I’ve been thinking a lot about strength training and cardio lately, as this year I finally had my “getting it” moment when I realized that strength training is a crucial part of fitness, weight loss, and looking damn fine. So why did it take me so long to figure this out? Well, most of what I initially learned about weight loss came from magazines like Self, Shape, and all their little friends. And I was thinking about it…and I think that a lot of magazines give the impression that cardio is for fat people and strength training is for skinny people.
I know that when I was really overweight and first started working out in an effort to lose weight, I thought that cardio was the end-all, be-all. Even though all the info I read on health and fitness preached a balanced routine, I didn’t feel like they actually meant it.
Case in point: magazines often do “makeovers” or “challenges” where they take three women who, say, all work in an office together, and make over their workout routines. And there always seems to be one with a lot of weight to lose, one with less weight to lose, and then one who doesn’t need to lose any weight. (She’s also usually Asian because Asian people are, like, never fat.) While all the women do some strength training, the thin woman usually do only strength training because she just needed to add muscle, not lose weight. She always gains a few pounds, but it’s OK because she’s thin! So maybe I’m just dumb, but the message I always took away was, “Strength training is for naturally skinny people who want to work out but really don’t need to. It definitely won’t help you lose weight.”
Additionally, any article about getting flat abs always points out that “no one can see your abs if they are covered with a layer of flab” and recommends doing cardio if you want to get flat abs but are still in the flabby category. So to me, the message was, “If you’re thinner, here are ten ways to work on your abs, which you should totally do because people might actually see them as you don’t have a lot of fat covering them. If you’re not skinny, just do more cardio first; don’t waste your time on your buried, invisible muscles, fatty.”
I talked to some other people who had/have more weight to lose, and they agreed that people who have more weight to lose might be less likely to strength train. Ashley from Fashionably Fit told me, “As a 300-pound person, all I thought was cardio burns fat, cardio burns fat, cardio burns fat! I wasn’t all concerned with building muscle because all I wanted to do was burn the fat off. I didn’t get the relationship between fat burning and strength training.”
I don’t think she’s the only person with that mindset..and that pisses me off.
Strength training is a vital part of fitness, health, and losing weight. It’s good for your bones and your posture, it prevents injuries and chronic problems like lower back pain, and it makes you look good (which most of us are going for on some level). So why do so many women avoid it?
Because somehow, they’ve gotten a very clear message that working out for weight loss is all about burning calories. And since a cardio machine will spit out a “calories burned” number at the end of the workout (that’s probably inaccurate anyway), but a set of dumbbells won’t, nor will dumbbells always leave you red-faced and breathless…so women are always saying they want to feel like they “did something.” And cardio makes us feel like we did.
Which we then use to justify a nacho bender.
By sending the message that if you have a lot of weight to lose, you should do a lot more cardio, women are just set up for failure. Cardio for weight loss can be a really vicious cycle because it can rev your appetite so much. So then women think, “Well, I’m doing an hour on the elliptical each day, but I’m having trouble eating healthy because I’m so hungry.” And that hunger makes them eat more, which they are then instructed to “balance” with a little more cardio the next day. And who has time to strength train if they are convinced that they need to do loads and loads of cardio to “balance” the loads and loads of food they can’t stop eating?
So even when they lose weight — and we’ll now include those women who are closer to their target weight but still got the “tons o cardio” memo — then they just end up “skinny fat.” Smaller pants size, higher body fat. Soft. Weak. Hungry. And hating working out because “working out” means “mindless cardio.”
No. This is ass backwards. Need to fix it.
This is what I wish someone had told me, and what I’m telling you now.
Please let this be your getting it moment too! No matter your weight, appearance, or goals, you need to strength train regularly. It will make you strong and healthy and trust me…even if you can’t imagine it right now, you might be surprised when those abs decide to come out to play.