Monday, July 26, 2010

Importance of Weight-Bearing Exercises

Few days back at the gym, I was relaxing in the Jacuzzi after an intense run on the treadmill. A friend walks in  and starts chatting with me. He must have seen me - running my heart out, because he started giving me fitness advice. His concern was that running is dangerous for me due to my age. He recommended that the best form of exercise for me would be swimming (which is what he does regularly).

I looked at his pot-belly and liberal love-handles, while deciding how seriously I should consider his advice.

Now don't get me wrong. I have nothing against swimming. It is a good and fun way of working out. But I believe that whatever exercises we do should be relevant to what we do in real life. We are not fish and we don't live in water so I don't see much point in swimming. Of course, there is that oft chance that I will be caught in the middle of the ocean in a boat that has just capsized and no life-jacket and my swimming skills will save my life. But if I have no plans on travelling in unsafe boats without life-jackets, I don't see how swimming can be a useful skill to acquire. My Dad literally lived in the sea his entire life - mostly fishing - and he still does not know swimming.

So what are the skills that we need to acquire? Here are some examples that I encounter on a regular basis.

1. My wife calls out "Honey, can you bring down that carton?". The said carton weighs somewhere around 20-30 kilos and I say a small prayer hoping that the weight of the carton does not cause some horrible back injury.

2. We visit a friends place who happens to live on the 8th floor. The lift is out of order and we have to make a difficult choice whether to climb all the way up or just drive back home. When we decide to climb up, the small one finds it difficult to climb the stairs, and I have to carry her the rest of the way.

3. I am at the airport carousel waiting for the luggage to arrive on the conveyor belt. I wait in apprehension to pull the heavy suitcase off the conveyor wondering all the time if my spine will break while lifting the suitcase.

4. We stop the car at the signal and suddenly the engine goes kaput. I am forced to put the car into neutral and push it to the side of the road so it does not block any traffic.

5. I go to the government office for some work and spend the better part of the day walking  from one building to another trying to get 100 signatures from 100 different people.

Can you see the common theme here? Basically, our daily activities consist of walking, climbing, pushing and pulling stuff. All of these activities force us to push our body or some object against the gravity.

These, in essence, are weight-bearing activities - and if we are to do these activities in comfort, we need to do weight-bearing exercises. The definition of weight-bearing exercises is

"Weightbearing exercise is any activity you do while on your feet and legs that works your muscles and bones against gravity." Source:

Swimming, Cycling, Elliptical etc. are NOT weight-bearing exercises, because they don't stress the bones and you are not fighting gravity when performing these exercises.

Now coming back to my friends concern of me getting injured with running. Of course, there is always a risk of injury in any exercise, if not done properly. Scientific data proves that weight-bearing exercises place stress on the bones but instead of damaging the bones, our body sends its troops to fix the stressed area by increasing the bone density, making them stronger.

This is something I learned the hard way. When I first came to Kuwait, I decided to stay fit and started running. After a few weeks, my knees started paining like hell and I thought I will damage them if I continued running so I stopped - and eventually turned into an overweight person. The information that is available today  through the internet was not available at that time.

When I re-started my running program 2 years back, I did it the right way. i.e. start slow and easy. If I felt any pain, I would immediately stop and take a few days rest. But the difference this time was that I would get right back on the treadmill once I felt better. The pain disappeared and eventually, I found I could increase my running speed and time. Now I can run a half-marathon in 2 hours. That may not win me any marathon races, but to do something like that at my age is something amazing.

To conclude:
  - Swimming. It's meh. Do it if you find it fun, otherwise, give it a pass.
  - Walk/Jog/Run/Sprint/Climb or anything that forces you to push and pull (such as weight-training): It's a go!


  1. Piont well taken. I mostly swim for Flexibly and to stretch my muscles. Also it’s a great way to work on your heart and lungs. But I see what you mean; it’s not something that can be useful in real life situations. Not daily anyway. Maybe once in a blue moon.

    And like you said and activity can be dangerous if not done properly.

  2. Swimming is actually a great exercise as it works your whole body - but my problem is with people who think it is the only good exercise, and ignore those exercises which would help them retain their bone density - which is very crucial as we become older, especially to do normal day-to-day activities and thwart off the disease of Osteoporosis.

  3. with the amount of heavy weight squats I've done over the years I think I'm quite dense now. :D
    I mean bone density not thick in the head LOL!

  4. Can I just give a big "amen!" and leave it at that? Oh probably not, because I have a big mouth and have to say something ... but I really LOVE what you've written.