Throughout my years in the fitness industry, if there is anything that I’ve learned, it’s that even top fitness professionals struggle at times to maintain their shape, myself included. The greatest comfort, however, is that with years of experience, I know what is needed to get back into shape, and that’s to build muscle.
Fitness professionals have been sharing this not-so-secret remedy to fighting fat for years, and while many women have embraced weight training, some remain apprehensive. Perhaps we can chalk it up to media that continues to suggest that building muscle will make one look “manly,” causing women to hesitate to use weightlifting for their overall fitness goals.
Unfortunately, I continue to see ads today that suggest that muscle will create a “bulky look” and that lifting weights should be avoided, using Pilates, cardio-intensive classes and yoga to achieve a lean body instead. These ads make me cringe, because while Pilates, cardio classes and yoga are all fantastic for the body, lifting weights is truly the answer to maintaining a lean body long term.
Lifting Weights Resets Your Metabolism
Many exercises are great for your heart, lowering your risk of chronic disease and improving mood and sleep, but only weight training can truly improve your metabolism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discriminating against all the other fantastic forms of exercise out there because I encourage you to do whatever you love, but I’m here to tell you right now that combining it with weight training is going to take you much further than most any other exercise will alone.
So just how does picking up the weights support metabolism health? We must first begin by understanding the definition of metabolism. Metabolism refers to a whole host of biochemical responses that occur within the body, most notably the way that calories in the foods that we eat and drink combine with oxygen to release the energy our bodies need to function.
To break it down further, there are different components of metabolism called “basal metabolism,” “thermic effect of food (TEF),” “non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)” and “exercise activity.” Please bear with me on all the scientific terms, but I assure you that once you learn all of them, you will have no doubt that weightlifting is the answer to an improved metabolism and physique.
The Science Behind Weightlifting and Metabolism
Our basal metabolism is the amount of energy needed to keep us alive. It is the energy needed to keep our organs functioning and our body temperature regulated, among other things. The thermic effect of food is the energy needed to digest, absorb and eliminate the foods we eat. Certain foods, like protein, take longer to digest, so they require a bit more energy. The next facet of metabolism is called non-exercise activity thermogenesis, which refers to the energy needed to fuel everyday activities like walking, sitting, brushing our teeth or any other activity we engage in other than actual exercise. The more active we are in our daily life (sitting less, walking more), the higher our metabolism tends to be.
The last component of metabolism is exercise activity. This is where weight training can have the greatest impact. While cardiovascular exercise burns calories while engaged in the activity and sometimes for several hours after, lifting weights to build muscle will enhance the body’s ability to burn calories even while resting.
Lean Muscle Burns Calories
Seriously, when your body has lean muscle, it burns more calories than when it doesn’t. The body must work harder to build muscle. After a weight-training workout, your body must repair damaged muscle fibers through a process in which it fuses them together to form new myofibrils that are thicker and stronger. It takes so much energy to facilitate this repair that it happens when we sleep and may take days.
Once you have these thicker, stronger muscles, often referred to as hypertrophy, your body will need additional energy on a daily basis to simply fuel your body’s basic needs (basal metabolism) and to fuel everyday activities (NEAT). The beauty of muscle is that as you gain more and more, you not only increase your metabolism (your body’s ability to burn calories), but your energy also increases, improving your ability to exercise, and with consistency, your body gets stronger and more efficient with any and all activities that you do. No looking manly but simply increasing your metabolism to become a fat-burning machine and helping reshape your body!
Building Muscle Takes Time (Like All Good Things!)
Good things take time, so it is important to note that muscle growth may take several weeks or months to see a noticeable change. You must first wake up your nervous system and its ability to fully contract the muscles. As this occurs, you must then provide a stimulus that forces your muscles to adapt and readapt over time.
Progressive resistance, during which the overload is consistently increased to push past thresholds over time to build muscle, is the ideal stimulus. The combination of providing adequate stress to the muscles through weight training, quality sleep and the right kind of healthy food for fuel is the recipe for improved metabolism and the lean body that most of us long to achieve.
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