As you know, exercise is essential to getting in shape, losing weight, reducing your risk of various diseases, having energy, and maintaining a toned appearance and a healthy body weight. Losing weight is all about burning more calories than you consume, so it requires either eating less, getting more physical activity, or—ideally—both.
There are two main classes of exercise: aerobic (also known as cardiovascular, or cardio for short), and strength training. Cardio exercises are based on movement. Jogging, swimming, bicycling, step aerobics, jumping jacks, and other workouts that elevate your heart rate are examples, and they’re best for improving heart health and burning calories.
Strength training includes more stationary exercises that break down and rebuild your muscle fibers. Weight lifting and resistance training (like using resistance bands or your own body’s weight to work muscle groups) are examples. These don’t burn calories like aerobic exercises, but they’re still useful for getting toned and achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
How Lifting Weights Helps
When you lift weights, the strain actually breaks down your muscles. Your body then uses protein to rebuild the muscles bigger and stronger to make them more resilient. That’s why it’s important to have high protein intake when lifting weights; otherwise, your body can’t rebuild and grow the muscles.
As you build your muscles, they replace fat stores in your body, increasing your metabolism so you burn fat more efficiently. This is the premise for all those weight training ads that tell you to “Turn your body into a fat-burning machine!” The more muscular you are, the more efficiently your body burns fat; the more efficiently it burns it, the less you store as body fat.
So strength training has its place along with calorie-burning cardio when you’re trying to lose weight. One thing to note here, though: Muscle is denser and heavier than fat. You can’t just go by the number on the scale to determine how successful your efforts are.
Especially in the beginning of your new exercise regimen, as you replace fat with muscle, it can slow down how many pounds you’re losing. Depending on your body condition and how overweight you are, you might even gain weight as you gain muscle. But you’re still becoming more lean and more fit, and that’s what counts.
Starting a Weight Lifting Regimen
Lifting weights may look easy, but it’s not. Technique is incredibly important. If you lift incorrectly, you won’t see results. Also, you put yourself at risk for strains, sprains, pulls, tears, repetitive use injuries, and other physical trauma. You must incorporate numerous different weight lifting exercises as well to target different muscle groups throughout your body.
You also have to start slowly, with few repetitions and using fairly light weights at first. Gradually build up the number of reps you execute and to using heavier weights. In the beginning, don’t lift more than once or twice per week, and never do it two days in a row. Your muscles require time to rest and rebuild between workouts.
I highly recommend finding a professional trainer to teach you proper warmups, stances, and weight lifting techniques. At the very least, get instruction from someone you know who’s an experienced lifter and whose physique shows that they know what they’re doing.
Consult your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen, too. A medical professional who’s familiar with your general health and any conditions you may have should advise you on how to safely begin and build up a fitness routine.
Protein Needs and Weight Lifting for Weight Loss
As mentioned above, your body needs protein to rebuild muscle fibers when strength training. There’s a lot of conflicting research—and a lot of differing expert opinions—on how much protein to shoot for. Generally, if you’re just starting out, aim to consume about 1.1 grams of protein per kilogram (or 0.5 grams per pound) of body weight daily. Further down the line, you might up your intake to somewhere between 1.1 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram (0.5 to 1 gram per pound).
Because you’re trying to lose weight, and because it’s healthier, get your protein from sources low in saturated fat and calories. Skinless poultry, fish, shellfish, nuts, seeds, soy, and low-fat or fat-free dairy are good protein sources. If possible, get protein from whole foods rather than supplements.
Answers also vary regarding how to time your protein consumption with weight lifting. If you’re eating enough protein over the course of the day, you should be fine. However, your muscle fibers seek protein’s amino acids shortly after a workout to start rebuilding. Eating a high-protein meal either shortly before or right after weight lifting may be beneficial.
Once you resolve to make a positive change like lifting weights to get toned, lose weight, and improve your health and energy levels, and after talking to your doctor and finding someone to help you, jump in! Don’t get overwhelmed by long-term goals or worrying about what you can’t do. Start small, even if it’s just a few dumbbell bicep curls one day in your first week.
Starting small is better than not starting at all. Develop one little habit at first if that’s what it takes, and then step things up when it’s well ingrained. There’s a cliché about how even the longest journeys start with a single step, and it’s totally true.
Good luck, and enjoy building your new, healthier physique!