Bikini season is upon us again. Which means that everyone and their mother is likely trying to lose weight. There are tons of misconceptions out there about healthy weight loss, but in this post I am only going to address one: should you do strength training when trying to lose weight?
I’ve always been a big cardio girl myself. Especially in high school, my main goal from working out was to “burn calories.” And as far as I knew, cardio was the best way to do that. I knew that having muscle mass was good, but I didn’t really know why. Strength training was never something I cared enough about to put the time in for. Cardio always took priority. And I wasn’t trying to become hulk girl! Does this sound like something that’s gone through your mind too?
A huge misconception that so many women have is that weight training will make them bulky and overly muscular, to the point where it’s kind of masculine looking…. And no one wants that. But what we don’t realize is how unlikely this is. Women are built differently than men. We naturally have less muscle mass and a higher body fat percentage (for reproductive reasons). So in reality, having a regular lifting routine isn’t going to turn you into the hulk.
Benefits of Strength Training
Now that we’ve cleared up some misconceptions, let’s shed some light on the many benefits of strength training, and whether or not it’s helpful when trying to lose weight. One thing that I was kind of surprised to learn, once I finally looked into the benefits of strength training, was that it actually increases your resting metabolic rate (RMR). In other words, your body burns more calories not only when you’re active, but also when you’re at rest. So when you strength train, though you may not be losing the amount of calories you would be if you were doing cardio, you more than make up for it throughout the rest of the day when your metabolism burns calories quicker. This, combined with cardio, in turn, leads to a decrease in body fat, and increase in lean body mass percentage. If you have a lot of fat to lose, this will likely help the number on the scale go down. If you don’t have a ton of body fat as it is and are simply trying to tone up, you may find yourself staying the same weight or even gaining a few pounds. (This is because muscle mass is significantly denser, and therefore heavier than fat mass.) Even if you’re not technically losing weight, you will likely look and feel better, because you’ll be losing fat mass.
Because of the resulting increase in muscle mass, strength training will also improve athletic performance. For instance, you may have more endurance while running, faster times while swimming, or quicker movements while playing tennis. So if you’re looking for ways to improve in your sport, you really can’t go wrong with starting a strength training program.
Another surprising truth about strength training is that it can actually improve bone health. Because strength training puts stress on the bones, they subsequently increase in density, decreasing risk for osteoporosis. This makes strength training especially valuable for older adults, who are at a greater risk of losing bone mass. Another benefit of strength training for older adults, and for young people as well, is that it will just generally make day-to-day activities easier. Some examples are walking, climbing stairs, or even standing for long periods of time. Strength training can also reduce risk of certain chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and depression.
Lastly, according to some studies, strength training, along with other aerobic exercises, may also improve your cognitive function. I know that personally, my mind feels a lot sharper when I’ve been consistently working out.
Tips For Getting Started
If you are reading this and feeling a bit overwhelmed, not knowing where to start, you’re not alone. Here are some tips for getting started with a strength training routine:
- Stretching beforehand can be very beneficial and reduce risk of injury while strength training.
- Consider doing a brief warmup of some kind before getting started (i.e. a short walk, jog, or bike ride).
- Start by doing 3 sets of 10-12 reps, with about a minute or 2 in between each set. Adjust as your body needs.
- Try to challenge yourself. It won’t be very effective if you don’t feel your muscles working at least a little. You should feel your muscles burning slightly; this is when you know they’re working hard.
- While it is important to challenge yourself, it’s also crucial to know your own personal limits. If you feel abnormal pain or feel sick, stop or maybe try a lighter setting. Pushing too hard could lead to injury, which would probably set you back by a few weeks. So don’t push past your limits.
- Keep breathing deeply during each rep. You’ll be tempted to hold your breath, but don’t.
In closing, yes! Strength training will help you lose weight! I hope you feel more motivated and confident to go out and start a strength training routine for yourself! It may seem like a daunting task, but once you get in the habit, you’ll realize that it’s really not bad at all. Before you know it, you’ll be looking leaner and meaner, and feeling your best!