When I take up a new hobby or interest and get passionate about something, I tend to go all out and become very ‘all consuming’ and obsessed with the task at hand. I thrive on being competitive, and get very inspired by people who are the best in their field. Guess there was a reason I ended up in the U.S., not to mention NY? 🙂 At the same time, as I have grown older, I must also learn to pace myself where this virtue is best practiced. When I first got into weight lifting (and we are talking months here, not years), I automatically started comparing myself to fitness models and body building pros that have been in the game for years and years. My biggest inspiration, Swedish fitness model Pauline Nordin, for instance – started lifting 10 years ago, and has all the muscle tone in the world due to her hard work. Ava Cowan from Gaspari Nutrition is another role model. These girls are doing hard core cardio at the same time as lifting because they can, and because they have to – to remain lean and “cut”. They already have the base of a very well developed, near perfectly sculpted physique and develop muscles bigger than they themselves sometimes even want to display. This is not the case with me of course! I’m at a stage where I am still fairly “puny” and soft, and in need to build up big time. I NEED to work biceps and quads to make them larger, as opposed to someone who wants to control these areas. What I can’t do while working hard at lifting those weights, is go all out with cardio for long periods of time, simply because, as I have explained in previous posts, I don’t have enough lean muscle mass to sustain the hard work the body goes through doing activities such as running, biking and stepping for longer periods of time. I still need to get used to the mere fact that MUSCLES BURN MORE FAT THAN CARDIO!! So the more muscle I can get, the better shape I will be in, but psychologically, my brain still thinks that unless my tongue is down on the ground and I’m dripping sweat from a long, intense run or spinning class, somehow I will get “fat” or out of shape. Well, au contraire – as my body fat is down 1% from last week and I’m also 1 lbs lighter. I’m tighter than ever and I do see veins and muscle tone pop out from places I never had them before (inner thigh, anyone?? hehe).
I’m reading a good fitness book at the moment called “The New Rules of Lifting for Women” (“Lift Like A Man, Look Like a Goddess) by Lou Schuler, and it explains the myth that a lot of endurance exercise is needed. In fact, he says to ‘step away from the treadmill’, and has a lot of case studies to prove his point. There are many better ways to lose body fat, Schuler claims, and if you are addicted to cardio, high intensity is better than low, shorter preferable to longer. Another myth is that endurance /lower intensity exercise is better because it falls within your ‘fat burning zone’, and you will burn more FAT than if you go more intense at your workouts. During aerobic exercises (where the body uses oxygen to fuel movement) such as light jogging, doing chores, sleeping (yes!) etc. you are using oxygen to burn a combination of fat and glycogen (which is the form of carbohydrate the body uses for energy) to keep the body working. During anaerobic exercise which is an all-out exercise such as weight lifting to the max, the body can’t use oxygen to burn fuel so it uses glycogen, rather than fat. This is where everybody got the “you must exercise in your fat burning zone” explanation that is so popular and misconstrued. The key is that the amount of fat you burn during exercise matters less than the amount of fat you burn when you are not exercising! Now that’s a new thought to get used to, right? This is where you start to see the true benefits of strength training.
I won’t go into all the details of the particular chapter in this book, but essentially weight lifting burns less calories in an hour than say running on the treadmill at 6 mph. But the subject who weight lifts, based on various case studies, ends up burning 22% more fat than the subject who did aerobic exercise! The result of one study was that the exercisers would have needed to burn twice as many calories during their aerobic workout to reach the level of post-workout fat oxidation achieved by the weight lifters. They could also conclude that weight lifters have a better metabolism in the forms of a possible increase in metabolic rate by about 50 extra calories per day (hey, that matters in the grand scheme of things!).
Another problem with endurance exercise is its repetitive routine (running/cycling). The body is great at adapting and getting used to your routine, and gets progressively more efficient. This is why long distance runners are able to go farther and faster in their runs, which is great if your goal is to be an endurance athlete. But if your goal is to be leaner, then this is really not to your benefit, as increased efficiency means you use fewer calories per unit of exercise. The body adapts to this increased efficiency by selectively shrinking your type 1 muscle fibers. They get smaller and smaller and the body becomes more efficient at going longer distances with less fuel. So if you are trying to get your body to burn more fuel, this is where the problem sits!
This is not to say cardio is not important – I believe very much in developing a healthy heart by performing cardiovascular activity such as running, cycling, etc. But for now, cardio needs to take a back seat to my new goal of building a more muscular body. I need to STEP AWAY FROM THE TREADMILL so to speak for the next couple of months to see what effect this has on my body. Diet and clean eating becomes even more important now that I can’t move as much as I’d like to, but I think I’ve got that down – at least for today, lol!