For most people, (with an exception to the few ‘genetically blessed’) exercise must become a part of your everyday lifestyle if you desire to loose (or maintain) weight. I think one of the biggest ‘mis-understandings’ when it comes to exercising for weight loss is that you must do ENDLESS amounts of cardio to burn off as many calories as possible! I know this to be true, because I too once thought cardio (for at least an hour a day) was the only way to trim down and stay slim! Well...I’ll just say it now...I WAS SO WRONG!!!
Now, don’t get me wrong, doing cardio is an important element of weight loss, and it does have it’s benefits! However, it’s strength training that will help you not only loose weight, but will help you get the results that really LAST! I think the benefits of weight training (especially in women) are poorly understood, and are therefore greatly neglected.
It seems like everyone starts out their weight loss journey doing strictly cardio exercises. Which is a great place to start, and certainly better than no start at all! So, let’s start by discussing a few of the benefits of doing cardiovascular exercise, (which is any type of activity that gets your heart rate up.)
First and foremost, cardio gets your blood pumping through your arteries at a higher pace than normal, so it essentially prevents the 'plaque' (that leads to heart problems) from settling in your arteries, (aka helps keep your heart healthy!) Cardio also requires energy from your body, which means it requires calories, (aka it burns calories!)
Cardio usually works well at helping people ‘take off’ excess weight, but what usually ends up happening is people continue to do cardio (and maybe even become ‘cardio queens’ like I was) but eventually STOP loosing weight, and hit a plateau. This generally leads people to wonder what they are doing wrong...and so they do the next ‘logical’ thing which is cutting more calories. What people don’t realize is this combination is actually doing more harm than good!
You see, once your body ‘looses’ a certain amount of body fat, it will come to a HAULT in order to preserve homeostasis (aka a ‘comfy’ place for it to stay at). In addition, once you have burned off a certain amount of body fat with cardio, your body will start to burn muscle in addition to fat. So, in order to prevent a weight loss plateau, and burning off muscle, you will need to incorporate strength training into your routine!
Now lets discuss the benefits of strength training! First and foremost, strength training will build your muscles mass, which will in turn build your strength (hello...I can carry all 500 bags of my grocery's inside no problem! ;)) Which is important if you would like to keep you body strong, and prevent injuries down the road! Weight training also prevents osteoporosis, (which is a common problem for many women as they age), by building your bone density!
Building muscle also has the added bonus of appearing more 'toned' and strong! Also, women don't have the testosterone to 'bulk up' like men do, so it's not hormonally possible for a woman to get bulky muscles like a man can! I have much more I could say on this... but I would be going on far too long, so I encourage you to study it out for yourself if your still not sure!
Last but not least, here is the greatest part of weight training of all (if you ask me!) Muscle mass is 'metabolically active tissue' which means it uses energy to 'survive' in a sense, (which means it needs calories to be maintained). This means with every pound of muscle you build, you are burning more calories when you are just sitting around! With cardio, you do burn calories while exercising, and you have a slightly higher 'caloric burn' a few hours after you are done. However, with lifting weights, you will burn calories during your workout, and will continue to do so after you have stopped exercising for the day.
Now lets talk about how what your eating affects this whole equation!! When you are on a ‘diet’ or cutting calories, you will most likely lose muscle mass along with any fat you lose. This may cause your metabolism to slow down somewhat and you may find the pounds not coming off as fast as you would like (or plateau all together.) However by building your muscle, you are more likely to keep burning calories long term, with out a plateau effect!
As you continue to build up your endurance and can lift heavier weights you will continue to add more lean muscle mass, which in turn will burn more calories during the day. Another important thing about dieting is you also want to make sure you are eating ENOUGH calories to support your new muscle growth.
You need to be careful to start slowly and not move too fast when you start lifting weights. Lifting too much weight too fast can do more harm then good (remember, our bodies like homeostasis, and any drastic changes will cause your body to freak out and go into plateau mode!!!) :) Ok i'm being dramatic...But I would recommend seeking out advice from someone who is knowledgeable and experienced in weight lifting to help you out when you first start.
Now after RAVING about how awesome weight training is...I must add that weight training should not replace your cardio program, because as I discussed, there are many benefits in doing cardiovascular exercise as well. So, if you want the best results try mixing the two together. This should give you the positive benefits of both types of exercise!
If you have already 'discovered' the many benefits of adding weight training to your personal fitness routine, I'd love to hear about it!