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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Peterson, PT, DPT, CSCS

Why We Gym


Commercial Gym

When you think of why someone would go to the gym, what are the first things that come to mind? To lose weight? Build muscle? Look good? While those might be a few of the goals of going to the gym, those aren’t the only reasons. The purpose of this article is to discuss some additional reasons why you might go to the gym, shed light on some of the benefits that don’t usually get mentioned, and why we utilize the gym for our clients.


Background


Initially, commercial gyms were somewhat of an exclusive crowd to be a part of and were thought to be reserved for the already athletic and fit population, even though there were plenty of other people that could benefit from going to the gym. While the first fitness clubs or gymnasiums were present as early as the 1800s, the popularity of commercial gyms didn’t really boom until Gold’s gym opened its first location in 1965. At the time, exercise in general was not seen as something the entire population needed - only pro and amateur athletes and those looking to compete in bodybuilding shows or walk around in swimsuits needed to utilize the gym. The first recommendations of exercise for the public by a governing body came from the American College of Sports Medicine in 1975 that mainly focused on aerobic exercise (think walking, running, biking, etc.). It wasn’t until 2008 when the first set of Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans were introduced that muscle strengthening activities were talked about with the 2008 guidelines stating a recommendation of at least 2 times per week. These recommendations came in the wake of compounding research that showed the health benefits to exercise and the importance of maintaining muscle and bone health by including muscle strengthening and not just aerobic activity.

Resistance Training


The research on the health benefits has continued to grow and at this point, most people know that they should exercise because it is good for them. Yet, there is still a big problem of sedentary lifestyles and inactivity, especially with Americans. To take that a step further, even those that are doing a good job of meeting the aerobic components of the Physical Activity Guidelines, aren’t getting enough (or any) muscle strengthening activities in. Awareness of the importance of maintaining strength is growing but we are still not there yet. Even primary care physicians will still discuss the importance of doing aerobic exercise to improve cardiorespiratory health to decrease chances of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and more, but they don’t often include the important component of resistance training in that discussion.


So that you have a reference of what we are working off of here, the current Physical Activity Guidelines for American Adults are:

  • 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity OR 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week

  • Muscle strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups 2 or more days per week


These are the minimum dosages that have been proven by the research to help offset the risk of multiple comorbidities (that alone should be a good enough reason to want to regularly participate in physical activity). However, as mentioned, a lot of people will get the aerobic component, but miss out on the muscle strengthening part, and in the next section, we are going to discuss why this might be one of the most important pieces of the puzzle.


Resistance Training


What do we mean when we say ‘resistance training’ anyway? There are many ways to do resistance training, but some common ones include using weights, machines, bands, or your own bodyweight with the main goal of being to apply force using our muscles and joints against the resistance. When we do this, a lot of things happen. We won’t get into all of the finer details with this, but there are a few things, as far as how the body responds, that should be mentioned. The obvious one is that our muscles will get stronger as our bodies are very good at adapting and when we take a tissue close to its limits, the body responds by making sure that tissue is stronger for the next time it experiences a similar stress. Some of the not-so-obvious changes in the body are that our bones become stronger (research shows that resistance training is one of the best ways to improve bone mineral density, even in people with osteoporosis), tendons and ligaments become stronger, and our joints move better.


But why does all of that matter? I think we can all agree that stronger bones are always a beneficial thing, especially as we age because the risk of fracture increases. Additionally, improving our muscle, tendon, and ligament strength, along with our joint’s ability to move allows us to keep doing the things we love. And not only the things that we love, but the things that are necessary. You have to have strength in your legs to be able to stand up from the toilet, otherwise, you are going to need assistance from somebody. You want to play with your kids or grandkids? It takes muscular strength to pick them up or do the activities that they want to do. If you’re planning to plant a garden and you are able to lift 100+ pounds in the weight room for multiple repetitions, moving a 50 pound bag of potting soil is going to be much easier than if you couldn’t. The gym, and resistance training in particular, is a way for us to increase our capacity to function as humans and take part in the activities that we need and want to do - having good heart and lung health is an important part of that, but your muscles and tendons are the things that are moving and propelling you through space, so make them strong! There’s a reason that professional athletes across all sports place a large emphasis on getting into the weight room, so that they can increase their functional capacity. And while ours doesn’t need to be to that extreme, being more capable in life will go a long way.


Playing with your kids

Another HUGE benefit of exercise, and again, resistance training in particular, is the impact it has on mental health. The research keeps growing and growing on this topic and keeps saying the same thing over and over - exercise and resistance training are just as powerful, if not more so, in improving mental health when compared to medication. This Instagram reel from one of our favorite people in the health and fitness space highlights a study that demonstrated very powerful effects on depression with resistance training - and that is just one of many.


Discussion


Hopefully this article has shed some light on some of the reasons why going to the gym is beneficial outside of just building muscle and trying to look good. We all have our why and the things that we enjoy in our lives. If we could take a small chunk of time out of our week to do something that has been proven (by science) to increase our ability and capacity to do those things, would that be worth it? We think so, and we will keep preaching and encouraging that. If you want to get stronger and better at doing all of your favorite activities, are unsure of where to start, or are limited by pain, we are always here to help!

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