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Ladies, Lift some weights! – The benefits of weight training for women. 

“But I really don’t want to get big muscles, I’m just looking to lose a bit of weight and tone.”  

This is what I hear so many people say when they ask me for advice of how to get in shape, and I tell them they should ditch the elliptical trainer and hit the weight-room.  

Yip, I’m afraid it’s mostly the ladies who say this, but there are some guys who give me this response too.

This is a
 big myth. Most people think that if they just touch a dumbbell or barbell they’ll end up getting too muscular and bulky. Instead, they turn to long, continuous cardio sessions, of 45 minutes to an hour, maybe throwing in a few ‘token’ resistance exercises at the end.

Look or sound familiar? – that’s the picture that greets you at most commercial gyms.

It’s this thinking that prevents most people from achieving the physique they desire. This is complete garbage, and a total myth. It’s one of the notions I most often have a hard-time turning people away from. 

Overweight people often have the belief they have a slow metabolism, and whilst yes, their metabolism might be slower than that of a lean and muscular person (yes, pun intended), it’s something they can change.

One of the main determinants in the so-called “speed of your metabolism” is your Basal Metabolic rate (BMR) – the number of calories you require on a daily basis for survival and to maintain your current level of lean body mass, not accounting for the calories you expend from physical activity.

Lean body mass, is the weight of your body minus all of the fat. It is the greatest determinant of your BMR, and hence the “speed of your metabolism”. So essentially without going into too much detail and keeping this in layman’s terms as much as possible – the more muscle you have and the less fat you have, the faster your metabolism will be.

By increasing the amount of muscle you have, you effectively “speed up your metabolism”, and people with a faster metabolism are generally leaner. 

So do not fear the weights. Ladies, you can also rest assured that you simply do not have the hormonal make up to gain significant amounts of muscle. 

Those bronzed up, overly-muscled, scary-looking female bodybuilders you’ve seen in pictures got that way through effectively turning themselves into men, as a result of massive steroid use. No woman will ever look like that naturally. 

For men, not looking to bulk up either, the same can also be said, you have to drastically increase your calorie intake to add significant amounts of bulk, so unless you are doing that, all that lifting weights will do, is make you more ripped and muscular, not huge.

Aside from ultimately allowing you to raise your BMR, through building muscle, studies have shown that following intense weight training workouts, the body’s BMR is raised for up to 2 days following the workout, regular cardio only elevates it for 1-2 hours following the workout. If you are weight training 3-4 times per week, your BMR will be constantly elevated.

The hormonal changes in your body as a result of strenuous weight training are also far more beneficial towards fat loss than those brought about from slow, steady-state cardio.

Excessive cardio has even been shown to decrease muscle mass, resulting in a concomitant drop in BMR. Over time, a lower BMR will result in greater fat storage and give you that ‘soft, skinny-fat’ look, with almost zero muscle definition, and generally soft, flabby look. 

The more muscle you lose, the harder it will be to keep weight off in the future. Protecting your muscle is one of the most important things when it comes to fat loss – weight training is one way to ensure this!

Still not sold?

A study (you can find it here if interested) which followed 122 women over a 6 year period found that those who performed heavy resistance exercise 3 times per week, at 70-80% of their 1 repetition maximum, had the lowest levels of body fat compared with all the other women in the group exercising differently. 

Two other studies, (which can be found here and here) conducted over shorter periods also had similar findings.

So what’s the bottom line?

Whether you are a man or woman, the best way for you to have a tight, toned and super sexy body – drop the long, slow, steady-state cardio sessions and start lifting weights.

A few extra points:

So if you’ve been sold you on weight training (I’m a crappy salesman, but I hope the facts speak for themselves) here are a few pointers for how you should do your weight training:
  • Select, compound, multi-joint (exercises that involve movement of more than 1 joint) weight lifting exercises like,   squats, deadlifts, clean and press, snatches, pull-ups, dips, push ups, Barbell rows, inverted rows, kettlebell swings etc. There are numerous videos on Youtube explaining how to perform all of these. If you’d like to know of a few more compound exercises then just ask away in the comments section and I can give you a few more.  
  • Stay away from single-joint (exercises that involve the movement of only 1 joint) exercises like biceps curls, tricep extensions, calf raises, shrugs, leg extensions and most machine exercises. Single-joint exercises do not induce the same hormonal and BMR responses that the big multi-joint exercises do. 
  • Choose a challenging weight, that allows you to perform only 8-10 repetitions. 
  • Rest 1 minute between sets. 
  • Perform at least 4 of the exercises per workout, some that involve your upper body, and some that involve your lower body. 
  • Perform weight training 3 times per week. 
  • If possible, add 1-2 interval training sessions per week as well. These can be performed after the weight training workout or on separate days. Go here for more on interval training.
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