Lifting Weights Changes Everything

“I don’t want to bulk up,” is a phrase I have heard often from women coming to train with me. From cardio drumming, long distance treadmill running, HIIT workouts, jazzercise, and Richard Simmons’ aerobic videos back in the 80’s, cardio has been the staple workout for women wanting to lose weight and get in shape. But is cardio the “magic pill” to having the body desired? Do we really need to spend 2 hours at the gym in order to maximize our weight loss? Should we be striving to hit the pavement 6 days a week? And will lifting heavy weights bulk up a woman? Research, science, and testimonials tell us a different story, one that doesn’t send women spinning on a hamster wheel and left frustrated!

Cardio and weight lifting have their places in keeping with a healthy body. The problem is that too many women have been taught to stick with cardio and only use light weights. As we age, starting at the age of 20, women lose 1% of muscle mass every year if building muscle is not intentional. The average American gains 5-10 pounds a year starting in their 20’s. Add to it having babies, less activity in general from the demands of a job or trying to manage a household, now she is battling fat increase with a muscle decrease. If a woman weighs 150 lbs and gains the recommended amount of weight when pregnant, then she will gain about 5% body fat, which equals 7.5 lbs. This is aside from the baby, tissue, blood, and water she gains. Therefore, women have the task of battling a natural gain of fat with aging and the way our bodies were created to have children. We aren’t even going into poor nutrition, hormone imbalances, and toxicity loads that are also common.

Why does this matter? Well, a pound of fat burns 5 calories a day and a pound of muscle burns 50 calories a day. This is very important news because it can help us understand why a woman’s metabolism slows down. It indeed does since we are naturally losing muscle mass and naturally gaining fat at the same time. So if cardio is the favored choice, then let’s look at the calorie burning opportunities of both cardio and weight training (aerobic vs anaerobic).

Cardio, short for cardiovascular, and known as aerobic, increases the heart rate and pumps blood faster throughout the body and heart. The continuous activity allows oxygen into the lungs and throughout the body. It strengthens your heart and keeps it healthy because of working that muscle (did you know the heart is a muscle?). Weight lifting, which is a form of anaerobic work, is the opposite and it is short bursts of activity or energy without oxygen. This is why lifting heavy weights is done in sets with breaks in between. So muscles work hard during the reps and tissue is broken down to rebuild later.

Aerobic work has the most calorie burn during the time of exercise and 4-6 hours afterwards. This is great because even after you are done with that run, your body is still burning more energy than in a resting state, which means your calorie burn is higher for a bit. Anaerobic typically burns less than cardio during the workout but continues that energy/calorie burn for 24-48 hours afterwards. That is a big jump. Not only that, but if cardio only helps decrease fat, then the metabolism at a resting state stays about the same as normal. On the other hand, heavy weight training not only helps burn fat but increases muscle mass. Muscle also takes up less space that fat. So if you decrease 3 pounds of fat and increase 3 pounds of muscle, your gain is still 135 of extra calories burned EACH DAY WHILE RESTING. This is huge news because it means the metabolism can be increased! The secret is not just getting rid of fat but increasing muscle mass as well.

This changes everything. This means a 35 minute heavy weight lifting workout can replace a 1 1/2 hour of running on a treadmill and still give you a longer burn. No longer do you need to be discouraged when all your efforts burn you out and your clothes fit just as tight. Less work with “more bang for your buck” so to speak.

How is this achieved? It means swapping out cardio 2-3 days a week to start lifting heavy weights. There are plenty of workouts out there that can guide you. The key is muscle failure and having proper form. You may start out lighter on the weights but you should be gaining strength which means bumping up in weight gradually. So even if you start with 5 pounds weights, you should not still be there in 6 months.

This also takes time. Consistency is key. Just like it takes time to put on weight, it takes time to take it off. The process is not a quick fix, it is a lifestyle of doing both exercise and eating healthy. But if weight lifting is implemented, metabolism will speed up and changes will occur. No more killing yourself doing cardio everyday, it is time to understand the way your body was created and use it to your benefit. Healthy weight must be managed with a full understanding of caring for the body. It is a well-rounded approach of work and rest coupled with proper nutrition. That is the “magic bullet” so many are looking for, except it is called a healthy lifestyle. So continue cardio but start picking up those weights.

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