If you've recently decided to adopt a new fitness regimen, chances are you have one of two goals: lose some weight or get lean and toned. Lifting weights has a place if you're after either (or both) of these goals, but you may feel inclined to shy away from the weight room for fear of bulking up. You're certainly not alone in believing this way of thought, but rest assured that you need not avoid the weight room in favor of all cardio, all the time.
Shauna Sacco, a registered dietitian and a certified personal trainer at the Houstonian Club in Houston, frequently runs into this misconception about weightlifting among her private clients and group fitness members.
"Strength training with heavy weights remains one of the best forms of exercise for weight loss, and I will always encourage women to give it a try," Sacco said.
"Many of my female clients won't touch anything more than 5 pounds for fear they will 'get bulky,' instead turning to cardio to reach their weight-loss goals," she said. "In actuality, they have it backwards — strength training with heavy weights is an effective way to get lean because it exhausts the muscle's stored fuel. In response, the body will draw from fat stores to replenish this fuel. So where a cardio workout stops when you do, strength training keeps the body burning calories long after you put down your weights."
Furthermore, Sacco said, the more muscle we gain from strength training, the more energy we require to build and maintain it, which in turn leads to long-term fat loss.
"The 'bulk' my clients are referring to occurs when we gain muscle but don't adjust our eating habits to facilitate weight loss," Sacco said. "Beginning any new workout program triggers an increase in ghrelin, our body's 'hunger hormone,' so it's important to still be disciplined with our diet, and get plenty of satiating fiber and protein to curb cravings."
In other words, choose more quality post-workout snacks rather than empty carbs and sugary drinks to truly avoid extra "bulk," which could end up just being extra fat if you're also eating more than usual. Protein-rich snacks such as a banana or toast with peanut butter will rebuild, repair, and improve the strength of our muscles after working out.