If you are exercising to lose weight, and you think cardio is the only game in town, think again.
Weight lifting isn’t just for the “I pick things up and put them down” crowd. In fact, weights can transform not only your fitness routine, but your body as well.
There are a lot of myths surrounding strength training—e.g., it makes you bulk up—but just one look at lean and fit celebrities such as Jessica Biel, Halle Berry, and Cameron Diaz, who swear by strength-training, and you can see that the results are amazing: long, lean, fit muscles.
Incorporating weight lifting into a cardio exercise and healthy eating regimen will translate into shed pounds and inches.
Here are 5 major benefits to strength training, plus some insights on how lifting weight translates into losing weight:
1. It produces a post-workout caloric burn. Strength training is a great way for women to lose fat, tone muscle, and maintain a healthy body composition because it not only burns calories during your workout, but also produces a post-workout caloric burn. During a high intensity strength training session you create an oxygen deficit that causes Excessive Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption, or EPOC. After this session, your body elicits a greater EPOC effect to return to a pre-exercise state than lower intensity resistance training, according to studies done by Chantal A. Vella, Ph.D. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D. A higher EPOC effect means that your body is burning more calories to return to normal oxygen levels even after your workout is finished.
2. It helps with ‘calorie partitioning.’ Strength training has an important effect on something called ‘calorie partitioning,’ or how the food you eat is used in your body. Strength training breaks down proteins and depletes muscle glycogen putting your body in a state of recovery. The food you eat after your workout, especially in the first 45 minutes following an intense strength training session, goes towards this recovery. In fact, post-exercise your body needs high protein foods such as meat, fish, or eggs and simple carbohydrates like fruit, pasta, or potatoes. Vegans can find high amounts of protein in foods like quinoa, soy, and hemp. If you’re short on time, a post-workout recovery shake can be a great meal substitute.
3. It has a positive effect on hormone levels. A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found an increase in insulin sensitivity for a 24-hour period after strength training. Higher glucose sensitivity translates to greater glucose absorption in muscles and less stored as fat. In addition, a study performed by Len Kravitiz Ph.D and Luis M. Alvidrez found a decrease in cortisol levels after 24 weeks of following a strength training program. Cortisol is often referred to as the ‘stress hormone’ and has been linked with increases in abdominal fat. By lowering cortisol levels you are potentially decreasing that unwanted belly bulge.
4. It prevents your metabolism from slowing down. Muscle is a metabolically active tissue. One of the reasons our metabolisms slow with age is because we lose lean muscle mass as we get older. Strength training helps to prevent a slowing metabolism with lean muscle gains.
5. It helps reduce cravings. To build a lean, sculpted physique you need to give your body nutrients. As you focus more on the foods you need for performance, and less on the foods you can’t eat, cravings tend to decrease and positive feelings towards food increase.
How To Begin A Strength-Training Program
- Focus on complex movements with free weights rather than machines. Complex movements recruit more muscles, requiring more work by both the musculoskeletal system and the cardiovascular system.
- Begin at a lower intensity to get comfortable with the exercises and progress to a higher intensity. Start with 12-15 repetitions for 3 sets and work toward 1-6 repetitions for 3-5 sets. You should be near exhaustion by your last repetition.
- If you have a gym membership make an appointment with a personal trainer. Most gyms offer a complimentary session to new members. A good trainer will be able to show you how to safely execute exercises.
If you follow a strength training program with 3 workouts per week, combined with cardiovascular training and a healthy diet, you should expect to lose 0.5 to 2.0 pounds per week.
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Jennifer Lutz is a certified personal trainer and yoga instructor. She trains private clients around New York City and at Equinox Fitness. It’s her goal to help women live healthier, happier lives.