With summer just around the corner many of us are starting to think about easing ourselves back into our old exercise routines. Whether it be to lose a couple of kilos, or to ensure we feel just more comfortable spending time at the beach, most are slowly starting to climb back into their running shoes or slide back onto their bike seats.
But what if I were to suggest that this type of exercise (as in exercise of the cardio variety) may not be the best way to promote changes in the way we look or feel? While it may go against somewhat ‘traditional recommendations’, strength training is an excellent means of exercise that can cause HUGE changes in the way we look. This makes it the perfect type of training to complement our cardiovascular exercise.
Strength training can help build lean muscle
A sentence I hear on a very regular basis when discussing training or body composition goals goes a little something like this: “I don’t want to get big and bulky, I just want to ‘tone’ up”. To be honest, this thought process is extremely common for those looking to get into the weights room seriously for the first time. Which is why I then proceed to explain that weight training will not make you ‘big and bulky.’ It is actually extremely difficult to put on large amounts of muscle mass (particularly for females).
*Just quickly, if you want reassurance that this is the case, take a look at 99% of regular gym goers. Many look fit and healthy, while very few look like professional bodybuilders (even despite their best efforts).
In fact, the ‘toned’ look that many train for is actually a matter of building some muscle while losing some fat, resulting in more visible muscle definition – pretty simple really. So with all this in mind, strength training builds muscle tissue, which is integral to making large changes in body composition.
Strength training can increase our metabolism
As an added bonus, the process of building muscle – no matter how small the amount – can have a huge impact on our ability to lose weight.
You see, muscle is highly metabolic tissue, meaning that it actually requires energy to survive (it uses the energy we obtain from food). With this in mind, by increasing the amount of muscle mass we have on our body (even slightly), we can increase the amount of energy we burn each and every day – irrespective of the exercise we perform that day!
By adding some lean muscle tissue you can literally increase the amount of energy you burn when you’re on the couch or at work – which makes it much easier to promote weight loss in both the short and long term.
All it takes is performing some form of strength training 2-3 times per week.
Strength training can help us burn a heap of energy
Now, in addition to increasing our metabolism, strength training is also an effective means of promoting weight loss as is quite taxing. Strength training is a challenging form of exercise, and as such performing a single session will use a heap of energy. But where strength training differs from more traditional forms of exercise, is that it has a slightly longer recovery period associated. It is commonly accepted that muscle takes anywhere between 24 and 72 hours to completely recover after a workout (this recovery time is dependent on the intensity and volume of work performed during that training session).
During this entire period, the body is using additional energy to recover from our workout.
As a result, strength training can help us lose weight by increasing our energy expenditure both during, and after, our training session.
Bonus: Strength training helps you function every single day.
While this isn’t necessarily related to making any changes in our body composition, it is still certainly a large positive!
Becoming stronger, and through this improving our ability to function on a day to day basis, is extremely rewarding. It not only provides a clear demonstration that all our hard work in the gym is paying off, but also makes life in a physical sense much easier.
Whether it means being able to move your own furniture, pick up children without a second thought, or bring your groceries in from the car in a single trip, it doesn’t really matter – getting stronger will help you in every aspect of your life.
Take away message
When it comes to bang for your buck exercise strength training is hands down our best option. It have some great effects on our body composition, it can also improve our strength and function – both of which are essential to improving ability to get through the day.
With this in mind, performing weight training 2-3 times per week is ideal to stimulate both large increases in strength and massive changes in body composition. If you have any questions (or maybe don’t know where to start), feel free to book in with us today, so you can draw a line in the sand and get started.
Dolezal, Brett A., et al. “Muscle damage and resting metabolic rate after acute resistance exercise with an eccentric overload.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 32.7 (2000): 1202-1207.
Kraemer, William J., et al. “Effect of resistance training on women’s strength/power and occupational performances.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 33.6 (2001): 1011-1025.
Staron, R. S., et al. “Skeletal muscle adaptations during early phase of heavy-resistance training in men and women.” Journal of applied physiology 76.3 (1994): 1247-1255.
Zurlo, Francesco, et al. “Skeletal muscle metabolism is a major determinant of resting energy expenditure.” Journal of Clinical Investigation 86.5 (1990): 1423.
“Give me abdominal exercises to lose fat around my stomach! Can I do triceps exercises to get rid of my granny arms? These are statements or questions I have heard more times than I can count. It is a question steeped in marketing, wishful thinking and a desire for that society driven “six-pack” and or “buns of steel.” The “spot reduction” theory is based around the act of selectively reducing fatty deposits in targeted areas by exercising the specific area. It seems logical to an extent. If a client works a muscle, then the fat around the area is used to produce the energy needed for the movement.
Unfortunately this is not the way it works!
If only it was that simple!!
Let’s briefly look at why we burn fat from the whole body:
When we need to complete a movement… say climbing a set of stairs
— We use glucose (carbohydrate) as our first pick to create/fuel a muscular contraction/movement.
— This glucose is either floating in blood stream or the liver (which stores glucose) gradually releases it into the blood stream.
— Once the glucose runs out, we tap into our fat source by way of a signal from the brain. This results in a release of triglycerides.
— This literally breaks up the fat cell (triglyceride) into a fatty acid and a glycerol molecule. The fatty acid the travels through the circulatory system, to the heart, liver and /or lungs (if blood has time to be oxygenated).
— From there it heads to the working muscles where it goes through a process to release the energy to make movement
— No matter which muscle needs the fuel, the molecules (fats, carbohydrates or proteins) travel around the circulatory system.
So all in all, it is not as easy as grabbing a fat cell from the specific muscle and using it’s energy. It is essentially easier and more efficient to steal those fatty acids from everywhere. We can’t choose where we lose our fat from. Sorry guys!
There is research to back up this idea.
In 1984, a study found that a sit-up program does not preferentially reduce fat cell size or fat thickness in the abdominal region in comparison to other body sites. In 2007, another study determined that an upper-body program resulted in a generalized loss of fat mass rather than specifically the upper-body. Finally in 2013, it was found that training a single leg was effective in reducing fat mass but not specifically in the trained limb. This was determined using a whole body DEXA scan, which is the current gold standard for determining fat mass.
So what helps reduce waist circumference (fat mass)?
From that exact research gives us a clue. Each of those studies looked at a different body part (arms, abdominals and legs) and all had an effect on the bodies fat mass. So, if we completed a whole-body strength program we would see an effect over the whole body. Whilst getting stronger overall in the process.
It is a win-win!
Furthermore, from an energy balance perspective, completing exercises incorporating large muscle groups in big compound exercises creates greater energy deficit. These are exercises such as the squat, deadlift, bench press and rows. Why?
The more muscles used in one movement, the more fuel (fat/glucose) it needs. Just doing a sit-up, which works abdominals, look at a squat which can use legs, glutes, abdominals etc. You will also produce less fatigue and therefore complete more exercises by looking at a whole body approach. So rather than looking at 1-2 abdominal exercises to lose weight, try variety. We encourage clients to complete aerobic exercise, some resistance training and any incidental activity your heart desires. Plus think about the quality and quantity of food and drink you consume (but that’s another story).
Most importantly, stop getting fooled by those marketing departments. Also throw out that ab-cruncher that is collecting dust under your bed! Please!
Let me start my clarifying that I would never want to discourage anyone from running! Even more so if you are on a journey to improve your health. My whole business and life mission is to help others achieve great health! And this is exactly why I don’t think it is a great idea to use running to start getting fit or lose weight…. as I mentioned in our introductory post to this series, running is inherently hard, and carries with it about a 50% chance of giving you an injury in a year! What I really want to help you do is to LOVE running!
I don’t think it is a great idea to use running to start getting fit or lose weight.
Lets face it, doing anything while we are heavier is harder, and the harder it is, the less likely we are to do it long term. In addition, being heavier would logically put greater stress on joints, connective tissue and muscles. Interestingly, research doesn’t strongly support this logic. Body Mass Index is not a predictor for injuries, other than plantar fasciitis (an injury to the connective tissues of the sole of the foot). However, poor body condition is a strong predictor of injury, so if we have gained weight due to not doing much, then lets make sure we approach this well.
I would recommend that we start to improve our conditioning to run in a few different ways. Firstly, looking at our nutritional intake is KEY. The most effective way to lose weight is to improve what we eat! If you are brand new to running, I would start by walking daily. A quick walk before and after work, or during lunchtimes will go a long way to start strengthening those tissues mentioned above, help with weight loss, and start to get your aerobic fitness going! I would then definitely add strengthening exercises, as we know that these will certainly protect you against injury, and increase your running efficiency – now we are talking! Then we can start to add a few jogs into those walks, or as part of your warm up and cool downs around your strength work outs. In our next post I’ll give you some ideas on how to start your actual running program.
Effects of weight on performance
I am always amazed at the effect that weight has on running performance. That is, how quickly you are likely to run a race… This is why elite distance runners are so light! For example, Lets assume that an 80kg male completes a 10km run in 50minutes. If his fitness and all other external conditions remain the same, but he now weighs 70kg, he would run those 10kms in under 45mins!
So, don’t run to get fit, as it’s less likely to last! Run because of everything you get from it… of course fitness will be a part of that, as weight loss will be, but there’s so much more to be gained from your time out in nature!
Picture this… Its January 1st. This year you want to lose weight! In fact you have
already started to cut out the cake at lunch, park your car further away from work and have joined the local yoga class. You have been weighing yourself daily and watching the numbers on the scales decrease. You have started off strong…
But then the weekend hits, you have that important birthday and you become discouraged. This weight loss thing doesn’t seem so fun anymore and you may have just convinced yourself you just don’t have self discipline! You have already resigned to the fact that any further weight loss is in fact impossible and you might was well start eating the cake at lunch time again. You begin to put that weight back on and focus your energy on something else. This vicious cycle continues again and again. Does this sound familiar?
How do we break out of the vicious cycle?
Goal setting helps quantify and clarify the ‘how,’ the ‘what,’ the ‘why’ and the ‘when’ behind these statements. The aptly named S.M.A.R.T goals provide you with direction, structure, accountability and give you a deadline to meet. The SMART criteria is as follows:
- Identifies exactly what you want to achieve.
- Studies have shown that task specific and challenging goals lead to higher performance than ‘do your best’ or no goals at all.
- Feedback or reward has been shown to increase task performance
- Places a measurable value on the task for example; centimetres; dress; minutes;
- It allows for re-evaluation to objectively review a goal
- Do you really believe you can do this?
- Your goal must challenge you enough to be outside of your comfort zone, however should be within your reach.
- Are both the goal and the timeframe you set to complete the goal realistic?
- Going from sedentary to running marathon distances may be realistic but doing this in 2 weeks may not be.
- Set a time frame to achieve this goal by. When do you plan to achieve this goal?
- Not only does writing down your goals increase success rate, but it has also been shown to improve happiness, satisfaction levels and also creates a sense of achievement.
A goal without a date is just a vision
- Try and limit the amount of goals you have at one time and prioritise them
- Follow the SMART goals principle and write them down
- Re -evaluate: goals are there to be adaptable and flexible to your current situations and change, a review of your goals with change of circumstances or a period of time is essential to the goal setting process.
- Share them with the people who will help you achieve them; choose wisely!
If you currently do not have any clear goals written down, I encourage you to set some time aside or book in for a review with your trainer to nut out what you want to achieve. Goal setting is something which most of us recognise the importance of to achieve success, so lets be SMART about it!