We can sometimes get overwhelmed with the idea of "healthy lifestyle change". Remember, making little changes every week will have a compounding effect and lead you to your goal. I want to take a step away from nutrition today and concentrate on what I believe is the second biggest myth (only behind "sit ups will help you burn belly fat") in the fitness industry today.
The role of Resistance Training in weight Loss.
Now before we get into the reasoning behind using this crazy approach, lets first recount how we got to where we are with our fitness beliefs.
At some point during the creation of the world, according to ancient fitness stories and legends, God brought down from heaven and provided Adam with the gift of a Bench Press. This was very important, to the survival of man as Adam was now able to sculpt his pecs and triceps (and check himself out in the mirror after each set to ensure adequate shape and firmness) in order to make him more attractive to the opposite sex .
Coincidentally at this same time Eve was lucky enough to receive the gift of treadmill. This came with very specific instructions; 1. step on treadmill, 2. run for as long as you can without exceeding the speed and most importantly never go near Adam's bench press because if you even touch the heavy weights you will instantly swell up into a huge ball of muscle (think Incredible Hulk with long hair and a stylish skirt to replace his purple pants).
The details of this story may have changed slightly over the years but the underlying message remains the same: women should not lift weights! The reasoning behind this, as it is presented in mainstream media, is that weight loss is achieved through cardiovascular training (ie treadmill) and lifting weights is for bulking up.
Here is my beef with this approach, and for anyone who has read my blog in the past yo know where I stand on long slow cardio. Stepping on a treadmill and keeping a nice slow pace while watching the latest episode of Dr. Oz is not going to give you the results you need. Studies have proven that interval based training (short bursts of high intensity followed by a recovery period) is much more effective for weight loss and over all health.
"In their trial, women either exercised for 20 minutes, alternating 8 seconds of sprinting on a bike with 12 seconds of exercising lightly, or exercised at a regular pace for 40 minutes." After exercising three times a week for 15 weeks, those who did The 20-minute, alternating routine lost three times as much fat as the other women "You can read the full article at http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2010/04/15/new-study -shows-how-you-can-exercise-less-and-get-more-benefits.aspx .
There have been numerous studies that have produced similar results and yet I see women everyday climbing on the treadmill and just running until they can not take it anymore. So if you insist on using the treadmill, at least do it the right way, short bursts of sprinting followed by a longer recovery phase. This will cut your workout in half and give you better results. Short bursts of speed work in a similar way to weight lifting. It helps to stimulate muscle growth and increase your metabolism. Think of the physical difference between long distance runner and a sprinter. Now those are extremes at either and of the scale but the concept is the same for the average person.
OK, so back to this whole weight lifting debate.
Here are the most common myths associated with weight lifting:
I do not want to look like a body builder.
Women of often associate weight training with the female body builders they see in magazines and body building shows. Here is the problem with this, women, being testicle-free, do not produce enough natural testosterone to get those bulging pecs. These women are on so many supplements (some legal, some not) and have to take an unthinkable amount of calories just to get up the same level as men. What you also do not know is that most of these women need to workout 7 days a week and sometimes more than once a day just to build that much muscle. The average female will not get anywhere near that!
I want to lose weight so I'm just going to do cardio for now.
It's your lean body mass, that muscle mass underneath your body fat, that burns calories 24/7, allowing you to actually eat more calories without gaining weight. Muscles require much more energy in order to function. This energy comes from the calories you consume. Therefore the more muscle you have, the more energy and calories you burn. Long cardio sessions will actually begin to break down your current muscle (as your body will begin to use it for energy), this will result in a smaller energy requirement to the body and less calories burned.
I just want to tone so ill use light weights and lots of repetitions.
First let's establish what "toning" means. Most women use this term to describe a healthy muscle definition without looking bulky. This means you have to lose the fat that is surrounding the muscle and under the surface of the skin and increase the size of the muscle to give it more shape and definition. Hmmmm, that sounds like what I mentioned above. The problem here is that picking up those little 2 lb weights and performing bicep curls until you can no longer move your arm will not help you with this. Light weight with high repetitions will actually activate the slow fatigue, endurance muscles that are necessary for endurance based sports. Muscle growth and shape comes from the fast fatigue or "power" generating muscle fibers that are stimulated through short bursts of weight lifting power based activities. Once again think of the difference between marathon runners and sprinters. One trains for really long distance activities lasting hours of repetitive movements and the other trains for short, all out bursts of speed.
My advice is to end your love affair with the treadmill and pick up some weights for a change. This will give you more bang for your buck!
If you're worried that you may somehow turn into the female version of the Hulk overnight, this will only happen if you are willing to devote hours per day to weight training and thousands of dollars to your supplements. Believe it or not it takes extreme dedication and changes to every aspect of your life just to look like anything close to what female body builders look like.
Most women want to look healthy and strong like the picture of the female athlete on the right (who happens to be a goalie for the US women's national team). Unfortunately you will not achieve that with the standard approach to exercise. Think outside the box, or treadmill in this case.