Are People Who Lift Weights Dumb?It seems like there’s always been a bias that people who lift weights are dumb. There is a cliche image of big, musclebound lugs who have trouble constructing a sentence. While I’ve certainly seen my share of guys who can’t seem to understand complexity in the area of strength and fitness, I suspect I’d find the same proportion of them when discussing politics or philosophy. Nevertheless, I have written a few hundred articles with the closing salutation, Train With Your Brain, in an effort to push back against the tendency – however statistically common – of weightlifters to resort to trite macho bromides in place of well reasoned and engineered workouts. But it turns out I perhaps should have been saying, Train For Your Brain.

Three interesting studies on the subject of resistance exercise and brain function reveal cognitive benefits for weightlifters.

How Do You Get a Mouse to Pump Iron?

In a study in Brazil mice had weights tied to their tails and were made to climb ladders five times a week. They were compared to other mice who ran on treadmills or who just sat around doing neither. The weightlifting mice had the same increase in beneficial brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is believed to assist in  neurogenesis, or ‘brain building.’

Another study in Japan put mice on running wheels that were loaded up with resistance up to 30% of bodyweight. These mice packed on some muscle mass over a month of training. They also exhibited a spike in BDNF, thus improving their brains. The researchers speculated that heavy resistance training could provide the same or better cognitive benefits as endurance exercise does. To my ear, that’s a big win since endurance exercise is notorious for wear and tear on the body and strength training can be very brief and very infrequent.

Would This Apply to Humans?

Test with mice are interesting to read about, but how much of this transfers to us? Well, a Canadian study of 86 elderly women put them in three groups. One group performing weightlifting workout, one walked outdoor in an aerobics program and the third group did ‘balance and toning’ exercises. The weightlifting group achieved significant cognitive improvement compared to both other groups.

The truth is the very best medical minds still have no idea what the totality of proteins, enzymes, hormones and blood gases are doing in your muscles and brain when you pump iron or run a mile. But as science slowly peeks behind the curtain we continue to see many positive benefits for lifting heavy weights. In a world of Western demographic aging that’s some very good news indeed. And even a bonehead weightlifter should understand that. Haha!

What do you think? (comment below)

Train For Your Brain,


6 Comments. Leave new

  • Joe

    The people who think this are almost as ignorant as the Planet Fitness commercials and should continue to work out there.

  • Like other forms of bigotry, I think it’s just lack of trying to get information to correctly understand the world around us. The presupposition may go something like this: if they were smart enough to get a college degree (brains), then they wouldn’t have to engage in manual labor (brawn).
    I made the same mistake comparing myself to a man who is the same height as I am but 20 pounds more in body weight and single digit bodyfat – I’m closer to 19%. He works out every weekday for years and has large arms. I quit working out almost 20 years ago and was never able to bench press more than 195 pounds. Well, after starting SC in April and only having completed 6 workouts – I was able to bench press 285 with a full range of motion!!! Boy am I stoked!!! Thanks lots Pete!

  • Rene Kittelsen

    hehe, I used to think that gymrats who lift weights in the traditional way were “dumb”, because it is a lifestyle and you learn close to nothing, except EGO-building and get a new best friend “the-mirror”. Pete, you also point out they are “dumb” on several occasions, cause when they don’t ask the question “why?” they will never come any closer to better health or less tear and wear on the body. They just keep going until something breaks or worse STEROIDS…

    I changed gyms last week and there is a lot more people at the new gym, they are looking and wondering about the method and some pointed out it looked interesting, especially the women! hehe, and I’m currently showing a girl (which hates hitting the weights like I do!), and she really loved workout A! and soon after workout B, she states the feeling afterwards is like training 3-4 hours without breaks! (she trained with norwegians strongest man, a friend but what a “dumb” man hehe)

    I have trained a year now and I also had my ups and downs by doing little wrongs, and if I waist a workout (like to little rest), it will be 8-9 weeks until next workout, so I have to do it RIGHT EVERY TIME! Still learning though, and for some reason my brains says “this is to heavy!” but ey, the body get’s in position and the weight goes of the safety – 5 secs – Voila! it is done! Excepts the times where I have to add rest… Now it is 9-10 weeks rest between workouts, NICE!

    This method have changed my body, my mind and made my life physically, MUCH easier!

    Sorry for the long comment, but there it is 🙂

  • Gus

    Hi Peter
    I saw Anthony Hopkins on Conan O’Brian 10 years ago talk about the “smart training” and I loved the idea and the concept, I went online and looked the whole thing up then.
    I bought your e-book back then (Train Smart version 1.2) as well as the “Static Contraction Training” book (Sisco and Little) copyrighted in 1999 , but never did any of the workouts for multiple reasons.
    I finally decided to start working out NOW: I am 6’4″ 255lbs and need to lose a lot of fat!… but what confuses me is that you now have so many more e-books talking about different strategies.
    I am writing to ask you if there have been any major changes in the “Train Smart” book to warrant buying it again (Is it the new SCT book now?).
    How is it different than the Power Factor Workout? The latter comes with an excel file, does this file tell me at what weight I should use in my next workout and when (rest intervals)? If not, what is it supposed to do?
    In the Train Smart v1.2, I never figured out how to start and how to calculate the weight and times, is it better explained now?
    I am sorry if I have a lot of questions, but I do believe that your system “should” work, but I need you to help me decide which one to use from the different ones, so I can finally start – 10 years later!!

  • Irving

    This website is great! What an interesting idea, don’t even go into the dangerous/vulnerable ranges to lift weights! Stimulate muscle growth more specifically. If you look at the way we lift things in everday life and just look at the design of the human skeleton it would seem what you guys are suggesting makes a great deal of sense. If one was to take a fresh look at what is really the safest for the body and how the body is supposed to lift or hold weight I think you guys are really, really on the money. I suppose on could argue that lifting through a range of motion could contribute to muscle growth, BUT does this also do damage to the joints, connective tissue, etc.? Great stuff!

  • Irving

    I wonder how many people have read what you guys have written on here about “nociception”? There were some articles on here and some comments regarding this that make a great deal of sense.

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