Probably the most common concern I hear from women when I talk to them about exercise is the fear of manism. What is manism, you may ask? To be honest, I just made the term up right now, but here’s the definition. It is the concern among females that if they lift weights they will turn into the greasy muscle-bound man-freaks they’ve seen in female weight lifting competitions when channel surfing past ESPN 3. This is a great tragedy because it closes the door to the most important avenue of fitness that exists. Gentlemen, don’t stop reading, this will apply to you also.
Let’s review metabolism for a moment and discuss its contribution to weight. Metabolism is a measure of energy consumed by the body in its daily functioning. Energy (measured in calories) is taken from fat, sugar, and protein in the body and converted to energy by the body’s cells. The byproduct is heat and water. Pretty simple, yet so frequently misunderstood.
The main thing that will determine the difference between my BMR and the BMR of another 36-year-old, 5’10” male is how much muscle we have. You see, muscle burns calories all the time. What’s even more important is that the main energy source that muscle uses to burn these calories is fat. In fact, muscle is the main source of fat burning in the body. Therefore, if another 36-year old, 5’10” dude is a muscle-bound stud, he’ll have a faster metabolism than me (a non-muscle-bound, non-stud). If the same dude is a super flabber-man, he’ll have a slower metabolism than me (a non-super-flabber-man). Said differently, the amount of muscle you have is the single most important factor that determines your metabolism.Everyone has something called a basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the amount of energy burned by the body for normal organ function. Your heart, liver, brain, etc. all use energy to stay alive. The reality is that the BMR is a mostly fixed value that doesn’t vary much between individuals and is determined mostly by your height, gender, and age. In other words, I am 5’10” and will have the same BMR as another 36-year-old male who is 5’10” regardless of how much we both weigh. This is true with one very important exception: muscle.
Now for the punch line. If the most important facto that determines the differences in metabolism in people is the amount of muscle they have then the most important thing a person can do to increase their metabolism is to increase their muscle mass. The best way to do this is to lift something heavy and do it often, i.e. strength training. Lifting weights is the most common form of strength training, but anything which strains the muscles to exhaustion will do the trick (see my prior posts on HIIT here). You’re muscles aren’t so smart and don’t really care if you’re using some fancy machine at a 24 Hour Fitness or lifting water jugs at your home.
It is clear to me beyond any doubt that strength training is the most important aspect of any fitness regimen that is designed for weight loss. Now that you understand the basics of metabolism you should see why. You also will understand the concept of the ‘after-burn’. If you were to run for an hour, you’ll burn a lot of calories (mostly sugar) while you’re running. When the running stops, the calorie burning stops. If you lift weights, you’ll burn fewer calories during the actual exercise but the process of strength training causes your muscles to rebuild themselves bigger and stronger during the rest period. In order to do this, the muscle cells take fat and turn it into muscle. This burns calories after the exercise is done, hence the term ‘after-burn’. The end result is more calories burned overall. The after burn is the main reason why strength training is so important.
Now back to the concern of women worldwide. So listen up ladies and I’ll tell you how you can lift weights, improve your metabolism, and lose weight without turning into a hairless gorilla.
- Don’t take testosterone (aka anabolic steroids).
- Lift for less than 8 hours a day.
That’s the only way a woman will turn into a freak like you see on TV. A man looks like a man because of testosterone. If you lift weights for a reasonable amount of time and don’t have testosterone, all that will happen to you is that you’ll lose weight and tone up.
For the men out there, if you’re getting a bit busty in the chest, strength training will lead to increases in testosterone and decreases in cup size. It’s a win-win.
The bottom line, if you want your New Year’s weight loss resolution to be effective, you absolutely must include regular strength training to your exercise plan.
Happy New Year!!