A popular idea in fitness is that you need to do more cardio to lose weight. While this may very well be true in some circumstances, the question actually becomes what is your actual goal? Is it to lose weight to become a smaller version of your current? Or is it to become more lean and toned, and feel like a better, sexier version of yourself? These are two very different outcomes, and most people are running after the wrong one.
The Weight Loss Cycle
Losing weight is probably the most common fitness goal. From the time of our first doctor’s visit as a baby, we are conditioned to look at our weight as a marker of health. Unfortunately, when most people lose weight they are actually losing muscle mass, which can lead to a vicious cycle that eventually makes reaching body composition goals extremely difficult. With every ounce of lost muscle mass comes a slowing down of your metabolic rate. Your metabolic rate is how efficiently your body burns calories. In order to lose weight, you must be in a caloric deficit. However, if you are not sustaining or gaining muscle along with it, it will eventually lead to your metabolism “slowing down.” Essentially, each time that you “go on a diet” without also focusing on strength training, you are setting yourself up to make it even more difficult in the future to lose weight. Less muscle equals fewer calories burned, which equals making it harder to lose weight.
Have you ever looked at an athlete, and was just in awe of how “perfect” their body looks? The flat stomach, the cuts in her arms, and the lean and shapely legs. What you are seeing is a product of a regimented training program which, in most cases, has a foundation of strength training. Increasing muscle mass through strength training helps to increase your metabolic rate due to the higher amount of muscle mass. With this higher amount of muscle mass, your body is more efficiently burning calories throughout the entire day- which is necessary for burning fat. The near “perfect” body that you are looking at in that athlete is from a high level of muscle mass. When you are looking at those abs that you see, those cuts in their arms, and the lean and toned legs; you are looking at muscle.
Skinny Fat is Still Fat
The trap that most people fall into who are looking for weight loss goals, is that they only focus on the number on the scale. It is true that you need to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight, but if you are in a caloric deficit without increasing or maintaining muscle mass, you just become a skinnier version of your current self. You may be 10 pounds lighter, which is a great thing, but if you don’t increase muscle mass to go along with it, your body isn’t going to change as much as it seems. In fact, you may even increase the amount of fat that you have on your body because your body is working in a less efficient state. Just because you weightless, doesn’t mean that you are any leaner. In the fitness industry, we use the term “skinny fat” for someone who loses weight but still remains at a high body fat percentage. When this happens, it makes it even harder to lose any fat or weight in the future, because you are slowing down your metabolic rate.
Afraid of Bulking Up?
I hear this concern a lot, especially from women who want to “tone” but not “bulk up.” Rest assured, it is actually very difficult to put on bulk. If it were easy, more people would be walking around looking jacked like a bodybuilder. There are a lot of factors that go into bulking up to such as being in a caloric surplus, lifting heavy weights until the point of muscular failure, training with very high volume and intensity, and having a high level of testosterone. Unless you have all of these factors going for you, it will be very difficult to bulk up through strength training.
First and foremost, everyone is different. Everyone responds a little differently to exercise, and everyone processes food differently. With that being said, in general, if you want to lean down and tone up, it is a “simple” formula on paper. You must be in a daily caloric deficit, I recommend about 10% less than what you burn to start, and you also should be strength training and a minimum of twice a week. Make sure that you are consuming a sufficient amount of protein each day, which is about .5-.7 grams per pound of body weight. And the most important factor in the formula is staying consistent. If you can do this consistently, over the course of time, you will see sustainable results.