Everyone should lift weights.
No, I'm not saying to start cutting the sleeves off of all of your T-shirts and eating raw eggs for breakfast.
I'm saying that weight training is one of the single greatest ways you can spend your time here at the University of Tennessee. On top of the obvious – and less obvious – health benefits, weight training is an incredibly rewarding hobby.
There's something so wonderfully primal about picking up something heavy and putting it back down, only to find you can pick up even heavier things the next time you try.
Weight training has kept me sane through many years of intensive science courses – another love/hate relationship of mine – all the while pushing me to better myself.
First, let's get some misconceptions out of the way. Lifting weights is not about "getting big." Girls, you're not going to go full Hulk Hogan by picking up some dumbbells. Gaining mass is actually not as easy as one would think. This is why body building is a professional sport — it's difficult to do. So, you're wanting to burn calories? That's what's so incredible about lifting weights: the more muscle (not size) you put on with weight training, the more calories your body uses, even at rest.
Translation? Getting fit with weights has a snowball effect of getting you in continually better shape. A person that has done a month of weight training can eat the same food as someone who hasn't and will process it more efficiently.
Although cardiovascular exercise may raise your metabolic rates during the actual exercise, weight-bearing exercises can raise these same rates for much longer durations. It's kind of like you're working out, even when you're not working out.
The mistake that many people make is doing too much too fast. While this is perilous in all realms of gym-life, it is especially so in the weight room.
Weights, by nature, have a significant amount of weight to them.
Lifting them above you with incorrect form or underdeveloped muscles can result in gravity forcing them back down upon you. Your body has these amazing sensors in your tendons that tell your muscles to stop trying if they think that tearing is possible, so at times, whether or not you drop the weights is not even really consciously up to you.
It's hard to look up at a hundred and eighty pounds on a bar and tell it not to collide with your face when your muscles have already given up.
So start small. No one will laugh at you.
Even the types of people that look like they eat your body mass for breakfast started your size. When I first tried to bench press, I could barely lift the bar. It takes time to develop the auxiliary muscles used to keep everything balanced.
Want to make good progress and avoid weight-to-face contact? Use good form. YouTube is your best friend. Don't go and try to squat three times your body weight on your first day. Improper squats can do permanent injury to your back.
Take the time and do your research on the front end, and you'll get much better results. If you have a friend that lifts, tag along to the gym next time. Having a teacher and a spotter is a great start.
Lastly, have a routine and write everything down. Writing down your performance daily not only helps you know what to try next time, but it provides a diary of your own road to fitness.
It also makes you feel guilty when you have to leave a day blank after filling up so much white space on the page. Just take everything one step at a time, and you'll be hooked before you know it. Divide your muscle groups across the week and give yourself time to rest when you need it.
And don't you dare skip leg day.
Andrew Fleming is a junior in neuroscience. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.