*This one is for the men, but some of you ladies will find it inspiring too.
Some people think men lift weights purely for reasons of vanity- for bigger muscles and better looking bodies. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are many reasons to lift beyond looking good or for impressing the other sex. For the record, those reasons are perfectly valid and good. After all, people wear certain clothes to try to look good, drive nice cars to look good, pay for expensive haircuts, and spend a lot of money to make their houses attractive. The body is no different, it requires an investment to get it looking attractive and presentable. Out of a respect for others, and for ourselves, lifting for aesthetic reasons is not a bad thing.
Of course, you can take vanity too to an extreme, but wanting to be in shape and look good physically is no different than wanting to wear a nice suit or dress. When we look good we’re more confident, and it’s more respectable to other people to not look slovenly and out of shape in public. Lifting weights improves posture, widens shoulders, firms glutes, builds chests, flattens abdomens, and develops the arms, legs, and shoulders. Just like we straighten up our houses to make them look nice, strengthening and straightening the body makes it look better. Plus, modern life doesn’t offer many chances in daily routines to develop the body like lifting does. Even if someone has a manual labor job, it’s often the machine that does a lot of the work.
But that being said, there are other more important reasons to lift weights beyond the visual. Lifting weights improves our health. It makes our legs stronger for walking, running, or hiking. It builds the heart and lungs and boosts hormones that make us feel better and more energetic. It teaches us to breathe better and deeper. Any type of exercise is beneficial for the brain and memory, including lifting. Lifting also creates a psychological and emotional high, because exercise releases hormones like testosterone, growth hormone, and neurotransmitters like dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine.
Lifting weights increases bone density and muscle mass. Building and maintaining muscle mass throughout a lifetime will decrease the risk of falls and broken bones, and help us to control blood sugar. Controlling blood sugar and insulin over a lifetime by boosting muscle and metabolism will have major health benefits related to all sorts of age-related diseases.
Also, as I wrote in a previous essay, lifting weights in a gym can have positive social benefits:
Although there are totally rational critiques of gym culture, and I’d be the first to offer some of my own, I believe there are perfectly good reasons to go somewhere to work out. Most importantly, these reasons in support of going to a gym offer lessons for other organizations looking to draw in more people. By understanding the constructive reasons why people go to gyms, lessons can be learned about what people need and want in life. To put it simply, a gym is a “3rd place” and we desperately need more 3rd places.
I’ve made many friendships working out. The gym is what sociologists call a “3rd place”, a place that’s not home or work that people can socialize in. Churches, bars, coffee shops, and parks are other examples of 3rd places. It’s pretty easy to strike up a conversation with someone in a 3rd place, even with someone who you normally wouldn’t talk to. When I was a teenager, the gym was a relatively healthy place I could go to make friends and mostly stay out of trouble.
America is the most atomized and socially isolated country in the world. Deaths of despair, so-called because they involve many factors- moral collapse, social isolation, declining relative wages, family and marriage disintegration, drug and alcohol abuse, meaninglessness, and increased costs of living- are on the rise. 3rd places help alleviate some, if not nearly all, of the problems of despair. We need 3rd places more than ever. They help give people a place to go, to get out of social isolation, get some exercise, and get away from screens.
It’s good to go to the gym. Sure, working out at home is fine too, but for most people a gym offers unique benefits. In addition to the social benefits, there are pieces of fitness equipment like full dumbbell racks, bar squat racks, cardio machines and others, that are too big for most homes. Gyms also offer group classes, another way to meet people. So get off the couch, and go to a gym. You might be surprised how much you like it.
Lifting weights gives men a goal in life, it builds agency, and so it allows us to do more. Specifically, lifting is something objective, physical, and real that men can work to improve at. Getting stronger is an objective goal that men can work towards attaining. Some women may be interested in this too, but from my experience this aspect of lifting appeals to men more than women. Getting stronger builds a man’s dignity and self-respect. This isn’t some phony, abstract self-help self-esteem, this is real respect for oneself based on results by being able to lift more weight than the previous self could and lift more than most other men. Men get much pleasure and satisfaction from building strength, because physical strength is a masculine virtue. All other things being equal, a stronger man is a better man. To be stronger is to be better and men should strive to be better.
Men weren’t born and built to sit around on the couch, at their core men's bodies were built to be physical. We were built to do things, hard, challenging, and physical things. Modern life doesn’t offer men many opportunities to do manly things, but building strength is one such thing. Plus, we can often share our strength with others when we’re stronger. We can help build things, move things, lift things, and protect others. Even the simple presence of a strong man can be beneficial to our family, friends, and communities.
Lifting can be a habit that bleeds over into other areas of life like work, relationships, and into having more energy to do things too. Achieving little things can lead to achieving bigger things, this is how human psychology works. There are other reasons to lift, but these are some of the most important ones. It’s good for your body, good for your mind, and even good for your soul and community. So now one more thing. Go do it.
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