Dear women, don’t be afraid of resistance training.
I’m super excited to see the growing interest in health and fitness among many people in China, particularly among young women. However, when I speak with them and suggest they include some kind of resistance training in their fitness regime, whether to help loose weight, get a tighter butt, to ‘feel’ better generally, or any other reason, they always shake their heads, and nearly gasp that I would suggest such a thing! “I don’t want to be a freak with huge muscles" they say, “didn’t you hear me, I want to loose weight, not build big muscles! Big muscles don’t look good on girls!”. To these sorts of comments I usually shake my head, try to stay calm, exclaim “I wish it was that easy to build big muscles!”, and then begin to explain what really happens to your body when you do strength-training or other forms of exercise that are not strictly cardio-based.
This topic can get quite complex rather quickly, but as most of you really just want the main points, I’ll stick to that approach. Hopefully after going through them you’ll see that resistance training is not only for people who want to be professional bodybuilders, on the contrary, it is for anyone who wants to optimize how their bodies look, feel and perform, on the outside AND the inside.
There are, of course, several different types of ‘resistance training’, and each of them deliver results that fall in varying places on a spectrum, but in general, the below points should apply to most of them to some degree. In general, resistance training could be loosely defined as placing the muscles under stress by working against an opposing force. This often means ‘lifting weights’, but there are many different ways to do this, and of course working with just your body weight also classifies as a (great) method of resistance training.
And just so you know, if you start lifting weights or begin doing body-weight training, you are not going to get ‘bulky’. Stop thinking about those images of professional body builders you may have seen and believing that if you pick up some weights it will magically transform you into a muscly beast, it just doesn’t work that way.
Instead, resistance training (and a healthy diet) leads to a symetrically-shaped body, strong bones, optimized hormones, elevated mood, great sleep, better fat-burning, saved time, and a nice butt!
So, let’s get started. What makes resistance training so great?
1. Fat Loss. If loosing body fat is your goal, you are simply wasting your time and effort by only doing cardio. It’s true, in general, more calories are burned when doing cardio than resistance-training (though this may not apply to HIIT training), but when you finish your hour-long cardio session, you calorie-burning stops. When you do resistance training, you keep burning calories for up to 48hours! Not to mention, muscles require more energy to maintain. Translation? Muscles burn more calories than fat! So the more muscle, the more calorie burning!
2. Looking Great. So often we think that all it takes to look our best is to lose that unwanted fat around our bellies, not true! We don’t just want to ‘lose fat’ do we? What we really mean is we want to ‘look great’! If you want to look you BEST, putting some well-placed muscle tone on those bones is definately how you should be thinking.
3. Hormones. This point is really a part of each of the other points, as our hormones are involved in most processes in our body and optimizing them is always in our best interests if we want to feel good, look young and fit, think clearly, reproduce healthily and lots of other stuff. The main one to focus on for you people who want to ‘lose fat’ (can we change that term to ‘optimize body composition’ ? It’s so much better), is that resistance training increases insulin sensitivity. This is a HUGE subject, so let’s just put it this way, while insulin does perform some good and vital functions for our bodies, the more ‘efficient’ we can be with it (Read: the less we can use), the better. This is because, among other things, insulin takes glucose from your blood, and stores it as FAT! So, the more ‘efficient’ your body is in using insulin, the less it needs to use to get the job done. Less insulin = less fat. To take it a step further, resistance training = less insulin = less fat. (Btw, Insulin is secreted in the highest amounts as a result of eating carbs, so if you eat lots of them, try cutting back and replacing them with some healthy fats referred to in a previous post).
4. Stress and Mood. Resistance training has been proven to be one of the most effective methods of reducing stress and enhancing mood, in part via the release of endorphins following training. The effect is so strong that resistance training is now a commonly prescribed and scientifically validated treatment for depression.
5. Bone Health. Resistance-training increases bone density, making our bones stronger and healthier. This is good, especially as we age.
6. Sleep Better. Studies have shown that regular resistance training improves sleep outcomes. Sleep is SO important to so many aspects of our health, so anything we can do to get better and/or more sleep is definitely something we should do!
7. Save Time. We are all busy, so all things being equal, would you rather spend 60 minutes or 30 minutes at the gym? I choose 30 minutes! Some forms of resistance training, such as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) have been shown to be even more efficient. One study found that just 1 minute of HIIT was comparable in effects to 45 minutes of (light) steady-state cardio!
8. Better Looking Butt (BLB). This may sound superficial, but who doesn’t want a BLB? I know I do :)
Keep in mind, this is a non-exhaustive list of benefits from some form of resistance training, in reality, there are many more!
So, next time you’re at the gym, or even at home, don’t be afraid to start incorporating some resistance training. As with all things, start light and slow, and build up as you become more accustomed to the movements and want to challenge yourself more. I guarantee you’ll see results soon!
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