Mar 012013

You’ve Got to Lift Weights!

I talked about the three components of a shapely, healthy body in part 1. They are nutrition, weight lifting and aerobic exercise. Unfortunately many people, especially women, put them in reverse order, making cardiovascular exercise the cornerstone of their program. This is wrong. I know, I know – you’ve read countless magazine articles in which cardio was emphasized. In addition, you’re worried that if you lift weights, you’ll end up getting bigger or bulky. Trust me, it won’t happen. It doesn’t even happen all that easily for men, who are blessed with way more of the muscle-growing hormone testosterone than you are.

Debunking Some Myths

The first idea I’d like you to get out of your head is the one that says that weight lifting will turn you into a she-man or some such nonsense. It won’t. But it will make you look smaller and tighter (yes, smaller), increase your metabolism, improve your health, give you curves in the right places, and help you to stave off osteoporosis (and even grow new bone), to name just a few.

Let’s look at these claims one by one.

Having Muscles Will Make You Look Smaller

Muscle is much denser than fat, so five pounds of muscle takes up much less space than five pounds of fat. So even if you didn’t lose a pound but instead replaced ten pounds of fat with 10 pounds of muscle, you’d likely lose a dress size or two and your friend would all swear you’d lost weight.


Muscle Increases Your Metabolism

Muscle has a metabolic rate about four times faster than fat. This means that the more muscle you have, the more food your body needs to maintain its weight (read: the more calories you can consume). This is why it is so important to fix your nutrition such that you are losing fat, not muscle. When you lose muscle, the scale will go down, which can be gratifying for a while. But in time, as your metabolism slows in response to the reduction in muscle, you’ll find that you need to keep cutting calories further and further in order to remain at a maintenance level. Few people have the willpower to do this, especially since your body doesn’t get less hungry just because you lose some muscle.

Weight Lifting Improves Your Health

You’ve no doubt heard that being overweight puts you at risk for many diseases, particularly heart disease. But did you know that the actual risk factor is not being overweight but being over-fat? Here’s what The American Heart Association has to say:

Obesity is defined simply as too much body fat. Your body is made up of water, fat, protein, carbohydrate and various vitamins and minerals. If you have too much fat — especially in your waist area — you’re at higher risk for health problems, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. (…dentifier=4639)

More muscle means less fat and less fat means less of a chance of health problems.

In addition, researchers have linked exercise to a host of other health benefits ranging from improved mood to greater sexual enjoyment. You can’t go wrong!

Muscle Gives You Curves in the Right Places

While spot reduction is not possible (read that twice), you can use weight lifting to create the illusion of curves where you want them. If you’ve always had a flat butt, for instance, squats and lunges can pull it up and round it out. And widening your shoulders can create the illusion of a smaller waist for those who have always had more of a straight up-and-down shape.

Weight Lifting Staves Off Osteoporosis

I know, you’re not old enough to worry about osteoporosis. Actually, if you’re over the age of 29, that’s not true. Osteoporosis occurs when new bone is not made fast enough to replace old bone that is being broken down. Without enough new bone growth, the old bone becomes porous and weak, which can lead to fractures later in life. By the time you turn 30, bone breakdown outpaces new bone growth, setting the stage for the beginning of osteoporosis. You already know to incorporate calcium-rich foods in your diet. But you may not know that weight bearing exercise actually builds bone (Virginia Mason Medical Center,…/sec88903.htm).

Getting the Most Out of Weight Lifting

So now that you’re convinced you need to be lifting weights, you need a routine.  Two of my favorite authors are Alwyn Cosgrove, whose work is featured in The New Rules of Lifting for Women, and Chad Wwaterbury, who has his own website and also writes for T-Nation.

Summing Up

  • Muscle takes up less space than fat.
  • Weight lifting will speed fat loss and won’t make you bulky
  • Lift heavy (for you) in the range of 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
  • Pay attention to your form. Poor form leads to injury and slower gains.
  • More is not better. Growth occurs outside of the gym, when your body is at rest. Resist the temptation to be in the gym 7 days a week.