Want to tone up? Try strength training, not cardio!
Ann Olson is a health and fitness writer for Money Crashers Personal Finance, where she talks about ways to lose weight and stay fit, all within a tight budget.
In my teens, the biggest weight I ever considered touching was an eight-pound dumbbell. Instead, I did Tae Bo or crunches for hours, hoping to make myself super toned and thin. My hardcore exercise lifestyle, paired with a near-starvation eating regimen, made me thin – but at the same time, I had become “skinny fat,” a term used to describe thin people with a high body fat percentage. I was also extremely miserable and tired.
Now in my mid-twenties, I do cardio twice a week – and even then, I only do 20 minutes max. Yet I’m in the best shape of my life, feel great, and boast just 20% body fat, which is considered to be an athletic body fat level for a female.
So what happened here? Well here’s my secret: Strength training.
Why Strength Training Matters (If You Want to Tone Up)
For years, I thought cardio was the key to toning up. I figured that if I burned more calories, I would lose more body fat – a common weight loss myth. Boy, was I wrong.
It was a couple of years ago when a bodybuilder opened my eyes and taught me that sticking to cardio alone (combined with eating a low-calorie diet) decreased my lean body mass, as well as my total body fat, resulting in that dreaded “skinny fat” look.
To help me tone up, she recommended weightlifting to help rebuild my lost lean body mass. At first, I worried I would quickly turn into Chyna, but she reassured me that women only have a fraction of the testosterone as men, so women can’t physically get “bodybuilder big” – at least, not without illicit drugs.
The Benefits of Strength Training
After picking up the weights and keeping at it for several months, my body began changing in unexpected ways. I looked slimmer, but I didn’t become skinny-fat. Instead, I noticed my body fat was rapidly disappearing, I felt stronger, and I had some actual definition in my torso, legs, and back. Regularly lifting weights also resulted in a longer calorie burn compared to cardio.
But the biggest difference was in my self-esteem. Once weightlifting became a habit, I felt more motivated, happy, and confident, and this confidence translated to other areas of my life. After all, I thought, if I can lift 150 pounds in the gym, I can do anything if I just push myself hard enough.
It turns out these benefits aren’t just something I imagined up. According to researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, breast cancer survivors who picked up the iron had a 12% improvement in body image and satisfaction. Based on the questionnaire they took, many of them reported feeling “more proud of their bodies” and “more emotionally empowered.” Some of them also felt more comfortable being intimate. Those are good reasons to get buff.
Should You Lift Weights?
If you’re suffering from poor self-esteem, want to reshape your body, or just need a way to boost your confidence, I highly recommend weightlifting. No, as a woman, you won’t necessarily become big and buff like a bodybuilder, but you will become toned and strong, as well as unbelievably confident. Remember, it’s extremely difficult to gain the hugely muscular build of a bodybuilder unless you take illicit drugs and lift really heavy weights for many years.
So how do you get started? If you’re in college, you can start weightlifting by checking out your school gym, if there is one available. You may also be able to get a student discount off local gym fees.
Otherwise, go cheap by checking out privately owned or 24-hour gyms, which run less than $40 per month on average. If you’re a beginner, stick with a beginner’s home workout plan to start.