Make Lean Muscle Your Best Friend

Your figure will benefit from strength training.

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Want greater fat loss? Do more cardio. That’s been the mantra for decades. As a means to a healthier heart as well as increased weight loss, women gravitated toward regimens like running, ellipticals and step classes, often neglecting any intentional strength development.

In recent years, exercise science has put a spotlight on female strength training, dismissing the idea that a woman who lifts weights will look manly. Most women now understand that adding muscle is hugely beneficial, and in combination with high-intensity interval training, it can provide amazing physical results. We hear that “strong is the new skinny” and “strength is beauty,” but there’s so much more to it than exterior transformation and a healthy appearance. So what real benefits can the average woman expect from incorporating strength training into her regular activities?

Burn more fat.

Women talk a lot about weight loss, but they’re really talking about fat. We all have it (and need it to survive), but who among us is a huge fan of having an excess of it?

It’s common to hear that muscle weighs more than fat, which is technically not accurate — after all, a pound is a pound. Rather, muscle is denser than fat — by about 18 percent. So a pound of muscle tissue takes up less space than a pound of fat. This means that a woman might not necessarily notice major weight loss with a strength program, but what she can expect is fat loss (and a smaller dress size). An increase in lean muscle brings with it an increase in metabolism. A woman who has a significant amount of muscle burns more calories (and fat) even while she isn’t working out than a woman with very little muscle.

Gain strength.

It seems obvious, right? If you’re strength training, you should see improvements in strength. But the gains are not limited to your major muscle groups. Strength training also can improve bone density (thus increasing bone strength) and overall strength in connective tissues. And though we often forget that the heart is a muscle, recent research shows that it too can benefit through the combination of a strength-training program and a cardio plan.

Appear more youthful.

It might not be exactly what you had in mind, but strength training can serve as a bit of magic when it comes to staying young. At about age 30, muscle tissue begins to deteriorate. The body’s ability to produce muscle protein lessens and muscle repair slows down as we get older. However, people who stay active and exercise lose less muscle than their sedentary counterparts. Plus, weight training can reduce the risk of injuries that come with muscle loss. In other words, lifting can serve as a killer method for prevention, if you’re into keeping your youthful functioning and appearance.

Build a beautiful shape.

There is no single way to define beauty. But there’s also no denying that a healthy body (regardless of shape or size) is a beautiful body. Lean muscle, derived from strength training, is the only tissue with the ability to shape and tone one’s body. So adding muscle to her frame gives any woman her best bet at achieving the shape she was made to rock.

Strength-Training Strategies

There are plenty of ways to mess up your best intentions to sculpt a nicely muscled figure. Here are some tips from Tosca Reno to keep you out of trouble and in fine form.

1. Don’t Fear Lifting Heavier: You have to take risks to grow, meaning you need to have the courage to lift heavy and build muscle.

Do it! To increase strength, build muscle and boost metabolism, increase weight amounts moderately when you are able to complete the upper range of repetitions fairly easily. If doing eight to 12 reps per set becomes easy, select a weight that leaves you taxed in your next session.

2. Don’t Lift Unevenly: You may think you’re lifting a weight in a straight line. But in reality, you may instead be lifting it in an S-curve, arcing out and in, or with one side rising higher than the other. This is not the ideal lift.

Do it! Put your mind into the muscle. Engage your brain as well as your muscles. For your brain, just imagining the movement is as good as doing it. Focus on the lift while performing it, engaging your weaker side as intensely as your stronger side.

3. Don’t Overtrain: For full recovery, your body needs to rest after heavy training sessions. Overtraining and not getting sufficient rest can lead to injury and frustration.

Do it! Adhere to a program that allows for adequate training punctuated by appropriate rest. That means giving trained muscle groups at least two days of rest and/or active recovery before working them again.