Friday, 5 July 2013

Women and lifting

Hi Guys & (especially) Girls,

First of all let me say that there are going to be some generalisations in this article, particularly about the way females exercise and some of their misconceptions about resistance / weight training.  I realise that not all women think or act this way. Sorry if it offends, that's not my intention.

One thing I hear a lot from people (especially women) when I talk to them about their routines is
"Well I'm trying to lose weight, so I am just doing cardio.  Weights will make me bulky"

Ok, so the first very important distinction to make here is between losing weight and losing fat, most people will use the terms interchangeably but they are very different.

Losing weight simply refers to a smaller number on the scales.  Most weight loss diets and programs rely on vastly restricting calorie intake and (perhaps) increasing energy expenditure, giving you a massive calorie deficit.  You will lose weight, even quickly, but your body thinks it is starving and so it actually stores more fat (which is energy rich) and starts sacrificing other things such as muscle tissue and even bone density.
This is incredibly bad for you health, please don't do it!  Not to mention that diets are no fun, you should enjoy eating healthy, wholesome food in decent portions.

So now you weigh less but your body is trying to store as much fat as possible, so it burns weight from muscles and other tissues.  This means that proportionally you are now fatter than when you started.  Plus as soon as you come off this weight loss diet (which you will have to eventually or you will die), you will most likely regain more weight than you had before (these are yo-yo diets).

And don't be fooled, when you lose weight this way you might temporarily look slimmer but this is because fat can be stored internally, around organs. Vital organs which then get choked by this fat causing disease and potentially death.

The goal for most people is actually fat loss, which is, unless taken to extremes, a healthy pursuit.

This is where you need to start stepping away from the scales because what you are really trying to do is improve your body composition.  A lighter weight isn't necessarily the aim, a lower level of body fat is. Plus being ruled by a pair of scales is miserable, liberate yourself!

This is where resistance / weight training and lean muscle mass comes into play.

Cardio training is fantastic, I am never going to tell someone that they shouldn't do any cardio training but if you want to lose fat (not weight!) then you have to balance cardio, resistance training and a nutritious diet.

Here's why...

The body has two main sources of fuel: Fats and Carbohydrates.
Fats provide more energy (9Kcal per gram) than Carbs (4Kcal per gram) but the energy from Carbs can be utilised by the body quicker.  Therefore your body changes how much of each fuel source it uses depending on the intensity of the exercise.  There are some interesting points here about how to structure your cardio training to optimism fat loss but that's a topic for another post.

When a person partakes in weight/resistance training they create damage in the muscle tissue and release hormones which tell the body to then rebuild those muscles bigger and stronger.  Over a period of time, with the right training and nutrition the person will develop lean muscle mass.

And here is the central point of this whole article...
Basal Metabolic Rate is proportional to lean mass1 
What that means is that the more lean muscle mass you have on your body the more calories you will burn simply by being alive.  Then when you start actually moving and using those muscles, well, then you burn even more calories!  It is like a beautiful snowball effect.

Also, purely speaking from an aesthetic point of view, lean muscle mass will make everything firmer.  That means tight bum, no bingo wings and perkier...biceps.

Laura Plumley Deadlifting over twice her bodyweight.
So what is the best way to add some lean muscle mass?

Very simply put, resistance / weight training done to an intensity where loss of form is reached within 15 repetitions.  So that doesn't mean grabbing a tiny pair of dumbbells and doing 20+ reps of whatever exercise and still feeling like you could carry on all day.

It means grabbing some serious weights or picking a suitably difficult body-weight exercise and performing it safely and with good form until you lack the strength to maintain good form.  If that loss of form comes after the 15 rep mark then its time to add more weight or pick a harder variation of the exercise.

"Ok I can see that muscle is important but I don't want to be bulky"

'Bulking up' doesn't happen by accident.

So many people, women particularly (sorry, there is one of those generalisations that I said about), seem to think that all you have to do is touch a dumbbell and you will explode into a mass of Hulk-like muscle.
It simply isn't true.

It takes a lot of consistent work to add muscle to the human body and to reach the muscular level of a bodybuilder is pretty much a full time job.
If you don't believe me, watch something like this.

Lifting over 60kg overhead, she doesn't look too 'bulky' to me!
So people (especially women), if you're goal is to lose fat, then include weight / resistance training into your program.  It will help you lose fat, it will help you keep fat off, it will stop you getting thin and saggy, it will make you stronger, healthier and if you play a sport, it will most likely improve your performance in that.  You won't hulk out! And if, by some freak occurrence, you did actually put on too much muscle (not going to happen!) then it is actually quite easy to lose again, far easier than fat.

Oh and one last thing.

Lifting weights is fun!  It feels awesome to be able to bang out 10 pull ups, or lift a bar that weighs the same as you over your head.  Imagine the extra confidence that gives you.

Come on, don't let the boys have all the fun!

Train hard, live happy

1 - Cunningham, J.J. (1980). A reanalysis of the factors influencing basal metabolic rate in normal adults.  Am J Clin Nutr, 33(11), 2372-2374

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