A common question that women ask when beginning a weight loss-oriented exercise program is where their focus ought to be in the beginning, whether it should be on cardio or weights. The general assumption is that a woman should start out with cardio to burn off fat before building muscle, but there are a number of reasons why striving to do both from the outset may be best.
Increasing lean muscle mass will increase your metabolism. Building muscle will increase your resting metabolic rate; that means that while you perform your regular daily activities, your additional muscle tissue will also consume additional energy. What does that mean? Calories are a way of measuring energy; adding muscle to your body will make it use up more calories. That’s what increasing your metabolism means.
Weight training does not mean bulk. Unless she is on steroids, a woman will not get “huge” from weight training with moderate or even heavy weights. Think about it; consider the total number of women who weight train in the gym or at home, even with heavy weights. Now how often to do you see a lady with an Arnold-like physique outside of fitness competitions? It takes a LOT of work, not to mention specific dietary changes, to build muscle like that. You are not suddenly going to be unable to move due to your huge rippling muscles because you pick up an 8-lb. dumbbell three times a week.
Now, with that said, you may think that you are getting bigger because you a. have a layer of fat over your muscle or b. do not see weight loss reflected on the scale. Don’t freak out. Muscle tissue is dense, way more so than fat. That means that one pound of muscle will take up far less space than that same pound of fat. When people say that they want to “tighten up,” they aren’t really doing anything to alter the muscle that’s already there. Instead, they are building tighter, leaner muscle tissue underneath and burning the fat off the top. That fat comes off with the expenditure of calories from the strength training itself, the “after-burn” effects and the overall increased metabolism, turning the previously soft arm with very little definition into a toned arm. So though there may be a little swelling after you work muscles hard from the increased blood flow and some water retention for a bit, you aren’t going to look worse because you have muscles under your fat. Along those same lines, the scale is not the best indicator of how you are changing your body. Instead, take measurements and track your progress that way. Though you are losing weight, you are also adding muscle which will offset the number on the scale a little bit. That is just a little bit though; it takes a lot of work to add each pound of muscle, so your weight will decrease over time.
My next article will discuss weight training more in-depth, but for the time being, I want to send you off into the world of dumbbells with a few pointers. If you are just getting started with an exercise program, you can probably get away with weight work in order to lose weight, because the addition of any new physical activity is going to kick start your body into burning calories. But for true fat-burning benefits, you do need to incorporate cardio into your routine, so don’t skimp on that aspect. Also, the best practice is to avoid working the same muscle group two days in a row. I’ll go into the whys and hows of that the next time around; for the moment, just trust me. Whether you are using free weights or exercise videos at home or hitting the machines in the gym, adding weights to your fitness regimen will change your body in some amazing ways!
As always, feel free to contact me with individual questions; I’m not a doctor or even a personal trainer, so it’s your choice whether or not you want to follow my advice. But this is my hobby, and I’m always happy to help out others when they are stuck or simply unsure of where to begin, so do not hesitate to send questions my way!