6 Things to Know About Weight Training

If you're new to weight training, it's important to understand what your body is going through. Your muscles react to different exercises in various ways and there are reasons why athletes shape their workouts to fit their exact goals. As a beginner, you'll find it beneficial to know a few basic facts about your new endeavor at the gym.


You Don’t Have to Be Big to Be Strong

Close-up of woman with barbell in gym

 Westend61 / Getty Images

Strength training involves training the muscles and the nervous system—together they make what is called the neuromuscular system. Having big muscles doesn’t guarantee that you will be stronger than someone with smaller muscles who train for strength. It depends on how you train and your natural ability.

For example, in 2003 at the age of 40, Raija Koskinen of Finland set a world record for the women’s squat in the 97-pound (44 kilograms) bodyweight class. She squatted an amazing 377 pounds (171 kilos), almost four times her body weight.

Keep in mind that bodybuilders emphasize more repetitions with lighter weights while strength athletes lift heavier weights for fewer repetitions.


Free Weights Activate More Muscles Than Machine Weights

Free weights generally require muscles other than those in the target muscle group to stabilize the weight when you move it. With machines, the weighted path is restricted and controlled by the structure of the machinery. As a result, fewer ancillary muscles are required during the lift, pull, or push.

Even so, machine weights do an excellent job of challenging muscles. You can get the best variety and results if you do a combination of both free weights and machine weights.


Steroid Abuse Has Serious Side Effects

Anabolic steroids are used to enhance muscle tissue growth and provide the ability to train harder and recover quickly from exercise-related stress. Unfortunately, they are still widely used in non-competitive activities for the enhancement of body size and strength. Most competitive sports have made anabolic steroid use illegal.

Anabolic steroids act like the male hormone testosterone. Due to this, the body tends to decrease its natural production of this and other important sex hormones when supplied with external steroids.

Side effects of the hormonal disruption may include shrinking (atrophy) of the testes and male breast enlargement (gynecomastia). In women, enlargement of the clitoris, a reduction in breast size, excess body hair, and disrupted menstrual cycle can occur.


Eccentric Exercise Makes You Sore

When you bend your arm to lift a dumbbell, the action you take is "concentric." This occurs when the joint angle decreases and the target muscle—the biceps—shortens. When you return the dumbbell to the starting position, you straighten the joint and lengthen the muscle in what is called "eccentric" movement.

As a general rule, eccentric exercise causes more muscle damage and soreness than concentric movement. Some weight trainers emphasize eccentric exercises because they believe it builds muscle faster. If you are going to focus on a slow eccentric contraction in your exercises, be prepared to be very sore.


It’s Difficult to Increase Muscle While Losing Fat

It is not impossible, but it is unlikely that you can lose body fat and increase muscle at the same time. The body does not deal well with contradictory metabolic phases—in this case, losing and gaining at the same time. The best you can probably hope for is to maintain muscle while losing fat.

Experienced bodybuilders tend to do this in two phases. First, they build up body bulk, including some fat, by overeating and weight training. In the second phase, they trim the fat and maintain the muscle with a carefully constructed diet while continuing their muscle development program.

In a weight loss program, continue to weight train during fat loss after your weight stabilizes. This will help you maintain muscle at an optimum level.


Weight and Aerobic Training Affect the Heart Differently

You may have heard the expression "enlarged heart." This refers to an adverse health condition in which the heart muscle, including the chambers of the heart, are enlarged. This abnormal heart enlargement occurs because the heart muscle is weakened by an underlying disease process (heart disease). The heart dilates to partially compensate for the weakened pumping action of the heart as a result of the disease.

In contrast, athletes tend to have enlarged hearts because of the amount of stress they place on the heart's pumping requirements to fuel their training and competing. Some degree of heart enlargement in athletes is usually a normal response to exercise.

It is not unhealthy, and may even be beneficial, though more research is needed to determine the full effects. Endurance athletes, like marathoners, tend to have larger chamber sizes while strength athletes, like powerlifters, tend to have thicker muscle walls.

The best outcome may well be a combination of both types of exercise: weights and aerobics.

A Word From Verywell

Weight training can be an excellent form of exercise that makes your body feel great and helps build your self-confidence. However, it is important to approach it in a safe manner. When you first start, it may be best to work with an experienced trainer so you can learn how to properly lift weights and avoid unnecessary injury.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Schott N, Johnen B, Holfelder B. Effects of free weights and machine training on muscular strength in high-functioning older adults. Exp Gerontol. 2019;122:15-24. doi:10.1016/j.exger.2019.03.012

  2. Yu JG, Bonnerud P, Eriksson A, Stål PS, Tegner Y, Malm C. Effects of long term supplementation of anabolic androgen steroids on human skeletal musclePLoS One. 2014;9(9):e105330. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0105330

  3. MedlinePlus. Anabolic steroids.

  4. Hody S, Croisier JL, Bury T, Rogister B, Leprince P. Eccentric muscle contractions: risks and benefitsFront Physiol. 2019;10:536. doi:10.3389/fphys.2019.00536

  5. Cava E, Yeat NC, Mittendorfer B. Preserving healthy muscle during weight lossAdv Nutr. 2017;8(3):511–519. doi:10.3945/an.116.014506

  6. Carbone A, D'Andrea A, Riegler L, et al. Cardiac damage in athlete's heart: When the "supernormal" heart fails!World J Cardiol. 2017;9(6):470–480. doi:10.4330/wjc.v9.i6.470

  7. Roca E, Nescolarde L, Lupón J, et al. The dynamics of cardiovascular biomarkers in non-elite marathon runners. J Cardiovasc Transl Res. 2017;10(2):206-208. doi:10.1007/s12265-017-9744-2

Additional Reading

By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.