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Is Your Workout Really Burning Fat? What You're Probably Missing

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As a personal trainer who works mostly with females the #1 concern of all time (and I’m sure every trainer would agree) is:

“If I lift weights will I bulk up?!”

The answer: In the short term, it’s possible, in the long term if you stick with it, NO.

The explanation: Lifting weights will build muscle, and this may happen before you shed fat depending on what the rest of your regimen consists of.  So naturally, if you build muscle under a layer of fat, yes you will look bulky until you put a dent in that pesky fat layer (don’t worry, I’ll give you tips at the end of the article on how to do just that!).

On the rare occasion that this happens, many women get discouraged and quit.  DON’T BE THAT WOMAN!  You must push through this phase. Why, you ask?  Because the muscle will help you burn more fat!

*Quick tip, I highly suggest you do not look at a scale during this period, as women we often take that number too personally and tend to forget that muscle weighs more than fat.

Heavy weights are your friend, not your enemy and could be the very thing your routine has been lacking. Doing the same exercises with the same 3-10lb dumb bells will only get you so far.  How do you know when those weights are no longer effective? You’re never sore after a workout.

Soreness means you broke down your muscles.  This is a desired outcome because it requires more energy to rebuild, which burns more calories at rest, and sets off a physiological chain of events in your body that ultimately boosts your metabolism.

This doesn’t mean to jump from 7lb dumb bells to 25’s, do some trial and error, a 2-5lb increase is a good place to start, the goal, after all is to increase intensity, not increase likelihood of injury!  See how you feel after the workout, and adjust accordingly the next time.

So how do you tone…for real?

My recommendation is a minimum of three or four days/week of workouts (maximum of 6, be sure to take a day off for rest and relaxation).

Lift heavy one or two of those days. If you are crunched for time, focus the big muscle groups, chest, back and legs.  Smaller muscle groups  (biceps, triceps, and shoulders) assist these big movers anyway.  Also, rest as little as possible between exercises, try your best to keep it moving.  (However, listening to your body is always important so if you need a drink, feel dizzy or nauseous, heed that feeling).  C

Can you still do your favorite circuit or total body conditioning class?  Absolutely keep those in the rotation, but add in these heavy days for a fat blasting boost.

Combination exercises. This is a no brainer, if you move more muscles simultaneously you’re obviously going to burn more calories.  Chances are you challenge the core as well since combo’s usually require more balance and stability.

Squats, lunges, planks and sit-ups are great foundation exercises for combinations meaning, you can add a lot of moves to them.  Examples include squat press, lunge with a side raise, sit up with a chest fly and plank rows.

Interval cardio. (Sorry girls, that doesn’t mean hop on the elliptical and select “interval”) Interval cardio done properly will help you burn more fat as opposed to hitting “manual” and going at the same pace with little to no resistance for the duration of your workout.

Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Think in terms of work to rest ratio.  This means work hard for x amount of time and rest (actively) for x amount of time.  I love the 1:3 ratio, so for example you could ramp up the resistance on the elliptical, the incline on the treadmill or the speed on the stair climber for 30 seconds, then turn it back down for 90 seconds.  You could also go 1:1, one minute on, one minute off, or make up your own ratio, as long as it’s challenging and you’re really working hard for the work portion.
  • For all you runners out there, a track workout is a perfect example.  Indoors on a treadmill or outdoors on a real track, sprint for 100, 200 or 400 meters, then walk or jog it out until you’re ready to go again.  Repeat 8-12 times for a great workout that will have you burning fat and calories way after you finish.
  • A spinning or cycling class is also a great cardio workout, and most classes have intervals built into them.  Since you control the resistance of your bike, you can build it in yourself if the class isn’t challenging enough.

Nutrition tips. Major cellulite inducing foods include dairy, simple carbs (think anything made in a factory instead of by the earth, especially anything white), alcohol and saturated fats.  So, eat less of these things, and over time, phase out as much of it as possible.  Great replacements include nut or soy milk, vegan substitutes, more fruits and veggies (nature’s carbs, which are much lower on the glycemic index scale), and good fats which come from certain fishes, avocados, olives, nut butters and oils to name a few.  Another tip that most people don’t realize the importance of is to make sure you’re drinking 64-96oz of water per day.  This helps because it improves kidney and liver function which aid in fat metabolism.

Last but not least, I know some of this advice goes against long established fitness myths you may be comfortable with…growing (and in this case, shrinking and toning!) is all about stepping into the realm of the uncomfortable.  Don’t be afraid to push yourself, try something new, and seek out wild workout success in 2011.

Did you learn something from this article? Show some love and leave a comment or feel free to ask a question (I’m good at answering them!)


Is Your Workout Really Burning Fat? What You're Probably Missing
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  • Michelle

    LOVED reading this and love your blog! It’s nice to know that I am doing something good with weight training even though many women around me swear to cardio!

  • Cindi

    I really liked this article. So many women are afraid of weights and don’t realize building muscle is like creating mini-fat burners that you carry around all day and NIGHT (and you don’t have to pop them in pill form or pay for them!). As a trainer myself (for 20 years), it hit on some great points. However, the comment, “muscle weighs more than fat” in my opinion, could be a major contributor to why women are afraid to hit the weights. Allow me to explain…A pound is a pound no matter what you are measuring. However, a pound of fat takes up more volume of SPACE than a pound of muscle. So don’t be afraid to lift weights because you are fearful of the weight gain. Be excited about lifting weights because it will help you drop INCHES!! Make sure you hire a trainer to teach you the proper method because the guy or girl next to you at the gym make look like they know what they are doing, but most likely really don’t. Liz, keep up the great videos and articles. I look forward to reading and hopefully learning new things!

    • Liz DiAlto

      Ah Cindi, thank you for this comment. You are correct to point out inaccurate choice of words in saying “muscle weighs more than fat”…The important distinction-which you made- is not to be discouraged by weight gain from lifting weights, because even if the scale reflects a higher number than we’d like-our bodies may look and feels better than we’d hoped. Appreciate your input, keep it coming!

  • Heather

    Liz, I’ve found this article extremely helpful. I love hearing about WHY we should do this or shouldn’t do that in a scientific way. You’ve really broken it down in a simple, easy to understand way, as well as give the science behind it.

  • http://StaceyJaffMD.Com Stacey Jaff, MD

    I loved this. It’s an article I’ve wanted to write but I always get so impatient to make the points it never actually gets written. Nicely done! How clear you are here. Bravo!