Good morning all!
I got little carried away yesterday with my discussion on the benefits of diet vs. exercise for weight loss, and found myself heading down a different road: What happens when your progress grinds to a frustrating halt? What do we do to spark our metabolism into a calorie-burning mega-machine, without limiting intake to an unbearable level? Let’s discuss…
Ahh the dreaded plateau. Perhaps you remember my discussion from yesterday about the dieters greatest fear and enemy. Perhaps not. Allow me to refresh your memory.
The weight loss plateau occurs after a calorie deficit is maintained for an extended period of time. the metabolism adapts to this deficit, and actually slows down, a little thing called ‘starvation mode.’ We start requiring fewer calories to maintain the same weight. Weight loss tapers off.
In order for us to move past this phase of the weight loss-cycle, there are two things we can do. Eat even less. Yes, when the body plateaus, as I mentioned above, it has adjusted to the new amount of energy you are providing. By the way, this is a good thing, our bodies are smart, they want to survive. When there is limited food available the body automatically slows down its metabolism to adjust for the lower calorie allotment. Kind of annoying if weight loss, not survival, is your goal. So we can eat even less, which in my opinion is just absolute torture, to again begin the cycle of caloric deficit compatible with the slower speed of your metabolism. OR (dun dun dun) we increase strength training!!
Women, or so I have heard, have innate misgivings with strength training for the fear of developing enormous The-Rock-style muscles (maybe you have noticed, but I’m not really afraid of generalizations, I think we’ve established that there are always exceptions to any rule…except maybe in math). Two responses to this;
- Strength training and weight training are two different things.
- Women actually can’t develop these kinds of muscles, it just doesn’t happen.
Strength training includes exercises, like Pilates, that use the bodies own weight to increase muscle strength and development. Weight training is using weights to build strength. So both of these are great. Why? When you hit a plateau you must increase the percentage of muscle vs. body fat because muscle burns more calories than fat. This way, you can eat the same amount of food and use more energy. You are basically tricking your own metabolism into speeding back up. Muscle also weighs more than fat, so while you may lose inches, the scale may not change. This is possible another reason that some are tentative about strength training.
On the topic of ideal workouts for weight loss, I want to offer my opinion on the benefits of cardio vs. strength training. We have established that strength training builds muscle. We have also established that muscle burns more calories than fat.
Strength training = good.
Cardio is amazing for high cholesterol, diabetes, improved blood circulation, basically just a whole arsenal of health-related problems. Cardio does not build nearly as much muscle as strength training, unless you add resistance (i.e. running on an incline), but then it turns into strength training, so I stand by what I said. What cardio does is burn calories, however we discussed the comparison of calories burned through exercise vs. diet (an apple per mile). You would have to run a LOT of miles to burn off anything significant in terms of your weight loss goals. As one of my long-time inspirations, Cassey Ho says, “Don’t be a cardio bunny.” Strength training will take you further in your weight loss goals.
Now here is the one issue; when I personally do any type of strength training I get hungry. Not hungry, starving. In order for added strength training to push you past your plateau you must maintain the same caloric intake. It is hard not to eat more when you start focusing on strength training, yes muscles burn more calories but if you are taking in more calories guess what? Nothing changes, Surprise!
Have you every been afraid of strength training; afraid you’ll end up with tree trunks for legs?