Lies You’ve Heard About Strength Training

IT’S LIES!! ALL LIES, I TELL YOU!! Pardon my rant but we as a society have been poorly educated- especially women- about strength training and that’s really sad because the truth is that strength training is often the most efficient way to reach many of the goals we have (i.e. look leaner, burn fat, build strength, etc.) and yet very few of us actually do it. There are a number of ridiculous myths and legends surrounding strength training that have led us to this overall lack of strength training and it’s pointless to throw a bunch of science at you and sing the praises of strength training if I don’t first set the record straight…once and for all.

Before I go down that road though, understand that I was overweight and very out of shape for most of my life (read my earlier Fit Blog bio post for more on that). When I finally began my fit journey at age 26, I really only ran. As the first few pounds began to fall off, I was super-motivated and did what seemed logical: I ran more. I was the proverbial “Cardio Queen”. All cardio. All the time. Was I in phenomenal overall shape? Absolutely, I was a well-oiled cardio machine. Was I lean and strong with a screaming fast metabolism? No and if I even so much as looked in the general direction of a candy bar I gained 5 pounds.

More on what changed for me in a later post but for now, let’s take out the trash and debunk some myths, shall we??

Myth #1: You’ll lose fat faster with cardio since it burns more calories.

It’s surprising how we’ve gotten so hung up on the number of calories we burn during our workouts. I remember seeing the seemingly-measly calorie burn from a strength training workout and thinking “this stuff is for the birds…do you know how many calories I could have burned during a cardio session for that same period of time?” Fortunately, I’ve learned how incredibly short-sighted that sort of thinking is. To prove this point, back in February, I posted a little-known statistic on the AcaciaTV members-only page on Facebook pointing out that you burn more calories during the 23 hours you don’t exercise than the 1 hour you do.

Let me put it to you this way, have you ever wished that you could burn more calories by just sitting on the couch? (Tell the truth, you know this thought crosses your mind once a day.) If you have, cardio is not going to get you there and I’ll tell you why.

Your body burns calories 24 hours a day. Even the smallest tasks like breathing, blood circulation, and digestion require fuel to complete. During a cardio workout, you’re burning mad calories; however, once the sweat session is over, your body quickly returns to its normal level of calorie consumption. But here’s where it gets interesting.

Muscles are fuel hogs- so the more muscle you have, the more fuel your body needs in order to just stay alive and kicking…translation: higher metabolism around the clock. Consistent strength training transforms your body into a calorie-torching furnace, burning more calories ALL DAY LONG and not just during the hour that you’re working out. Remember, energy-efficiency is awesome in cars and light bulbs but not so much if your goal is to be a lean, mean, fat-burning machine.

Myth #2: You’ll get bulky and hulky.

Admit it, when I said strength training you immediately thought of pro body-builders, didn’t you? If you are worried about looking like a beefy body-builder, rest assured that’s not going to happen without some serious effort on your part. Pro body-builders employ a very specific style of training in conjunction with extremely precise nutrition to accomplish their results and, much to their chagrin, super-ripped status isn’t something that (a) happens overnight, (b) happens by accident, or (c) is likely to occur in the lifetime of anyone NOT training to be a body-builder.

To add another layer of complexity, you need a significant amount of testosterone to get ripped. So to all my ladies out there, the chances of this ever unintentionally happening to you are somewhere in the neighborhood of “when pigs fly”.

Now is probably a good time to pause and make a very important distinction between muscle and bulk. I’ll admit that I reached a point where I felt I was getting “bulky” which means that I seemed to be getting stronger and bigger but I was (for lack of a better word) looking a bit squishy. What was that all about? I was adding muscle but it was covered by a layer of fat because my diet was (for lack of a better word) crap. Like many people, instead of just eating better to help burn off the squish, I simply stopped strength training. And guess what? I shrunk a bit but I was still just as squishy and I returned to my former weaker, injury-prone and frustrated state again.

Myth #3: You’ll lose the ability to move like a normal, fully-functional human being.

This one still makes me laugh. While it is true that every gym has its fair share of folks who reinforce this stereotype and those who break the body into parts (chest, back, legs, etc.) training one muscle group at a time through isolation, it’s not the way every strength training plan is structured.

If your goal is to look, feel and move a little more like an athlete, you have to strength train like an athlete by performing multi-joint, compound exercises that mimic the movements you do every day like deadlifts, squats, pushups, weighted rows, and bicycle crunches. The strength you gain from doing these functional movements well is way more useful in every day life and will make move better in general. With time and consistent practice, strength training will make you MORE functional rather than causing you to move like Frankenstein.

So now that we’ve cleared the air of all this nonsense, in my next post we’ll take a closer look at the truths about strength training and how it can safely and effectively help you reach your goals when the countless hours of steady state cardio and/or interval training just aren’t getting the job done.

Photo provided by Stories by M Photography