About ten years ago everyone believed that to lose weight, get lean, and tone up you had to pound away on cardio machines. Burn more calories and you’ll look good right? Not so fast. Emphasizing “cardio” as the most important type of training to lean up and lose weight is very risky and unsustainable. The best way to develop a lean body is to pair it with super clean eating and a structured strength training protocol. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or get into a healthy all-inclusive fitness routine, prioritizing strength training is the way to go.
Body Composition Not Calories
When you only perform “cardio” and focus your exercise around burning “calories” the biggest drawback is a decrease in lean muscle mass. Most weight loss programs fail to preserve lean muscle mass because strength training isn’t emphasized enough and even when it is in the program, it fails because there’s too much “cardio” conflicting with developing body composition. There has to be a balance of both worlds. Too much of anything is never a good thing. A recent article from Women’s Health Magazine, quoted a study conducted by Penn State where researchers put dieters into three groups— no exercise, aerobic exercise only, or aerobic exercise and weight training—they all lost around 21 pounds, but the lifters shed six more pounds of fat than those who didn’t pump iron. Why? The lifters’ loss was almost pure fat; the others lost fat and muscle during their programs. The point here is that just because you lose weight, that doesn’t mean you’ve done anything to necessarily improve the bigger predictor of your ultimate health, body composition.
The After Burn Effect
Did you know some studies have shown that lifting weights can leave your body burning for up to thirty-eight hours after the exercise session? The concept of burning calories after intense exercise is known as “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” (or EPOC or short) so depending on what lifting exercises you choose, how you lift (rest periods and circuits) and how heavy the weights are, your body will accelerate the calories burned even when you kick your feet up on the couch. The more muscle you have the higher your metabolic rate will be because your body has to support maintaining that amount of muscle. Focus on training your large muscle groups for the biggest effect as well as lifting heavier weights. Contrary to popular belief, lifting heavy weights will not make you bulk, but actually promote the lean figure you’ve always wanted. When you lift heavy you’re training type II muscle fibers, which regulate your entire body’s metabolism and accelerate the fat burning process because of their full body power and how many muscle fibers they recruit.
Hone in Your Hormones
If it were all about calories in versus out, we’d all be tone, slim and fit. Unfortunately, our hormones play key roles in controlling our weight (nutrition still always the biggest predictor). When you use weights there is a potent effect on increasing testosterone levels in men and a better elimination of estrogen in young women, which promote lower body fat.
In the article, Ten Reasons Why Everyone Should Strength Train, the Poliquin Editorial Staff mention that “strength training increases growth hormone and IGF-1, both of which correlate with leanness. Lifting also leads to better regulation of the hormones related to hunger and energy use. It fights oxidative stress from cortisol (stress hormone) and related tissue-degrading hormones that have the side effect of damaging reproductive health if they are persistently elevated as well.” That said, your weight loss speeds up because you become less stressed, hungry, and are training the hormones in your body that promote getting you tone, lean and fit!