Updated: May 23
The secret to a lean body is strength training. Many women shy away from lifting weights because they are afraid that they will bulk up and they’ve bought into the myth that cardio is the key to weight loss. The fact is, for most women, bulking up is virtually impossible. And while cardio is essential for heart health, strength training delivers a whole lot more bang for your exercise buck.
Strength training boosts your metabolism, reduces body fat, and sculpts your body shape, making you look smaller, firmer, and fitter. That's why if you want a leaner body, your best bet is to lift more.
"But if I lift heavy weights I’ll look like a dude!"
Nope. Not gonna happen. And here’s why. Just like you lose weight by running a calorie deficit, you gain weight, even muscle weight, by eating calorie excess and engaging in consistent, long-term heavy weight training. To build massive muscles you would need to eat huge quantities and train super hard, often for years. Body builders don’t magically attain their competition bodies. They work hard at it through a combination of diet and exercise, often utilizing specific supplementation, consistently and for a very long time.
So cast aside the myth that lifting weights three days a week will make you bulk up. Cleaning up your diet and adding weights to your exercise program won’t make you look like the Hulk. Lifting will do exactly the opposite. Lifting increases your lean muscle mass, helping you tone your whole body, blast fat, and shape your body. Strength training will let you take what nature gave you and make it even better!
Why does weight training burn more calories?
Weight training boosts your metabolism by continuing to use energy to repair muscle fibers after you finish your work out. Researchers have found that a full body workout that uses three large muscle groups can raise your metabolism as much as 48 hours after you finish working out. Wowzers! That means you’ll burn more calories even when you're just sitting on the couch.
With a cardio workout you earn the calorie burning benefits while you are at the gym or out on a jog, but only for an hour (or less) after you finish. Your metabolism goes back to its usual rate more quickly than it does with strength training so while you could in some cases burn more during the actual workout, you'll end up burning less overall. Building muscle equals a bigger and longer lasting burn.
Lose the fat, not the muscle.
When you are trying to lose weight, what you really want to do is lose fat. To do that, you absolutely have to run a calorie deficit. And a calorie deficit is actually an energy deficit. When your body runs out of food energy it turns to what it has stored. The trick is to get your body to burn fat stores and not muscle stores and you do that by maintaining or increasing your strength as you lose weight.
What do you need to do to increase your strength? You've got to lift more.
Studies consistently show that people who combine resistance training and reduce their caloric intake lose more fat than those who limit themselves to aerobic exercise. That’s because they are building muscle while they are burning calories. That tells your body it should work on your fat stores instead.
Shape that booty!
One of the best shaping tools you get from lifting weights is the ability to sculpt your body. We all have our own “problem areas” or “favorite parts” of our bodies that we would either like to re-shape or accentuate. Strength training lets you target muscles and shape areas of your body.
Want to lose the bat wings and have fantastic arms? There’s an exercise for that. Not a fan of your “pear shape?” You can build your upper body and choose exercises that strengthen and elongate the muscles in your hips and thighs to help create a more balanced shape. Want a more defined bum? Squats and deadlifts are a girls best friend.
Many women spend hours on cardio trying to get rid of the offending flab but the real key to a lean and toned body is building a muscle base.
Squats and deadlifts will lift and tone your derrière in a way that no amount of time on a stair climber can. Shoulder presses and pull-ups will create definition in your arms and back that has you reaching for your sleeveless tops. Muscle makes the figure.
Anyone who has tried to lose weight probably already knows that fat takes up more space than muscle. Fat is fluffy. So while a pound is a pound whether it’s made of fat or muscle, muscles are 18% more dense than fat so they take up less space. That means that two 120 lb. women standing side by side can be totally different sizes. The one who lifts is smaller. It's also another great reason to focus less on the scale and take note of other meaningful measurements.
Most of us want to feel fit. We want firm, healthy bodies that make us feel strong and beautiful in our own skin. It's a good feeling to confidently slip into those skinny jeans?
The best way to achieve your tone up goal is to lift those weights. Don’t overthink it. If the weight machines make you nervous, start with bodyweight exercises like squats, push ups, and lunges. Add some dumbbells for greater resistance. As your body confidence grows you’ll feel more comfortable trying new things. And there is nothing wrong with getting your strength training started at home, a chair, two water jugs, an exercise ball, and a couple of resistance bands and you'll be building strong and lean muscles in no time!
Just get started, and then keep going. The more you lift, the more you’ll lose.
Are you are a woman who is ready to live healthier and happier, ditch the diet, and discover small steps that make a big impact so you can live a life you love in a body you are proud of? Come join me inside my women’s-only Facebook Group - The Healthy Habits Club. It's where busy women go for tips, tools and support so they can eat healthy, move daily, and feel good for life!