ask him or her, “The people who say this, do they regularly train with weights?”

Member: (sheepishly – with embarrassed laugh) – “No, they have never gone to the gym! They just go for their morning walk!”

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I enumerate to him the riches and wealth he would gain when he weight trains. He/she would get:

#1. Improved body composition – drop in fat and gain in muscle

#2. A healthy, strong body

#3. Improved posture – a confident and self-assured demeanour

#4. An attractive lean, muscular look (a pleasing firm and toned look for women)

#5. Strong bones with improved bone mineral density – lowered risk of injuries

#6. Greatly reduced risk of Type II diabetes (onset in adulthood)

#7. Improvement in lipid profiles (cholesterol problem)

#8. Improved cardiovascular health (healthy heart)

#9. Improved testosterone levels – positive influence on physical, emotional and sexual well being

#10. A great sense of well-being and achievement as you get stronger and kill greater poundage!

It is so easy to see logic and the Cause & Effect relationship in many areas of life. Stop brushing your teeth – mouth will be foul, stop taking bath – ugh! feel itchy, sticky, smelly and yes, dirty. Can one have everlasting clean teeth and body without brushing or bathing every day? No! Then how can one have permanent fitness gains with temporary efforts?

Will not the gains get reversed on cessation of weight training? Since we are not gifted with everlasting youth, let’s take a quick look at the effect of ageing on our muscles and bones:

#1. Bone density begins to diminish from about the age of 30 (Yes, it’s that early) – result – fragile bones, risk of osteoporosis

#2. Changes are seen in cartilage and connective tissue – leading to stiff joints, rigid and brittle tendons and ligaments, limited range of movement. Osteoarthritis is a common disease associated with aging

#3. Loss of muscle – again starts around age 30 – continues throughout life – the number and size of muscle fibres decrease resulting in Sarcopenia (degenerative loss of muscle mass). By age 50, muscle size shrinks by 20%; by age 80, muscle mass is down by 50%). Loss of muscle strength places unwanted stress on joints – especially knees and spine

All these debilitating and incapacitating effects of aging can be SIGNIFICANTLY slowed down by a program of weight training. By choosing not to weight train NOW, fearing the consequences on its cessation is throwing away the wonderful potentials of the present moment.

With our bodies, it is the simple principle of ‘Use it or lose it’. The question to ask is “How shall I go about strengthening my body?” and NOT “Should I weight train or not – is it necessary?” Unless you lift weights, you cannot strengthen. Period!

The need to strengthen is acute today – more than ever before. We belong to a generation where we have a new epidemic – that of inactivity. There is a new disease called Sitting – in our cars, at our work desks, in front of TV, in front of gaming consoles. We hardly move any more. Our day to day activities in the urban set up has come down so much that hardly any positive resistance is placed on our bones and muscles. Home-automation is the latest ‘in’ thing. One remote to control the air-conditioner, television, curtains, etc. No more do we have to get up from the sofa to attend telephone calls – the mobile or the cordless is practically attached to us. The last couple of generations has seen drastic drop in levels of domestic physical activity, work related activity (with increase in number of white collared jobs) and transportation related activity (kids these days are dropped to school by bus or car– very few walk or pedal it up).

It is not possible to be sedentary and healthy at the same time. Asking “What if I stop weight training…” conveys an attitude – that weight training is not something which is long term to be done regularly.

In India, going to the gym is not habitual. Exercise itself or physical activity is not integrated in daily life. Mostly it is seen as a ‘fix’ to get rid of excess weight or to tide over a health issue. There is also a psychological dimension to this, I continue… Discipline in one area has a positive spill over in another area. As long as there is weight training, there is better adherence to diet. One would hesitate to cheat or indulge. But with cessation of gymming, there will be little or no motivation to observe discipline in eating – but natural then, to put on weight.

The present moment is all that we have. Inside of this, we can take a preventive approach to our health and well being. So why speculate over an imaginary future scenario?

My parting shot to the person – Experience the benefits first hand… “Melody khao, khud jaan jao!”