Getting It: The Weighting Game

by Rachel on May 10, 2010

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.


{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 MelissaNibbles May 10, 2010 at 8:27 am

Great post girl! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out if you want strong, toned biceps, you need to pick up a weight. Unfortunately, magazines talk to us like we’re idiots.


2 Lesley May 10, 2010 at 8:42 am

“And that hunger makes them eat more, which they are then instructed to “balance” with a little more cardio the next day. ”

Great post! And 100% true. This quote especially stuck out to me…this is just the beginning of how people lose ‘normal’ workout habits and instead over-exercise, for really, nothing. (I’ve been there).

I’ve always been a cardio girl (I’m talking years) , but in January I started taking strength training classes at my gym and doing some jillian dvds. And I’ve never seen my body change so quickly…in a good way. Thanks for this post, I think it will help a lot of people struggling with the ‘cardio girl’ mindset.


3 Anne Bender May 10, 2010 at 8:46 am

I read a book some 15 years ago [good Lord!] when I was in my early 20’s about strength training while you do cardio [Bottoms Up! by Joyce Vedral]. The idea was to get your muscles pretty while you were losing the weight so when the fat was gone you would have pretty muscles waiting for you instead of a thin but still flabby version of yourself. Of course, knowing what to do and doing it are two very different things.


4 Zenlizzie May 10, 2010 at 8:54 am

I’ve always liked strength training, but never made it a priority because if I only had 45 min, I was going to do 45 min of cardio and skip the lifting. Also, I’ve also fallen into the “Nobody is going to see my abs, so why kill myself doing core exercises?” trap. But, because of magazines like Oxygen, I’ve come to really admire and want toned, visible muscles. I’ve never been afraid of getting “bulky” because I’m already bulky from being such a chunkster. And, also I think “bulky” muscles in women are a myth spread by the 1980’s cardio jazzercize freaks and fitness magazines.
Anyway, I digress.. After wearing a heart rate monitor, I’ve found that I can keep my heart rate pretty high just from doing strength training, and for me, I find that I am MUCH hungrier after lifting than cardio. Maybe my body is just used to cardio after all these years, but I am usually ravenous a few hours after strength training. I like that in a way, because it makes me feel like it is building muscles AND burning calories.
.-= Zenlizzie´s last blog ..Happy Mothers Day! [Why my mom is awesome] =-.


5 Bridget@PavementandPlants May 10, 2010 at 9:13 am

I feel like I just got reprimanded. I stopped strength training because the weight room is closed for classes at the time I have free to go to the gym (8am-12…isnt that ridiculous?). I liked to pretend things like Zumba and swimming were keeping me toned…but it’s just not the same. Now that classes are ending, I guess I have no more excuses!


6 Ashley May 10, 2010 at 10:09 am

This is all SO TRUE. I haven’t blogged about this yet, but I stopped running a) because we were having a heat wave in Florida and if you’re not out before 7 a.m. or after 8 p.m. you’ll have a heat stroke and b) I was getting ravenous after it and it was hindering my ability to lose weight! GRRR!

I have my Jackie Warner Power Circuit Training DVD (which rules!) and of course the Shred … I also just need to figure out actual routines to do on my own.
.-= Ashley´s last blog ..Real women? Not quite =-.


7 Alexa May 10, 2010 at 10:23 am

I actually never get hungry after cardio workouts, but strength workouts always make me ravenous! Never been able to figure out why.


8 Rachel Marlena May 10, 2010 at 11:11 am

I also think all of the government recommendations to do at least an hour of cardiovascular exercise a day compound our “cardio-only” mindsets. The recs include walking the dog, etc. in this but it makes people think they have to elliptical it up for an hour every day which is INSANE.

A bulletin board at my old gym had a post that said, “Exercise alone is a poor weight manager.”

SO TRUE! You can exercise all day long but if you “use it to justify a nacho bender,” as you said, it will not do any good. Here’s to moderation! :)


9 Kim @ LEO the lion says GER May 10, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Being the fat Asian sucks because when you go to weddings / parties/ general Asian type gatherings, everyone looks at you like, “You’re not really one of us! Put that eggroll down!”
.-= Kim @ LEO the lion says GER´s last blog ..Push It Real Good =-.


10 Rachel May 10, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Literal LOL Kim…”Put that eggroll down!”


11 Kendra May 10, 2010 at 12:49 pm

OMG! I’m reading this at work and I had to work really hard just now to not burst out laughing. I totally agree with what you’ve said here and that fatties like me feel like we aren’t supposed to be strength training yet. Screw that! I want to be super strong and super fit, not just super less fat. Now that my shoulder’s recovered I need to get back to strength training. It just sucks that I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing and my arms always feel a little feeble.


12 Laura Georgina May 10, 2010 at 1:04 pm

So true and so sad that magazines still fill their pages with nonsense. I know that my weight loss and general “Up the Hotness” plan this past year have been 100% the result of balancing cardio and strength training, and any time I’ve gotten all comfortable and stopped doing the strength stuff, I can totally see it. One month of Core Fusion arms and I’m starting to call my right arm Michelle Obama, plus I can swim faster, run better, and laugh for longer without giving myself a side stitch.


13 Rachel May 10, 2010 at 3:16 pm

OMG Laura….”call my right arm Michelle Obama.” hahaha…but what about the left?!?!


14 loreejo May 10, 2010 at 1:34 pm

point taken that a balance of both is needed; and i think yoga/stretching too. i just need more encouragment (like this post) to SIMPLY do it. plan it, commit to it, and do it. a year ago, i wasn’t exercising regularly, now i am at least 5 days/week. it’s been a progression with the amount of time i’ve been “willing” to invest…first only 20 min on Shred dvd’s, now running 45 min, now is the time to up it just a tad more and do some of both. i don’t go to the gym so i can use the time i save not travelling. your blog makes “getting it” easy instead of overwhelming like some of the mag rags do! love what laura said, she’s now able to “laugh for longer w/o giving myself a side stitch.” <3


15 Meg May 10, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Can you recommend a good book or point of reference for someone who is just starting out?


16 Lexie May 10, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Love this post. Strength training is so good for you! By having more muscle you actually burn more calories at rest, so strength training actually does help you lose weight.
.-= Lexie´s last blog ..Blog Cheating =-.


17 Stephanie May 10, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Exactly! I have so much beef with mainstream media and mags because we are constantly bombarded with “must balance cals in vs. cals expended” and never told to look at our bodies in a more holistic way! Great post Rachel!


18 Suzanne May 10, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Thank you so much for this post. You are so right on. I’m so tired of hearing women say they don’t strength train because they don’t want to bulk up or it doesn’t burn enough calories. Women can’t bulk up unless they’re hormonally imbalanced or on steroids. Plus, skinny women without muscle don’t look good, either. Amy Winehouse anyone?
.-= Suzanne´s last blog ..Pacers Running Festival Half Marathon Race Recap: Part 1 =-.


19 Julia May 11, 2010 at 9:51 am

This is such an important point. I feel like this is a battle I have been fighting with friends for a long time – we all need to balance cardio with weight training, no matter what our size. And this is totally something you see playing out at the gym – the women all make a mad dash for the treadmills and cardio machines, while the weight area is overwhelmed with men, some of whom are being ridiculous and fratty. I could see how if women aren’t used to incorporating weights into their routine, they might be intimidated to do so at the gym when they are outnumbered by the men in that area! This makes me glad that I had some great coaches/teachers in high school that encouraged and taught us girls to increase our strength by lifting weights. Also, I totally had a Getting It moment when I first read about skinny-fat people and it has since been in the back of my mind to further encourage me to weight train!

Sort of a twist on this – My boyfriend used to have a gym partner who only wanted to lift weights while they worked out, so that’s what they always did at the gym. When my boyfriend wondered why he wasn’t losing weight, I told him that he really needed to do some cardio! (Hello? Duh!) The man could bench press and squat like nobody’s business, but he wasn’t running! Needless to say, after he learned to balance his workout, he lost 40 pounds and now enjoys running 7 miles in the morning before work. So I think the magazine effect goes both ways for men (lift weights until you explode) and women (cardio so you don’t explode) when in reality, both sexes need to be balancing their workouts!


20 Sher July 13, 2010 at 8:15 am

Awesome Post Rachel! I ‘m pretty sure after reading all your posts that im going to order a strength training DVD. Love your blog! I have been reading it since yesterday and love it! Love your attitude and perspective in life! Keep up the great work!


21 Jasmine May 14, 2012 at 10:12 am

Great post! This inspired me, and I’m glad that you are so blunt! I know that my mindset was I’ll lose weight FIRST then strength train. Now I realize that I need to do both cardio and strength regularly. I know people who just lost weight by not eating, or cardio, and they look kind of crazy, because they haven’t strength trained.


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