I often have women come up to me at the gym and ask me how I have managed to get so much muscle definition. My answer is: consistent strength training. I often share how important it is, particularly for women. The benefits include:
- Increases muscle strength and endurance
- Improves body composition (% of body fat)
- Strengthens bones and tendons
- Improves mobility and posture
- Decreases chance of injury
- Improves sport performance
- Reduces/reverses age-related loss of muscle tissue
- Improves confidence, self-esteem and gives a sense of empowerment
I don't know why strength training continues to be so intimidating for most women. Once you get started, you will wonder why it took you so long!
Since I have almost completely shifted to a strength-based fitness program, I have never felt better nor enjoyed my workouts more. But I still struggle to get many of my weight-loss clients to commit. This is unfortunate, because those that do, eventually see huge results. Eventually, however is the key word. In terms of actual weight on the scale, you will probably see a faster change if you do cardio, but believe me, over the long term, strength training is even more important for improving body composition and keeping excess body fat off for good.
So I was thrilled when a copy of Strength Training for Fat-Loss, by Nick Tumminello, arrived at our door for me to review. Although there are many physical and psychological benefits to strength training, I think the reality is, that I have to start emphasizing to most women the point about strength training helping with fat-loss (weight-loss). Unfortunately, most folks, unless faced with an imminent health issue, are not swayed by information about health risks. What does motivate people, is the desire to improve their appearance. Of course, this makes sense, as we are, in fact, judged by our appearance. This is often voiced as the biggest concern among my clients seeking support for weight loss.
A growing proportion of North Americans are overweight or obese and losing weight is practically a cultural obsession. The truth is, few people think about strength training as a key component of weight loss, but it is, and Tumminello does a great job of explaining why.
I like that Tumminello distinguishes fat loss from weight-loss. This is important, because it is really body composition, not absolute weight, that matters. Muscle weighs more than fat, so if you are muscular, you may weigh a lot, but you will have a lower proportion of body fat.
In Chapter 1, the first thing Tumminello does is explain the benefits of fat loss, ranging from better sport performance, healthier joints, increased energy, better sleep, to less stress, anxiety and depression.
In Chapter 2, he explains exactly how strength training can help you achieve fat loss. Most people, particularly women, think they must do cardiovascular activities if they want to lose fat. But strength training is also key. Why? Muscle is more metabolically active than fat tissue, meaning it requires more energy to function. While cardiovascular activities burn calories while they are being performed, strength training increases muscle mass, which means your body can burn more calories, even at rest. In other words, increasing your muscle mass is one of the few ways you can actually increase your metabolism.
Tumminello explains why women, as well as men, need to lift heavy weight to see results. I don't like, however, that he refers to women as 'ladies'. Personally, I find that term rather condescending, and prefer the word 'women.' But that's a whole other story.
The author explains the significance of sets and reps here too:
1-6 Reps - Best for increasing muscle strength
8-15 Reps - Best for increasing muscle size
Between 6-8 Reps - Provides some middle ground between the two
He points out that you should ideally do a bit of everything.
Metabolic strength training, which Tumminello defines as, strength training aimed as helping you lose body fat while building muscle, is based on 3 training concepts, which he calls the "3 Cs":
All of these concepts are high intensity, involve the whole body, and demand extended repetitive effort in order to get you working in an anaerobic state.
The third chapter covers nutrition for fat loss. Most people who need to lose weight will have to make changes to their diet in order to do so because exercise alone cannot make up for excessive consumption of calories. Why? As I've pointed out many times before, while it can take an hour of intense exercise to burn 500 calories, for example, it can take just 5 minutes to consume them (maple bacon donuts, anyone?).
Tumminello warns against diets that severely cut calories, fat or carbohydrates, or cut out whole foods groups or types of food. Thumbs up! So what do you change about your diet if you need to lose weight? He calls it "Complementary Eating" which is based on 4 components:
1. Lean protein
2. Fibrous carbs (fruits and veggies)
3. Starchy carbs (oatmeal, sweet potatoes, etc.)
4. Health fats (avocado, nuts, olive oil, etc.)
He specifies that at each meal, the protein and fibrous veggies should make up the biggest portion on your plate followed by the starchy carbs and fruits, and then the healthy fats.
Hmm, sounds pretty common sense to me!
One of the reasons strength training is really key if your goal is to lose fat, is that when you restrict your calories at all, you tend to lose muscle. This is why your metabolism decreases when you diet, and why it is often harder to maintain the weight loss than it was to lose it. Strength training can offset this phenomenon. In addition, we all lose muscle mass as we age, which means our proportion of body fat increases, putting us at increased risk of injury and chronic illness. You may not see a change on the scale as you get older, but you will see it in your physique and your clothes may start to fit differently. Strength training can prevent this as well.
Chapters 4-6 explain the principles of the "3Cs" and include a number of sample routines. Most of these require weights or equipment. Chapter 7 is all body weight exercises, most of which can be performed at home. Although most do not require equipment, some utilize suspension systems like TRX or resistance band tubing. This section also includes a lot of high intensity plyometric exercises.
Chapter 8 provides warm-up and cool-down options for your workouts. Unfortunately, the cool-down stretches all require a foam roller, which might be annoying if you want to do the workout at home but don't have one. That being said, foam rollers are awesome, and, in my opinion, definitely worth the investment.
Chapter 9 has an array of 4-week workout programs starting off from basic to very advanced allowing you to progress over time. The one thing I would say, is that if you are a real newbie to strength training, and do not have great kinesthetic awareness (i.e. the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement), it is worth going through the core exercises with a certified personal trainer before you get started in order to minimize your chance of injury.
Honestly, there are so many benefits of strength training, I think it is something absolutely everyone should do. If you are interested in getting started, and fat loss is a goal, this book is an excellent resource.