Reviewing Your Resolutions

2018 is creeping closer.  We are in the middle of holiday season.  Diets go by the wayside and the pounds are easily packed on.  Its that time of year again to start formulating our New Year’s Resolutions.  Year after year too many of us promise to make lifestyle changes with our fitness and nutrition.  People make claims that they are going to lose weight and start exercising more. You can see the trends in every gym across the country.  The first Monday following New Year’s Day is always the busiest gym day of the year but it doesn’t take long for the herd to thin.  Gym attendance is almost like it’s on an exponential decay curve, hitting its asymptote by mid-Spring.  By the last day of January 50% of attendees have already given up, the number gets smaller through February, and by the end of March the majority of resolutioners have all but left.  Why is this?  Why is it that so many individuals fail at accomplishing their fitness and nutrition resolutions? The likely culprit? It is that they fail to see tangible results and feel unsuccessful in accomplishing their goals.  

There is nothing more perplexing to me than to see people who wish to lose weight that exclusively run on the treadmill.  They say, “To lose weight this year I am going to run 2 miles a day, 5 times a week.” Don’t get me wrong, this is better than not doing anything, it’s going to get them moving for 30 minutes a day at a moderate intensity which is exponentially better than what they were doing, but come Spring they are still not seeing the results they had originally hoped for.  They become discouraged and can’t understand why they aren’t losing weight if they are exercising 5 times a week and even trying to eat better.  Why don’t these people see results? There are endless possibilities ranging from diet to genetics but the most overlooked reason for their lack of success lies in the nature of their exercise.  Running is the most overrated mode of exercise there is for weight loss and body composition changes.  Running on a treadmill for 30 minutes at moderate intensity as a 150lb female will burn around 300-350 calories, as a 200lb male the numbers are closer to 400 calories.  If you do that 5 days a week you will burn 1500-2000 calories per week.  To lose one pound of body weight you must elicit a caloric deficit of 3500 calories.  With exercise alone, it would take you between 1.5 and 3 weeks to burn enough calories to lose one measly pound.  It’s no wonder people get discouraged right?

It doesn’t have to be that way though.  There is a more effective way to elicit energy expenditure and promote changes in body composition and that is through resistance training.  To be more specific, high intensity, highly variable resistance training.  Lifting weights has an undeserved poor reputation among novice exercisers as a mode for changes in body composition, especially by women.  Guys are generally more receptive to the idea and this problem isn’t as prevalent for them.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear a female say, “I want to be skinnier” or “I want to get toned.”  To which I ask what their current fitness regimen is and more often than not it does not include resistance training.  When I bring up adding resistance training to their plans, the response is almost always, “I don’t want to be bulky though.” There is little in this world that makes me want to jump off a bridge more than hearing this statement.  Why do so many girls think that they are going to start lifting weights and suddenly bypass years of training and become Mr. Olympia?  For whatever reason, aerobic training has always been the modality of choice for weight loss.  Let me convince you that resistance training is the best way to achieve your goals.  

When we lift weights, our goal is to provide a stimulus to the muscle that is great enough to evoke an adaptation to strengthen and grow the muscle.  There is very little in the human body that is more energetically expensive than growing tissue.  You will continue to use up calories in the post exercise state when you are repairing damaged muscle tissue.  When comparing the acute caloric cost of cardio exercise and resistance training, the cardio exercise is going to be slightly higher, but you need to also consider the post exercise state referred to in the scientific literature as excess post-exercise oxygen cost (EPOC aka afterburn).  Because effective resistance training leads to muscle growth and repair, your metabolism is naturally increased up to 36 hours post exercise.  Resistance training provides a stimulus to grow muscle like no other form of exercise can do.  Growing muscle is the easiest way to change your body composition especially for novice exercisers.  Ladies, I guarantee you that your ideal body is not possible without some form of resistance training.  Do not be afraid of becoming bulky, it isn’t going to happen.  Want a bigger butt? Squat.  Want to shape your arms? Work your biceps and triceps.  Want to see abs? They are no different than your other muscles, you have to train them.  The lifestyle changes that come with starting a new exercise program in addition to resistance training make results quickly visible.  One of the pros of resistance training is that nearly everyone can do it and it is entirely scalable.  For example, a morbidly obese individual might be limited when performing aerobic exercise because they are unable to walk or they reach their aerobic threshold with little movement but they can perform different weight lifting movements in their current states.

It is important to note that body composition changes are built in the gym but they occur in the kitchen. The calorie deficit from 1 hour of exercise is not sufficient to make noticeable changes in the general population.  You need to put all of the pieces together to achieve optimal results.  Good nutrition, with resistance training, with aerobic training is the ultimate path to success but not everyone can make such a large investment with their time.  Incorporating aerobic exercise into resistance training has become a popular way to combat this problem and it has been highly effective.   

I urge you to take a good hard look into your upcoming resolutions.  If one of your goals is to change your body composition consider resistance training as your modality of choice.  If you are new to exercising and don’t know where to begin, look to YouTube or bodybuilding.com.  Both sites have many resources to instruct you how to perform any exercise correctly.  Instagram is also a great resource for finding inspiration and many fitness pages have a great community that is free to join.  In conclusion, resistance training provides an effective way to increase lean body mass, elicit energy expenditure, and strengthen your muscles.  It is hard to beat resistance training when looking to improve your body composition.  Why would you spend an hour on a treadmill, monotonously running in place when you can spend that hour more efficiently and effectively by lifting weights.  If you feel that you are stuck in a rut and that you can’t lose weight or achieve your dream body, try putting more emphasis on resistance training.