Running on a treadmill 4 days a week may initially help lose small amounts of body fat, but you can only do that for so long. For those who are striving for the "tight and toned" look, you may want to consider the addition of a well-structured strength training program.
Contrary to popular belief, the fit and toned look so many strive to achieve comes from a combination of both cardio and strength training.
Unfortunately, there are many myths and misconceptions about strength training that tend to overshadow the enormous benefits that a well-structured program can have. Strength training can improve body composition, reduce the risk of injuries, and improve mental and metabolic health.
Strength training can improve body composition, reduce the risk of injuries, and improve mental and metabolic health.
In this article, we will discuss and lay to rest a few of these misconceptions that could be holding you back from achieving your best body and health.
Strength Training Myths v. Facts
Myth 1: "Lifting Weights Makes You Bulky"
Fact: Weight Training Helps Reduce Body Fat and Builds Lean Muscle
This may be the most common misconception when it comes to strength training, especially for women. Many people tend to think that doing any form of strength training will eventually lead to weight gain and a bulky look.
When beginning a strength training program, you may have some initial weight gain. That's actually desirable, and here’s why: You may gain lean muscle mass where your weight stays the same or even slightly increases while reducing body fat levels. The end result is a leaner, more defined body, and athletic frame.
Building lean muscle while gradually decreasing body fat is what leads to the desired look so many individuals are after. Muscle is much denser than fat, meaning that it takes up less space. Five pounds of muscle looks much different than five pounds of fat, due to the composition of each tissue. By adding muscle and losing body fat, your weight can stay the same, go down, or even slightly go up. Lean muscle is what creates a defined, slimmer, athletic look, not the number on the scale.
Lean muscle is what creates a defined, slimmer, athletic look, not the number on the scale.
The addition of lean muscle not only improves physique, but it also has a major impact on overall health and metabolism! Lean muscle mass increases metabolism, meaning we tend to burn more energy at rest and during less intense activities. An increase in metabolism and ability to burn energy makes it even easier to lose stored body fat, and as a result achieve a tight and toned body.
For those that have seen or experienced bulk during a strength training regime, it’s important to note and understand how diet and calories play a role in our body composition. Energy balance, or calories-consumed vs calories-burned, is a key concept to understand when it comes to achieving your ideal body. Being in either a calorie deficit or surplus dictates whether an individual will gain body weight, fat or lean muscle, or lose weight and body fat. Simply put, for someone to reduce weight and body fat they must burn more calories through exercise and daily activity than they are eating. On the other hand, for those wanting to achieve a more muscular look, they must eat more food to build new lean muscle. Understanding this simple concept is exactly why we work closely with each Lift-STL client on prioritizing their nutrition and diet to meet their specific goal. Your diet and training plan must work together in order to achieve your goals.
Being in either a calorie deficit or surplus dictates whether an individual will gain body weight, fat or lean muscle, or lose weight and body fat.
Myth 2: "You Have To Lift Heavy With Low Reps"
Fact: You Have To Train Specifically For YOUR Goals
When you enter a typical gym you may see a few lean, muscular individuals lifting 2, 3 or even 4 plates per side on a barbell. This can be intimidating and can easily feed into these misconceptions. The good news is, lifting heavy weights for low reps is just one style of strength training.
If your goal isn't to "bulk up" or deadlift 2x your body weight, then it isn't necessary. The great thing with strength training is that there are numerous ways a program can be designed to meet your specific goals and needs!
A simple concept to follow is this: do a little bit more than you did last time. The principle of overload is a foundational concept in developing a strong and lean body. That doesn't mean you need to be squatting 3-4 plates, but simply strive for small, subtle improvements over time. This could be adding 2.5 - 5lbs each week, doing a few more reps, less rest, or changing tempo.
If your goal isn't to lift heavy weights, then don't.
There is a bit more science and a lot more personal attention and thought involved when designing effective strength training programs for our clients at Lift-STL, but these are great principles to understand. If your goal isn't to lift heavy weights, then don't. You just need to know how to challenge yourself and progress towards your ideal body. This is the exact reason we always take a client's goals as a priority when designing individualized strength training programs.
Myth 3: "Cardio Is More Effective For Fat Loss"
Fact: Cardio Combined With Strength Training Is Most Effective For Fat Loss
People tend to think that aerobic training, or cardio, should be the go-to method for fat-loss. Of course, when it comes to achieving optimal health and longevity, there is no question about the benefits of performing aerobic workouts. Cardio builds a stronger heart, improves blood flow, circulation, and lung capacity. When it comes to improving body composition, strength training can have a bigger long-term effect on fat-loss and metabolic health.
Traditional aerobic exercises like running and biking may burn more calories in a given workout, but have no lasting effects on our overall metabolism. As mentioned before, through strength training and building lean muscle, we can increase our metabolism and ability to burn more calories at rest.
Aerobic training and strength training both have their benefits. When strategically planned together, the combination can lead to your best body composition and fat loss results.
We like to take advantage of the benefits of both aerobic and strength training.
Here at Lift-STL, we like to take advantage of the benefits of both aerobic and strength training. A common method of training you will see us perform for clients is a full-body strength training session, in which lower body and upper body exercises are paired together in a superset fashion. This combination allows us to use strength training methods to build lean muscle while taxing the body in an aerobic fashion. Using both training styles leads to a slimmer, leaner body while improving aerobic capacity and heart health.
An example of such a workout would look like this:
Superset: Identical letters are performed together before moving onto the next letter. For example, in this training session an individual would perform one set of Back Squat, then one set of Med. Parallel Pull Down, and repeat that until they’ve performed three sets of each. Then they would progress to the movements in B1 and B2, and so on.
Tempo: A-B-C-D, where A is time (seconds) to complete the first half of the movement, B is the time to pause, C is the time to complete the second half of the movement, and D is the time to pause before starting the next repetition (rep). For example, to perform a back squat at a 4-0-1-0 tempo, you would descend to the bottom of the squat over a count of 4, pause for a count of 0 at the bottom, ascend out of the squat over a count of 1, and pause for a count of 0 before starting the next rep.
Rest: The amount of time to recover between sets. For example, in this training session an individual would perform one set of Back Squat, rest for 60 seconds, perform one set of Med. Parallel Pull Down, rest for 60 seconds, and so on.
Strength Training Has Benefits Beyond Aesthetics, Too
Strength training is undoubtedly great for building lean muscle and sculpting a tight and toned physique. There are several other amazing benefits, too, such as:
Strengthen Bones and Joints - Strength training is one of the best methods to improve bone health and prevent osteoporosis. By loading and challenging the body during weight training it can cause our bones and joints to grow stronger and more resilient to injury.
Build and Protect Metabolism - Not only does strength training increase our metabolism and ability to burn body fat, but it also helps regulate hormones such as insulin. In turn, this creates a healthier environment to regulate blood sugars and fat storage.
Improve Sleep Quality and Quantity - Strength training can help improve sleep by increasing stress-reducing hormones in the brain. This increases the brain's ability to wind down at the end of the day.
Improve Mood and Body Image - Strength training has been shown to be a powerful antidepressant and increases "feel-good" hormones within the brain. Along with improving mood, regular strength training has been shown to also improve overall cognitive function and memory.
There you have it. Long story short, strength training isn't something to be feared. Participating in a well-thought-out training program that is tailored to YOUR specific goals won't leave you "bulky" or require heavy weight lifting. It will lead you to a stronger, leaner, healthier body.
Sign up for your Lift-STL evaluation today at lift-stl.com or call (314) 296-3117.