Diet and cardio are, unfortunately, not the answers to a lean, hard body. To burn fat and keep it off, you really need to incorporate resistance/weight training into your routine. The simple act of lifting weights increases the amount of muscle tissue you have in your body, which in turn raises your metabolism and helps you burn fat more efficiently.
Ironically, at least in my experience, most people who are looking to lose weight instinctively turn to cardio programs. Women, especially, seem to shy away from using weights to shape and improve their bodies. The combination of weights, cardio and diet is a fat-fighting, body-shaping program.
Why Is Weight Training Important?
Almost everyone knows someone who has lost weight and gained it right back, along with a few additional pounds. This phenomenon, commonly called yo-yo dieting, can, if continued for too long, do more harm than good. Sometimes, people can actually diet themselves into a hole that is simply too big to get out of.
The science behind this phenomenon is simple--it’s based on the understanding that the first place a body searches for fuel is in the nutrient-dense muscle tissue. The last place a body looks for fuel is in the low-nutrient fat stores. So, the more muscle tissue, the higher the metabolism, the more fat burned.
When you start a diet and pursue a cardio program, you will lose weight. As it turns out, cardio is an effective fat-burning technique, but, and here is the rub, it’s an even more effective muscle-burning technique. So, without weight training, you’re actually decreasing your muscle mass.
The same goes for dieting. When you get hunger pangs, this is a sign that your body is utilizing muscle tissue for fuel. If you deprive your body of food for too long, this deprivation will send you into "survival" mode, and you will actually begin to store body fat and use muscle for its main energy source, which is why it is much easier to gain weight back after having just completed a diet and/or cardio program/cycle. Since you have burned muscle tissue doing cardio and/or dieting, your body has lost much of its ability to burn calories, thus lowering the overall metabolic rate.
It’s a vicious cycle and one anybody who’s done the yo-yo will tell you is frustrating and no fun.
Even more interesting, at least to me, is the simple fact that muscle (or lack of it) is what gives a body its unique shape, sometimes determining how attractive you are or are perceived, yet there is general reluctance or fear to improve muscle tone.
How often has somebody lost a lot of weight due to diet and/or cardio, only to not look much different/better because all the weight lost was muscle? If lifting weights is more important to cardio in terms of changing appearance and burning fat, why do so many avoid it?
One reason is that people are afraid of free weights. They’re not sure how to use them, and they’re concerned they might hurt and/or embarrass themselves in the gym. If you run a gym, you will be surprised how much success you’ll have with programs designed to teach people how to lift properly and safely. Consider giving them an off-the-shelf program to meet their particular goals and then walk them through each part of the program in a personal, one-on-one session.
The other reason, perhaps the biggest reason, especially among women, is that they will get too bulky from lifting weights. This is a complete fallacy.
Men produce over ten times more testosterone than women, which is why men can get the muscle mass most women are afraid of. Women can get lean and toned but never build the mass a man can. The bottom line is there is no good reason not to lift weights, but tons of them, mostly in pounds, for avoiding them.
So, Where Does Cardio Fit In?
To make a long story short, a clean diet and weight training should be your primary objective in order to get lean. Cardio should be incorporated with weight training and should always be done after that training because your energy stores will be used up during the weight session, causing your body to burn mostly fat during the cardio session. A ratio of 50 percent fat burned to 50 percent muscle burned is be ideal, which is much higher than the 70 percent muscle to 30 percent fat average most people end up doing.
Just remember, muscle gained equates into fat burning. Since muscle burns fat all day long, even when you're sleeping, it will help keep the weight off.
Jim Mihevic is an ACE-Certified Personal Trainer. He is currently working towards a degree in dietetics at The University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. You can contact Jim via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.