I wrote last week about how women are often scared of lifting weights because they are afraid they end up looking like a bodybuilder. They think of bulky men pumping iron to achieve beefy biceps and heavy pecs. So instead, many spend hours each week doing cardio exercises such as running. They feel more comfortable on a treadmill or exercise bike as they feel insecure in the weights area, surrounded by muscular guys who they believe look down on them or ridicule them. They feel they are being judged for not knowing what they are doing and not looking fit or strong enough to have a right to be there. They feel out of place and don’t even know where to start. This is a real shame.
I think it is time we put this antiquated notion of weightlifting to rest. Lifting weights is essential – it may well be the best exercise you can do for lifelong health and physical function.
And that is true for both men and women. Don’t let these thoughts of inadequacy stop you from lifting weights. Nobody in a gym cares what you are doing, and if they do they obviously don’t train hard enough themselves. Get a Personal Trainer to explain to you how the equipment works and give you some exercises. I promise, once you start and feel the benefits, you will wonder why you didn’t start sooner!
Here are some reasons why you should lift weights, starting today.
Lose Fat Not Muscle
People on a diet who do cardio exercises lose fat and muscle. People on a diet who do cardio exercises and lift weights lose fat. Losing weight may be your goal, but if you are losing muscle you are tarnishing your results. Muscle is what burns calories, so the more you have the more you burn. Losing muscle may result in weight loss, but you won’t look any better and you are more likely to gain the weight straight back – in the form of fat that is.
Your Clothes Fit Better
Until we turn 30, our muscles grow larger and stronger. From then onwards, we start losing muscle, which is called sarcopenia with aging. According to research, between the age of 30 and 50, we lose about 10% of our muscle mass (or 3 to 5% each decade). Even worse, it’s most likely being replaced by fat, which results in an expanding waistline. This is because one pound of fat takes up 18% more volume than one pound of muscle.
This muscle loss is due to various factors: lower concentration of some hormones (testosterone, human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor), reduction in nerve cells responsible for sending signals from the brain to the muscles to initiate movement, a decrease in the ability to turn protein into energy and not getting enough calories and/or protein to sustain muscle mass. The primary treatment for sarcopenia is resistance training as it reduces these factors. It can help your neuromuscular system and hormone levels (see below Neuroendocrine Response) and can improve an older adult’s ability to convert protein to energy in as little as two weeks.¹
You Burn More Calories
The after burn effect from strength exercises means that you burn calories while you sit on the couch as the muscles are repairing themselves. Scientifically, the after burn effect is called excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This refers to the oxygen that your body requires to get back to its pre-exercise state (your resting metabolism). This after-burn amounts to 6 to 15 percent of the calories you burned while exercising. The more intense the workout, the higher the percentage. So a treadmill jog would be at the lower end of the range, whereas Tabata or speed/sprint intervals would be at the higher end. Other factors that affect the percentage are weight, muscle mass and fitness level. You may have heard that this after burn effect lasts up to 24 hours after your workout, but it is more like 2 hours.
However, the after burn effect is only one part of the fat burning mechanisms in your body. During high-intensity workouts, your body produces more epinephrine and human growth hormone (HGH), which both have fat-burning capabilities (also see below Neuroendocrine Response).
Later in life, bone tissue losses accelerate and outpace the creation of new bone. That acceleration is especially pronounced among people who are sedentary and women who have reached or passed menopause. This loss of bone tissue leads to the weakness and postural problems that plague many older adults. Strength training stimulates the development of bone osteoblasts (cells that build bones back up). While you can achieve some of these bone benefits through aerobic exercise, especially in your lower body, resistance training is really the best way to maintain and enhance total-body bone strength.
Now there is a term you can throw around at the next dinner party while you show off your biceps or six pack. Neuroendocrine refers to how the nervous system interacts with the endocrine system (the endocrine system controls body functions through the secretion of hormones).
When it comes to exercising, the hormones released are testosterone, human growth hormone (HGH), cortisol, insulin-like growth factors (IGF-1), insulin, and the catecholamines (the fight or flight hormones). The most effective exercises that stimulate the neuroendocrine system include large groups of muscle. Kraemer et al. found that “Large muscle-mass exercises such as the Olympic lifts, deadlifts and jump squats have been shown to produce large elevations in testosterone in comparison with small muscle-mass exercises” (2005)².
To put it in simple terms: In order to maximize the neuroendocrine response, focus on working large muscle groups before smaller muscle groups. Use higher volume and moderate to high intensity with shorter rest intervals between sets.
If you are still scared of the gym, you can do resistance training at home. There are a lot of bodyweight exercises (squats, lunges, pushups, planks, glute bridges etc.) or exercises that use simple equipment such as elastic bands or a few dumbbells. There are tons of free exercise videos on the internet (fitnessblender.com for example is great) if you have no idea how to go about it. Just remember, an exercise done wrong can do more harm than good, so if you are new to resistance training, I would recommend to use a Personal Trainer until you are comfortable that you have proper form and alignment.
When it comes to losing weight, never forget though the old but very true saying, that abs are made in the kitchen and not the gym. If you don’t eat right, no amount of exercise (whether it is cardio or resistance training) will help you to reveal those hard earned muscles. On the other hand, if you are after serious muscle gains, you will have to eat a lot.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, if you are a woman you do not need to be too concerned about suddenly developing a Schwarzenegger physique. Women have not enough testosterone for that. Or if you do, then you eat too much or not right (or both) or you take certain supplements (more or less legal ones).
If you are wondering what sort of weights you should lift or how many reps you should do, there is a rough guide in my last blog post.
¹Karsten Keller1,2 and Martin Engelhardt. Strength and muscle mass loss with aging process. Age and strength loss. Muscle, Ligaments and Tendons Journal 2013;3(4)
²Kraemer W.J., Ratamess N.A. Hormonal Responses and Adaptations to Resistance Exercise and Training. Sports Medicine 2005;35(4)