Are lifters leaner?
The sprog’s swimming lesson this morning followed the usual routine: Small Mum (myself) watches nervously as equally small son partakes in what looks like communal drowning session. Tall Mum pretends to watch tall daughter ‘swimming’ but is overtly eyeing up hot young bod of new male swimming teacher. Orange (fake tan) Mum watches son and daughter whilst simultaneously offering a snide running commentary on all the other mothers’ bodies in the pool. This week however, the snide commentary leads to quite an interesting conversation…”see that woman over there, the body beautiful one, who’s bikini barely covers her n*pples let alone her breasts, well, she goes to school with Blah and APPARENTLY she’s a total gym head whose only form of exercise is ‘pumping iron’. “
Without making it too obvious (I hope), I had a long hard look at Blah’s body, and it was indeed about a 9/10 (I say that in an appreciative rather than ogling way). Toned. Defined. Shapely. So, pride had to be swallowed and I asked Blah the secret of her shapely success. Answer? Weight lifting.
Maybe she was pulling my plonker. Or maybe she was telling the truth. I decided it was a matter worth researching, and here we are, an enlightened blog later…
Can weight lifting give guys and gals hot bods, as opposed to just hulking great big bods?
It would seem that just because you're not vying for 20-inch biceps or thunderously strong thighs doesn't mean you should shun the weights down at HRF.
In fact, there's a raging debate in the fitness world about whether resistance training (weightlifting, to you and me) isn't actually more effective at bringing about fat loss than cardio work.
Once upon a time, if you asked a PT how to lose weight, they'd reply with 1 simple word: RUN. Cardiovascular work was the go-to option for anyone who needed to lose weight. Ask Monsieur Holme (and a lot of other respectable PTs J) that same question and the answer these days is not so cut and dry.
Telegraph.co.uk had a lengthy article in it about this particular subject, and the following summary was given:
Very high calorie burn during session (falls off shortly after)
Low barrier to entry, many different activities can be incorporated
Excellent low intensity options for fat loss ie walking
Little need for rest in comparison to weight training
Most people will use running as default cardio, but ‘over running’ is a relatively common problem, often resulting in injuries and strains
Difficult for very unfit people to get into, except at very low intensity
Moderate to intense sustained cardio is not ideal for hormone balance, especially for those with high cortisol levels (a sign of tiredness and/or stress)
Extremely difficult to create a balanced physique through cardio alone
Increases muscle mass quickly
Can improve sporting performance and help prevent injury
Can help improve posture
Causes a sustained spike in metabolism, which means you burn calories long after the exercise is over
Low barrier to entry for the very unfit
Offers the ability to grow muscle and lose fat simultaneously
Higher barrier to recovery (eg a four hour walk is great whereas a four hour weight session would be counter productive)
Lower caloric burn in comparison to cardio (minute by minute, not over time)
Lots of bad information on the market, leading to poor results
Can increase hunger significantly, so discipline with diet becomes a factor in success
Some of the points I think are debatable, but the overall conclusion they drew was that “weight training offers most of the health benefits of cardio, while most of the fat loss benefits of cardio can be achieved simply through reducing calorie intake”.
Another article I read focused on how resistance training enables you to lose mainly fat, compared to cardio where you can lose a variety of different body masses. Although losing muscle mass will mean your weight on the scales is lower, it might not give you the shape you are after. This is because shape often comes from well-toned muscles, and resistance training shapes and maintains those muscles.
My big concern though, is that this whole debate sounds a bit too aesthetically oriented, with the focus being way too much on how bodies look rather than how healthy they are.
Interestingly, there were some pretty scathing discussions on some sites, and to put one of the more contentious ones out there: “Runners think about getting fit. Lifters think about looking fit”. A tad subjective and non-scientific for my liking.
As well as some of the comments being questionable, I think the very question is too! Because no one has to do one or the other. In an ideal world wouldn’t you combine the 2 - cardio training with resistance training? By adding variety then hopefully not only will you have a far more rounded regime, but one that you won’t get bored of so quickly, and therefore stand a better chance of sticking with. What’s more, every body is different: different body shapes, different end goals, different start points. Take Will for example, he’s naturally “skinny and lanky” (his words not mine, that would be a stupidly career ending comment) so he hits the weights a lot.
Whereas someone with a naturally stocky frame, and a lot of muscle mass might want to carefully intersperse cardio with resistance training to counteract their bulkier frame.
But more importantly, getting preoccupied with fat loss and body shape can be unhealthy. The healthier preoccupation should surely be fitness over fat-loss, health over hot bod.
I am not a dietician or a nutritionist, and make no claims to the contrary. What is written on this site should not be taken as fact or advice. It is merely an opinion blog.