Are There Negative Effects of Heavy Weight Lifting?

By Michelle Yip

If you watch videos online, you may have come across some that give us an inside look into the world of weight lifting, or you may simply be into the sport yourself. Some of the videos even depict the strength of such athletes by showing them having the ability to pull small airplanes by their waist. Weight lifting has been one of the most popular competitive and non-competitive sports out there. There are various famous faces of athletes who are recognized for their high levels of muscle mass and are world champions for their abilities to train and lift heavy weights. It is well known that completing about thirty minutes of aerobic exercise a day with balanced meals is vital for a well-rounded lifestyle. Videos showing the lifestyle of a heavy weight lifter often depict extremely high levels of protein and calorie in-take, along with physical stress and excursion to the body to attain new highs on the body. So what does this stress do to the body long term? Can over-exercising, such as body building, lead to medical problems later in life? If something such as overeating can lead to diabetes and high blood pressure, what can over-exercising do?

As an example, Arnold Schwarzenegger is famous for his bodybuilding career, in addition to his filmography and his political career. In his bodybuilding career, he has won many first places and several second places. He was a dedicated athlete who was passionate to sculpt his body, to say the least. That being said, his day to day life was focused on weight training and eating. According to an interview given to Schwarzenegger, the athlete trained twice a day, the first session being very early in the morning before the sun rose (typically 7am.). Many times, he would also train at the Muscle Beach during this time, an outdoor gym by the beach that allowed him to tan at the same time he trained. He had a few training partners and friends, including Franco Columbu. Those two would reminisce about how they ate more than three meals a day, where each meal contained everything you can think of. A typical person’s plate would show one meat or poultry group whereas, their plates contained multiple meat or poultry groups. Schwarzenegger trained again at the end of the day, aiming for improvement for his competitions.

Evidently, the regimen of a bodybuilder involves a lot of strain. So what is the biology behind bodybuilding? According the Built Lean, a website dedicated to bodybuilding, the three components to muscle growth include muscle tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress. Muscle tension refers to increasing efforts and mass over time to build the ability and stamina of the muscle. Muscle damage refers to lactic acid production, inflammation due to excursions, and the release of what is known as “satellite cells.” Such cells allow for regeneration and regulation of muscles and muscle groups. Finally, metabolic stress refers to the response of the body and its cells to cell stress and an excess level of excursion. Although this sounds detrimental and overall daunting, it is not. All three are experienced by everyone. For example, a person who typically runs two miles a day will undergo muscle tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress if they decide to run three or four miles. A person who typically bench presses ninety pounds will undergo all three if they begin to bench press a hundred pounds. Any increase, even the slightest, will lead to such a result.

With everything that is both necessary and unnecessary in life, the recommendation is moderation. We eat in moderation, we sleep in moderation, we take leisure (or we should) in moderation. This ideology goes the same with exercise. An article written by Darwinian Medicine, a site that strives for using and understanding genetics to better health and medicine, suggests that body building habits can cause “suboptimal gene expression.” Many body builders rely on eating very large amounts of food along with using supplements such as protein to help their work in training. The writer suggests that similar to how the body has a limit for everything, the body also has a limit to how much exercise it can handle and what is considered actually healthy. Placing large amounts of strain onto the body can lead to damage to the systems of the body including immunity and cardiovascular. The writer stems this belief based on studies and conclusions done on stress on the body along with understanding evolution. The diet and habits are also considered extremely different when compared to early people. Nomadic humans underwent long periods of time with constant exercise (running, walking, hunting, building, etc.) but such physical labor is not comparable to what a body builder does. There are also studies that support mental health and bodybuilding. A person can become obsessed with body image and develop a bad body image over time.

Body building has been a largely enjoyed competition filled field that both the consumers and competitors enjoy. Famous people such as Arnold Schwarzenegger have dedicated a majority of their lives to bodybuilding and entering competitions. Even today, social media is full of body builders. The Instagram Explore Page will contain a few bodybuilding users showing off their abilities. Although this lifestyle is full of excruciating hard work, such work may not be exactly healthy to the body. An excess intake of a certain substance will lead to negative result in the end. For example, an excessive intake of a high fat diet can lead to high cholesterol later in life and even elevated risks to strokes and heart attacks. An excessive intake of sugar can lead to diabetes later in life along with other health hazards. A regular diet is in need of sugar and fats, but the important part of bringing such macromolecules into the body is in moderation. This idea can be applied to exercise. A healthy lifestyle incorporates exercise but over-exercising leads to high levels of stress to the body. In the end, the research behind bodybuilding is limited. But it is seen that over stress to the body has the potential to lead to damage to the systems of the body. In addition, physical training aside, the abnormal intake of factory made protein supplements and other supplements to enhance results can also cause excessive strain on the body.


A Day In Arnold's Life: The Perfect Routine To Build The Perfect Body. (2018). Retrieved 24 March 2018, from

Leyva, J. (2018). How Do Muscles Grow? The Science Of Muscle Growth. BuiltLean. Retrieved 24 March 2018, from

Yin, H., Price, F., & Rudnicki, M. (2013). Satellite Cells and the Muscle Stem Cell Niche. Physiological Reviews, 93(1), 23-67.

Cherry Lam