What happens to your body when you lift heavy as a woman?
There’s a myth perpetuated by the weight loss industry that lifting light weights for many repetitions prevents muscle bulk. And it’s true, to a point, sort of. Because you can lift light weights until the cows come home without improving your lean muscle mass – it’s a trap.
Why do you want to start lifting? To lose fat and centimetres, improve your mood and energy levels, get better sleep quality, relieve stress, improve your self-esteem or create a sense of empowerment. I can categorically state that without challenging weights, at best you may minimally change your physique. You can perform set after set with light weights yet end up with no curves, no definition, no cuts, and no discernible fat loss to show for all the time and energy you’ve invested.
Why aren’t we training ourselves to meet our goals?
If you’re like the majority of female gym-goers, you’re most likely participating in group sessions or using the cardio equipment. So you are unwittingly training your body for endurance – not fat loss. Even if you do the weights classes – lifting light weights for high reps gets you virtually the same results as jogging – you’re applying a light stimulus for a longer duration.
Weights classes are usually an hour long – and we’re lifting so why don’t we get amazing results?
If you perform the same exercises over and over for hundreds of reps, your body just adapts more and responds less – the same as it does with running. The more we do the class, the fewer
Light lifting elicits a different hormonal response than heavy, intense lifting. At the physiological level, a weights class will see your body increase the stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine, but without the complimentary release of fat-burning hormones like growth hormone, testosterone and even lactic acid, which acts as an important chemical messenger in the fat-burning process. You’re inadvertently promoting muscle breakdown and potentially encouraging fat storage in the middle (cortisol – the hormone that promotes tummy fat storage).
‘Toning’ workouts repeated day after day will strip muscle, not build it. The stimulus used during a weights class is never enough to support growth and development.
The only way to increase fat burning while building muscle is to lift heavy weights, preferably quickly and get more done in less time.
You can bulk – so why go heavier?
But not because you’re lifting heavy. It happens when you build muscle underneath layers of fat, without any attention paid to fat-burning. You may appear larger.
To build a lean, defined physique, we know that we need to lift heavy weights. We also need to burn fat simultaneously so we can reduce body fat and improve definition. When you’re lifting, switch on fat-burning during and after the workout by breaching your ‘anaerobic threshold’ – you’re breathless, your muscles burn, and you’ve reached failure (when your muscle can’t do what you’re asking – it’s mechanical failure, and it’s good, not bad). When this happens, you’ve maximised your fat-burning potential. High five yourself.
Your body releases testosterone in response to heavier weights – especially if you train to muscle failure – (again, this is a good thing!). When you naturally release testosterone (at a much lower level than men do) weight training increases your fat-burning – true story.
Aim to work with enough resistance to generate an intense burn through the muscles you’re training. It will naturally enhance the release of human growth hormone (HGH) – which also aids fat burning.
Finally, adding lean muscle mass will increase your fat burning potential even when you’re not working out. Lean muscle is metabolically active, but adipose tissue (fat) isn’t. Also the calorie burning potential of muscle – it’s denser and takes up less space.
It’s not the lifting that creates bulk – heavier weights promote fat burning and the creation of lean muscle so you can sculpt a lean, tight, defined physique.
Make a change
I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again – stop “toning”.
- Reps count – if you’re able to perform 50 repetitions comfortably, you’re not building muscle; you are wasting both muscle and time.
- Train with heavier weights. Choose a weight that you struggle to lift in the last few reps.
- Do short-duration workouts – train quickly, sticking to less than 60 seconds between sets.
- Don’t have long rest periods between sets – this is powerlifting and does not burn fat.
- Try circuit training. Circuit training keeps the heart rate up and generates a greater lactic acid burn in the muscles. You do a series of exercises with less time rest between sets, and this promotes fat burning.
- Include compound movements where you can in your training – exercises like pull-ups, squats, lunges, push-presses, rows and bench presses recruit muscles from multiple groups across various joints. Because you recruit more muscles with compound exercises, you increase the metabolic effect of your training.
- Don’t let your body adapt – training should be varied. Switch up the exercises you regularly do – at least every couple weeks – and this works to keep your muscles responsive so you can avoid a plateau.
Focus On What You Can Control To Improve Calorie Burn
The only way to ensure your muscles are efficiently burning calories is to stimulate them regularly.
We know that strength training is the best way to add lean muscle and burn calories. When you diet without training, you lose muscle mass and slow your metabolism. But lifting heavier weights will ensure you won’t lose muscle mass – Train SMARTER, not harder.
Don’t be unrealistic in your goals – the body takes a certain amount of time to build lean muscle – around half a kilo per month for women – so stay focused. Aim for losing about half a kilo per week, ensure you’re eating a diet high in protein and fresh foods in conjunction with your weight training, and this will ensure you are losing body fat to help you transform your body.
Let’s lift, ladies!
Download a free Squat Challenge e-book, join my 7 Day Kickstart or find out how much you know about your metabolism…