Exercise, Progress

Why Strength Training Won’t Leave You with Bulk

If you’ve even looked into starting a health and fitness journey, there are a few concepts I’m sure you’ve seen. These topics you see over and over, especially as a women looking to get in shape, include phrases like “light weight, high reps to tone” and “build lean muscle, not bulk.” They’re everywhere, and seem pretty straight forward, but are they even true?

Magazines and websites use terms that they know you will click on. Words such as “tone”, “lean”, and “shapely” come up the most often, evoking images of the body that you’ve always dreamed of. However, just because these terms appeal to you and your “ideal” image, doesn’t mean that they are anywhere close to what you need to reach your goal. These words and phrases are nothing more than clickbait for you to read an article about how weights will make you manly and bulky. Today, we’re discussing the king of reaching your goals: resistance training.

Right off the bat, resistance training will not, I repeat: will not, make you bulky. Unless that is your goal, and you are actively trying to build muscle mass, resistance training itself will not give you giant, veiny muscles. You will not magically look like Arnold himself if you pick up a dumbbell. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what will resistance training do for you, your health, and your body? I’m glad you asked, let’s take a look.

I know, you want to lose weight and get toned. Almost every client I speak with has a goal of getting “toned.” I don’t want to burst your bubble too badly, but “toned” isn’t really a thing. The look you’re after just includes increased muscle mass and decreased body fat mass. That’s it. Doing hours of cardio is usually the go to for weight loss, as it’s easier and less intimidating than resistance training, and you sweat quite a bit. That cardio you perform will cause you to lose excess weight, but I guarantee that a good chunk of that weight that you lose (30%) will be from your muscle tissue breaking down. So yes, you’ve lost weight, but no, you won’t be toned. Heavy resistance training, which means keeping the weight heavy enough that you can perform 8-12 repetitions of the exercise to stay in the hypertrophy (muscle building) range, along with some cardio, is your secret (or not so secret) key to sustainable weight loss, and a toned look.

To really discuss how resistance training is the key to your health and fitness success, we need to discuss lean muscle’s effect on metabolism. Metabolism is simply how efficient your body is at using energy. Specifically, we’re going to dive into your Resting Metabolic Rate, or RMR, which is the amount of calories your body burns at rest. Your RMR is proportional to your body mass, and according to the NSCA, muscle mass alone contributes about 22% to RMR. Excessive caloric deficit, with heavy emphasis on cardio and lowering calorie intake will cause mass loss, but 30% of that mass lost is muscle. The loss of muscle mass in the body will cause a decrease in your RMR, making it even harder to lose further mass. On the other hand, one way to increase your RMR is to increase the amount off muscle mass in our body. Not only does resistance training increase muscle mass, therefore increasing RMR, but resistance training also helps to maintain the muscle mass that you already have, while in a deficit. This means that, instead of breaking down muscle for energy while dieting, muscle tissue will be spared more often, causing your body to turn to glucose and fat for energy instead. Maintaining that muscle will again help to keep an elevated RMR, keeping your metabolism high and body running efficiently.

Resistance training clearly has a positive effect on your metabolism, but the rest of your body also benefits. Your body adapts to the demands placed upon it. With resistance training, not only do your muscles adapt by getting stronger and bigger (remember, we want a bit of size to look toned), but the tendons and ligaments that hold those muscles to the bones get stronger. As well, your bones build up against the resistance, increasing and maintaining density. All of these effects help to greatly reduce the risk of injury, both while exercising and just in general. As you get stronger, every day tasks will begin to get easier, as your body is more adapted to working harder. Resistance training also increases nervous system function, as it is your nervous system that is responsible for causing those muscles to contract in the first place! Resistance training will do nothing but increase your metabolism, increase your lean body mass, decrease your fat mass (when combined with proper nutrition), and increase your quality of life through brain function and energy. The question now remains, why haven’t you started lifting yet?

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