When I was in my early 20's my sister said that to me.
"What do you mean?!" I asked her.
"You workout all the time, but you don't have any muscles."
As much as I didn't like her observation, she was right. Back then I took it to mean that I was fat. At about 112 lbs, I wasn't.
During my teens and early 20's, my workouts revolved around running 3+ miles each day and lifting weights, usually staying with the 10 or 15 pound dumbells. If I couldn't run, I would do an aerobics class or aerobics video. I rarely ate, unless it was a turkey hoagie (I LOVED turkey hoagies!). After my sister commented on my lack of results, my warped mind decided I needed to step up the running and decrease the food intake even more.
If I was working out so consistently, why didn't I get the results?
CARDIO. CARDIO. CARDIO.
Turns out I was doing everything wrong.
The mantra was, and for most still is, "Cardio. Cardio. Cardio." If your goal is fat loss, do more cardio. If your goal is simply to get into shape, do cardio. Ok, cardio is great. If you are just starting out in a fitness regimen, going for a run or a walk, getting on a treadmill, or even taking a group aerobics class is much less intimidating than venturing over to the weights. You don't necessarily need someone there to show you how to walk, run, or jump.
Here's the problem: too much of this steady state cardio can stall any fat loss goal. By "steady state" I mean doing cardio sessions where you remain at the same pace throughout the session. When we do too much of this type of cardio, the body will begin to take it's energy from the muscles. Lean muscle mass is important for metabolism and fat loss, as it takes more energy to sustain muscle than it does fat.
A better cardio session would revolve around shorter time frames of intervals, such as HIIT or Tabata, especially if you can use more of your body in the workouts. Doing complexes with weights (kettlebells, dumbells, and barbells) is a great way to add a strength component to your cardio. I make these types of workouts available to my clients on my website. The Metabolic Effect, Jen Sinkler (Lift Weights Faster), and Neghar Fonooni (Lean & Lovely) are masters at this. Check them out online or on YouTube.
LIGHT WEIGHTS, MORE REPS
Early on in my fitness journey, I kept the weight I would lift on the lower side. Some of the guys who were teaching me about lifting would try to get me to lift a little heavier, and I would if they were spotting me. Left to my own devices, it was back down to the lower weights.
When it comes to weight training, the rule of thumb for women used to be lift light weights and do more repetitions. This was supposed to give us those "desired" long and lean muscles. Lifting heavy weights would make us "bulky." Some women still believe this.
The truth is, whether you want a leaner look, or you want to enter a body building contest, the underlying principle is the same: you must build muscle. The difference between the two lies in the frequency and intensity of the workouts, as well as diet. Body builders workout more often and eat a diet specific for building the amount of muscle they need to compete. Simply lifting heavy weights won't make you look like a body builder.
CALORIES IN VS. CALORIES OUT
Back in my teens and early 20's, my food intake was very little. I knew that in order to lose weight, I needed to burn off more calories than I ate. The problem was, I wasn't really eating enough to sustain the exercising.
We are constantly told that in order to lose weight we need to eat less. We take that to mean we need to cut out meals and eat only salads. When we drastically cut back on our food consumption, we deprive our bodies of the nutrients it needs. Our bodies will go into a starvation mode. In starvation mode, the body will want to hold onto fat in order to protect the organs. The body will begin to take it's fuel from the muscles, decreasing our lean muscle mass and messing with our metabolism.
To lose weight, we actually need to eat real food! We need to eat MORE of our veggies, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats. What we need to eat LESS of are processed foods and junk foods.
I'm not a big fan of tracking or weighing my food. I also don't worry about making sure I eat 5-6 small meals each day. That would drive me insane! For some people this may be a great way to get started. For me, personally, I try to make sure I eat protein, veggies and/or fruit at each meal. I eat when I'm hungry, but not ravenous. I try to keep snacks on hand (fruit, veggies, protein bar) if I'm out and about, that way if I begin to feel hungry, I can get something healthy in me. I also allow myself a little bit of dark chocolate each day, and have been doing this for 10 years or so. I used to keep it in my top drawer (it was mommy's "special chocolate"). Eating that little bit of chocolate keeps me from going crazy and binging later.
When it comes to my workouts, I do keep a journal. I log in the days, the exercises (weight, reps, sets), and how I am feeling. I do this so I can see my progress (or lack thereof), look to see what I have done or haven't done in a while, look at the weights I have used, and keep track of why an exercise didn't feel right on a certain day (ie. knee hurt, pulled calf muscle, have a cold, etc.). I actually have several notebooks in my gym full of workouts from the past several years!
In the end, make sure you eat!! Keep it to fresh, whole foods (veggies, fruits, lean meats, and some whole grains). Don't make eating too complicated. Eat when you are hungry, and keep healthy snacks on hand so you don't end up ravenous. When you workout, don't just do steady state cardio. Get some lifting in, and make it heavier than you previously thought was best for getting leaner. Sprinkle in some tabata or HIIT workouts. The more of your body you incorporate in your workouts, the better.
If you are feeling a bit lost or confused, come join us StrongGirl Revolution! We provide the guidance and support to make you stronger, healthier, and help you move better. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com if you have any questions about our program.
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