Would you believe that you burn more calories from lifting weights than you do from cardio exercise? Every time you workout using resistance training exercises, you get an additional 36 hours of a calorie burning effect that you don’t get by doing cardio alone. Cardio is only one piece of the fitness puzzle. The other pieces, which include weight lifting and core training, do much more for your body in terms of building lean muscle and burning fat in the long run than cardio can do alone. By implementing cardiovascular exercise along with the other two areas, your overall workout plan will be balanced and you will be positioned to get the results you are looking for.
Cardio Only Workouts
A well-balanced fitness plan that includes weight lifting, core training and cardio along with a clean diet is your ticket to success for staying healthy, losing body fat and building lean muscle mass so you can look amazing. There are a lot of women who make cardio the sole focus of their workouts. Unfortunately, the end result can be just the opposite of what these women are trying to achieve.
As a certified personal trainer, I see the same overweight women doing nothing but cardio every single day in the gym. It’s obvious to me what they are trying to accomplish, but unfortunately, they are focusing on the wrong thing. If they want to lose weight and keep it off long-term, they need to re-think their strategy. The resistance training piece of the puzzle is so vital for seeing real results in body recomposition (building muscle and losing fat). Remember, all of the training in the world will not provide the best results if you are not eating a clean diet. I see so many people who lose 10-15 pounds and then hit a plateau because they are cheating on their nutrition plan.
The biggest complaint I hear from women in the gym is that they don’t want to lift weights because they don’t want to build too much muscle and become big and bulky and end up looking like a man. Stop worrying about that because it’s never going to happen! Women don’t have nearly the same levels of muscle building hormones (testosterone) that men have, so females will never be able to gain the same amount of muscle mass as a guy can. However, women can add some quality muscle to their physiques through weight training and it’s one of the keys to kicking up fat loss to another level!
Not only does lean muscle look so much better than ugly body fat, but the calorie burning effects of building muscle are extremely powerful. By adding lean muscle tissue, it will help to increase your metabolism and burn excess calories, even at rest. With the new muscle you have gained, the calories you take in each day will feed these muscles instead of getting stored as body fat. I think a lot of women are simply unaware of these facts so it’s easy to just avoid including this crucial piece into their workouts. Most women who want to drop a few extra pounds usually go on one of those crazy fad diets that they can’t sustain over the long-term. These same women add in a bunch of cardio along with their fad diet. On a short-term basis, this usually yields some results, but most of these women usually revert back to their old eating habits and the weight comes right back on very quickly. When the main focus shifts to building lean muscle with resistance training and by following a clean diet with enough nutrient dense calories, the excess pounds come off, and most importantly, they stay off as the woman continues with her weight lifting regimen.
Reasons Why You Should Build Lean Muscle:
- The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism becomes which helps to burn excess calories and stored body fat.
- Women who lift weights burn additional calories even at rest (up to 36 hours after their workout).
- Muscle helps protect your body and joints. People with a muscular physique stay healthier and don’t get injured as often.
- Improved muscle mass will improve bone density, which in turn, will reduce the likelihood of unnecessary broken bones especially as you get older.
- A lean physique simply looks better and is much sexier than carrying around excess pounds of fat.
The problem with utilizing only cardio exercise alone in order to stay in shape is that it simply does not work the best for losing fat and keeping it off. Cardio is wonderful when accompanied by the other two areas (weight lifting and core training). If your main objective is long-term health and staying lean, cardio exercise alone is not going to be your ticket to getting where you want to go.
Risks Associated With Doing Too Much Cardio:
- Excess cardio will burn up lean muscle tissue which will reduce your metabolic rate.
- Reduces HGH (Human Growth Hormone) and testosterone levels resulting in decreased muscle mass.
- Actually increases appetite which can result in eating excess calories and gaining weight.
- Can cause heart-related issues.
- Can cause bone density issues due to the loss of lean muscle mass.
- Can cause joint issues with the knees, hips and ankles.
Benefits Associated with a Well-Balanced Fitness Plan (weight lifting, cardio, core training):
- Increased calorie burning for up to 36 hours after a workout.
- Helps to reduce risks associated with heart disease.
- Helps prevent osteoporosis.
- Increases overall mood and mental outlook.
- Improves athletic ability.
- Improves mobility.
- Lowers diabetes risk.
- Better blood sugar control.
- Improved balance.
- Helps prevent back issues.
- Better joint support when surrounded by muscle.
The Key is Consistency!
If you consistently workout at least 4 times a week for about an hour each session, you will start losing unwanted pounds and develop lean muscle which will help to tone and tighten up your physique. Your diet will play a very important role in developing lean muscle and burning fat, so make sure you put the same amount of energy into eating a clean diet as you do with your training.
What gets measured, gets managed! Setting your goals and then monitoring your progress is absolutely vital for reaching success. How many pounds do you want to lose? Write down your goals and track your progress! Some people like to measure their body parts. I find it easier to take 4-5 photos of my physique each month to chart my progress. Pictures simply don’t lie. The pictures can also serve as big motivator from month-to-month allowing you to see your progress. Taking photos are even more important than weighing yourself on the scale. I’ve trained quite a few women that ended up completely transforming their physiques through recomposition (building lean muscle and losing body fat) and even though their bodies totally changed, the number on the scale didn’t move that much.
What Should Your Workouts Look Like?
Workouts should be balanced by including the 3 core aspects of a quality fitness program which includes weight training, cardiovascular exercise and core training. I usually do some core and cardio first to warm up my body and get it ready for an intense weight training workout. With weight training, you should be focusing on breaking your workouts into a 4-day split training routine per week where you train different body parts on each day. Here is an example:
- Arms – I’d recommend doing at least 2-3 exercises for your biceps and triceps and perform 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions. The key is finding the correct weight where you are challenging your muscles. Some recommended exercises include standing barbell curls, seated dumbbell curls and machine preacher curls. For triceps, I recommend lying barbell extensions (aka: skull crushers), standing straight bar pulldowns and dumbbell kickbacks. Shoot for 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions also.
- Chest and Shoulders – For chest day, I recommend flat bench using a smith machine where you use a wide and narrow grip. I would also do both incline and decline dumbbell press. For shoulders, I like seated dumbbell press and lateral dumbbell raises. Again, you should do 3 sets and 10-12 repetitions of each exercise.
- Back – The back is an amazing body part that helps create a specific “look” to your physique called a V-Taper (wide back and small waist). I recommend lat pulldowns using a machine, bent-over barbell rows and seated cable rows.
- Legs – Squats using a Smith machine is amazing for toning and tightening the thighs. Other great exercises to use include the leg press machine, dumbbell lunges, step-ups to a bench, Romanian deadlifts using a barbell (hamstrings) and hamstring machine curls. Don’t forget your calves! Calf press using a leg press machine is very effective along with machine seated calf raises.
Doing these four workouts using the “4-day split” routine every week will provide the needed resistance for building new muscle mass. Remember to always warm-up with 5-10 minutes of cardio before your weight training workout to get your muscles warmed up and ready. After your workout is when you want to do your main cardio workout (not before). This includes 30-40 minutes of whichever form of cardio you enjoy the most (bike, jogging, walking, elliptical, rowing, jump rope). After your cardio, remember to get your flexibility training in with 10-15 minutes of active stretching.
What Type of Diet is Best?
Don’t make your diet complicated because it doesn’t need to be! Eat lean protein sources like chicken breast, turkey breast, eggs, fish and lean steak. This should be a no-brainer, but make sure to eliminate processed carbs right away (cookies, candies, cakes, pies, chips, etc)! Processed carbs provide little nutritional value to your body and spike your insulin levels due to the large of amount of sugar they usually contain. Eat lots of green vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, kale and mushrooms, to name just a few. You can also include fresh fruits, but don’t go too far overboard since they also contain natural sugar and can affect your blood sugar levels (insulin) if eaten in excess. Clean starchy carbs include sweet potatoes, quinoa, brown rice and old-fashioned oatmeal. Healthy fats include olive oil, nuts (almonds, walnuts), flaxseed, avocados and fatty fish like salmon. There is nothing wrong with an occasional drink from time to time, but consistently drinking lots of alcohol can cause serious issues over time with building muscle and losing fat since it decreases testosterone levels, increases estrogen and leads to fat gain through excess calories (remember that 1 gram of alcohol contains 7 calories).
Special Circumstances for Middle-Aged Women
Over 80% of women over 40 years old do not have optimal hormone levels. Most women are simply not aware about the importance of balanced hormones and the various treatments available. It’s extremely important to request a “complete metabolic panel” from your doctor so you can see your baseline when it comes to key hormones like estrogen and testosterone. Most middle-aged men and women decline at least 1% per year. When your testosterone and estrogen levels are out of whack, it’s one of the major factors that leads to putting on excess pounds as you age. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get your hormones tested so you can see which specific ones are low and then you will be able to make the decision to take the necessary steps to start hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in order to optimize them so you can feel your best. I will be doing an article on HRT for women in the near future which will help shed light on the entire process for using hormone therapy.
My hope in writing this article is to educate women about why doing cardio as their only form of exercise is not the ideal way to lose fat and keep it off long-term. The biggest issue I see with women who only perform cardio is that they are working just as hard, but they’re not reaping the full benefits of building lean muscle and burning excess body fat that they could be getting from a well-balanced fitness plan. I always encourage every person to get help from a certified personal trainer to get started and make sure you are performing the exercises correctly. Getting great results within the first couple of months is key and it will provide you with the motivation and passion towards fitness. I wish everyone great success with their fitness plan and I hope this article helps to educate women on why following a balanced workout program with weight lifting, cardio and core training is ideal for achieving the body of your dreams!