Our exercise world today is filled with buzz words like toning, long and lean, not getting bulky, and fat burning. All these catch on like fire because they sound so ideal to what women want to achieve.
In a way it makes perfect sense. Burn calories and you will lose weight. Do longer cardio sessions and you will be in fat burning mode. Pulse your leg 100 times and it will create long and lean muscles like a dancer.
The reality is it is much more complicated that simply burning calories. You are not really burning chunks of fat off your body on long runs you are utilizing its energy stores and there is no way that you can change the origin and insertion of your muscle to actually lengthen your muscle to create the long and lean look.
I get it though. That is what people what people want and it is what sounds ideal.
So let’s take real and ideal and blend them together in a way that actually works.
It is so much more about simply burning calories.
In one of my favorite books series The New Rules of Lifting for Life rule number 14 says this. “Exercise burns calories. Sometimes that is a problem.”
Research on many studies show that exercise doesn’t always have the same impact on weight loss from person to person especially when put on a low calorie diet. It also shows that exercise alone is not the solution to weight loss. However many of the studies that report these findings define exercise as steady state cardio.
This can explain why people who go on marathon training programs in hopes to lose weight end up gaining fat. Steady state cardio can make people feel hungrier and crave more which ends up in overeating and erasing any calories burned during exercise.
Steady state cardio can also raise cortisol level and strip the oh so wonderful metabolically active muscle tissue we so desperately need to preserve.
Your body is also great at adapting, which sounds ok at first glance.
The problem with endurance exercise or steady state cardio is that your body becomes more efficient at it (running, elliptical, cycling). So the more you do it the better you get, which seems like a good thing at first but think about it like this. You are just starting out running 3 miles and burn 300 hundred calories. After months of training you now burn 250 because your body is more efficient so you are getting less out of the time spent.
So what do you need to do to get results? You need to do more exercise. At some point you will run out of time to keep up with these adaptions.
In addition your metabolic rate slows its response to both the foods you eat and the exercise you do so you are more likely to regain any weight you loss.
Eek! This is not a good situation because at some point you will not be able to eat less or add more hours to the day.
Weight training is your golden ticket.
Not only are you building lean muscle mass and setting a strong foundation for your body you are creating different kind of demand on your body that allows you to increase challenge and energy production, not by adding time but by adding challenge with weights or intensity.
Even if you are chasing aesthetic results you be will surprised at how much you will gain in terms of strength, mobility, flexibility, independence, functionality, feeling more powerful, having more energy, building more confidence, accomplishing what you thought you could not, improving your health, and body change is just an added bonus.
Most people are far more capable than they realize they just don’t push themselves in the gym to their maximum potential.
Choose intervals that suit you best.
Intervals don’t always have to be running. They can done on any piece of cardio equipment or with exercise like kettlebell swings, jump rope, a series of air squat and push-up, whatever gets your heart rate up. The idea is that you work hard for a short period of time to the point where you are questioning if you can keep going and then recover and go again.
Most people don’t know or think about the body having energy systems that use both carbs and fats. When you go really hard for a 10 second sprint you are using carbs but when your body slows into recovery mode, you are using fats.
This can be the same with lifting weight to the point that it makes you breathless and you are unable to do the next rep. Work hard enough during you intervals and your body will stay in fat burning mode after your workouts as well.
In the end if what you are doing is working for you and you love it, are consistent with it and it makes you feel good, keep doing it. But if you feel like you are in a constant struggle or off and on, gain or regain, taking one step forward and two steps back, start to rethink your approach.