If I had a nickel for every time a female client told me they didn’t want to lift weights for fear of “getting bulky,” let’s just say I would have lots of nickels. While, yes, there is a purpose for dieting and cardio, the truth is that lean muscle cannot survive on the treadmill alone. In my experience, weight training still seems to be the biggest-kept secret for fat loss.
You should know that unless you’re taking supplements to enhance muscle growth you won’t get bulky, because your body simply doesn’t have the hormones to get there naturally. Cardio only burns calories while you’re performing it, but strength training has what is known as the afterburn effect. Thanks to “Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption” or EPOC, your metabolism remains elevated even after you’re done exercising. A well-designed strength-training program can keep you burning calories and fat for up to 48 hours after your workout.
Here are four things your fitness regimen should include, plus a sample workout schedule.
Pure strength training
True to the way it sounds, this part of the program is designed specifically to build or maintain muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism will be, and the more calories and fat your body will burn. Your body type and level of expertise will determine how much weight you should be lifting and for how long. If you’re more advanced you can get away with lifting heavier loads, whereas if you’re just starting out, start with lighter weights (or no weights) and then add on once you’ve mastered the movement itself. My new book Strong is the New Skinny has a step-by-step guide for each fitness level, plus tons of strength training exercises to choose from to keep both your mind and body guessing. If you can only get to the gym 3 days a week, use those days to do your pure strength training. You can create a 5-move workout here or try these bodyweight exercises.
A tip for strength training: Don’t weigh yourself. When you lift weights, the numbers on the scale may fluctuate. You may be losing fat, but gaining toned muscle. Would you rather see the number on the scale go down or would you rather lose inches and have your clothing fit better even if you weigh a little more? It really should be no contest.
Metabolic resistance training
Metabolic resistance training (MRT) is also sometimes referred to as HIIT or high-intensity interval training. Either way you spin it, the main concept is that you’re performing periods of intense work, followed by a short period of rest. When done correctly, MRT can be the best way to skyrocket that heart rate and keep your body burning fat throughout the rest of the day. But, since the work is so quick and intense, form is of the essence. Respect your ability level—if you know you’ve already exhausted your arms from a set of burpees, don’t go for the squat with overhead press. Keep in mind that there are a number of ways to perform these types of exercises, whether it’s dumbbells, kettlebells, or body weight exercises like mountain climbers or push-ups. For more ideas, check out The 15-Minute Workout to Change Fat to Muscle.
Although cardio shouldn't be your only source of physical activity, there is still a place for it in your overall fitness regimen. Cardio can be done two ways: moderate intensity or high intensity as a form of interval training. It all depends where your heart rate is. Moderate intensity (heart rate in about the 120-150 range) is good for improving your overall aerobic base, as well as improving your recovery throughout the week as your body gets rid of any lactic acid build up from resistance training. Use it as a warm-up before your strength training days, about 10 to 15 minutes just to get the body moving. Or, you can use it as a MRT workout, getting your heart rate up to about 90% of its maximum effort and then recovering with a rest period. Try doing sets of 100 jump ropes as fast as you can, resting for 30 seconds to a minute in between. Or, run intervals on the treadmill: sprint for a minute and then walk for a minute. For an added challenge, try increasing the incline by 1% each time.
Your rest days are just as important as the days you’re going all out. When you work your muscles to the point of exhaustion, you’re essentially breaking apart the muscle fibers. In order to let them rebuild, you need to allow them the time to heal. If you’re working out every day, you’re not giving your body the time it needs to repair and rebuild. You could potentially be doing more harm than good if you refuse to take a day off, so it’s important to take adequate rest days as a part of your program.
A sample program:
Monday: Moderate intensity cardio warmup + pure strength training
Wednesday: Moderate intensity cardio warmup + pure strength training
Thursday: MRT intervals (treadmill or jump rope)
Friday: Moderate intensity cardio warmup + pure strength training
Jennifer Cohen is a leading fitness authority, TV personality, entrepreneur and best-selling author of the new book, Strong is the New Skinny. With her signature, straight-talking approach to wellness, Jennifer was the featured trainer on The CW’s Shedding for the Wedding, mentoring the contestants’ to lose hundreds of pounds before their big day, and she appears regularly on NBC’s Today Show, Extra, The Doctors and Good Morning America. Connect with Jennifer on Facebook, Twitter, G+ and on Pinterest.