The secret to changing your body composition is strength training. Many women shy away from lifting weights because they are afraid that they will bulk up and they’ve bought into the myth that cardio is the key to weight loss. The fact is, for most women, bulking up is virtually impossible. And though cardio is essential for good heart health, strength training delivers a whole lot more bang for your exercise effort.
What strength training does is boost your metabolism, reduce your body fat, and sculpt your muscles. If you want to change your body composition, your best bet is to lift more.
“If I lift heavy weights I’ll look like a dude!”
No. No you won’t. And here’s why. Just like you lose weight by running a calorie deficit, you gain weight, even muscle weight, by eating a calorie excess and engaging in consistent, long-term heavy weight training. To build massive muscles you would need to eat huge quantities and train hard, often for years. Body builders don’t magically attain their competition bodies. They work at it through diet and exercise, consistently, for a very long time.
So cast aside the myth that lifting three days a week will make you bulk. Cleaning up your diet and adding weights to your exercise program won’t make you look like the Hulk. Lifting will do exactly the opposite of making you look like a man. Lifting increases your lean muscle mass, helping you strengthen your whole body and decrease fat.
How does weight training burn more calories?
Weight training boosts your metabolism by continuing to use energy to repair muscle fibers after you finish your work out. Researchers have found that a full body workout that uses three large muscle groups can raise your metabolism as much as 48 hours after you finish working out.
That means you’ll burn more calories just sitting on the couch.
With a cardio workout you see the calorie burning benefits while you are at the gym and for an hour or less after you finish. Your metabolism goes back to its usual rate more quickly than it does with strength training so while you burn more during the actual workout you end up burning less overall. Building muscle equals a bigger burn.
Lose fat not muscle.
When you are trying to lose weight, what you usually want to do is lose fat. To do that, you absolutely have to run a calorie deficit. And a calorie deficit is actually an energy deficit. When your body runs out of food energy it turns to what it has stored. The trick is to get your body to burn fat stores and not muscle stores and you do that by maintaining or increasing your strength as you lose weight.
What do you need to do to increase your strength? That’s right. Lift more.
Studies consistently show that people who combine resistance training and reduce their caloric intake lose more fat than those who limit themselves to aerobic exercise. That’s because they are building muscle while they are burning calories. That tells your body it should work on your fat stores instead.
One of the best benefits you get from lifting weights is the ability to strengthen and sculpt your body. We all have “problem areas” or “favorite parts” of our bodies that we would either like to re-shape or accentuate. Strength training lets you target those areas specifically.
Dislike your “pear shape?” You can build your upper body and choose exercises that strengthen and elongate the muscles in your hips and thighs to help create a more balanced shape.
Many of us spend hours on cardio machines trying to lose weight, but the real key is building a muscle base. Squats and deadlifts will lift and tone your derrière in a way that no amount of time on the stair climber can. Shoulder presses and pull-ups will create definition in your arms and back that has you reaching for your sleeveless tops. Muscle makes the figure.
Anyone who has tried to lose weight probably already knows that fat takes up more space than muscle. So while a pound weighs sixteen ounces regardless of whether it’s made of fat or muscle, muscles are 18% more dense than fat so they take up less space. That means that two 120lb women standing side by side can be totally different sizes. The one who lifts is smaller.
We all want to be our most fit. We want healthy bodies that make us feel stronger and sexier.
The best way to achieve that goal is to lift those weights. Don’t overthink it. If the weight machines make you nervous, start with squats, push ups, and lunges. Add some dumb bells. Check out some online videos. As your body confidence grows you’ll feel more comfortable trying new things. There is nothing wrong with getting your strength training started at home in the basement with two milk jugs and some resistance bands!
Just get started and keep going.
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