10/07/2013 05:23 EDT | Updated 12/07/2013 05:12 EST

The Surprising Health Benefits of Lifting Heavy Weights

It's gym time.

Or rather, should I say, it's "make myself as inconspicuous as possible while I sheepishly grab my corner elliptical for my morning cardio" time.

Unfortunately, as a fitness trainer, I see this happen too many times. Perhaps due to intimidation, many gymgoers, male and female alike, fall victim to the snares of the cardio equipment as the bulk of their weekly routine. It saddens me when I see this; the misconception of getting "big and muscular" from the introduction of weight training into a trainee's program moves them away from the barbells and dumbbells.

The Truth about Weight Training

In truth, weight training has much greater effects on fat loss, bone density, joint health and can even be used for cardiovascular improvements. The fact is, getting on the treadmill, elliptical, or bike are better than doing nothing at all, but depending on how frequently you use these machines, you could be doing your joints a disservice due to the repetitive strain that using them places on your knees and hips. Incorporating regular weight training can help strengthen the muscles that surround your bones, making them more stable, less susceptible to injury, and free of chronic discomfort.

To make matters worse, too much unresisted cardio can result in the loss of muscle tissue (referred to as atrophy), which leaves your bones at risk for joint damage -- all without doing too much to change your body composition.

And let's face it, most of us go to the gym (at least in part) to look better.

On that note, training total-body movements with moderate weights and low rest intervals (under 1 minute between sets) can create a training effect that's much more positive for the metabolism. Recent research suggests that a properly structured weight training interval workout can leave the body in a state of fat-burn for up to 38 hours following the workout.

Dispelling the "Big and Bulky" Myth

Making muscles grow does involve weight training -- to that I'll agree. But stay with me.

It also involves lifting weights at a particular intensity (that means how heavy the weights are), combined with a particular volume (that means just how many sets of a given exercise you do in each workout). Remove one of those two factors, and your muscles won't grow. That means you can even lift heavy weights, and keep the volume low enough with less sets of work so that your muscles won't grow as a result. But you'll still get stronger, which is always a good thing.

My point is this: When it comes to pumping some iron, you shouldn't be afraid. Look past the needle-jacked guy posing in front of the dumbbell rack between rounds of biceps curls and mid-set texting, and focus on the positive effects training with weights will have on you personally.

I'm sure you'll be glad you did.

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