We all know cardio-based exercise is important for burning calories. If your goal is to lose weight, the math is simple. To lose 1 to 2 pounds per week, you have to burn about 500 to 1,000 more calories per day than you consume. That’s called creating an energy deficit.
When you put your mind to it, there are lots of ways to add cardio into your day to burn those calories. Go for a walk or a run. Park as far from the entrance to the mall as possible. Take the stairs. Jump on the elliptical for a while. Take the kiddos for a bike ride. But it’s also important to burning those calories in the most efficient way possible.
If someone offered to teach you how to really clean your whole house in two hours instead of four, you’d be all ears, right?
Here’s the exercise secret: strength training. Using free weights, machines or the weight of your body to create resistance and build muscle is a critical part of any workout regimen. Why? For one, muscle burns more calories than fat, even when you are asleep or sitting on the couch, and especially when you are exercising. Let’s say you have a twin sister or brother, and your initial body types are exactly the same. You both eat the same amount of calories each day, and hit the gym to spend the same amount of time on the elliptical several days a week. But if your twin has added strength training to her routine, she will have a body composition that has more muscle than you do, so she’s going to lose body fat faster.
Notice that I didn’t say “lose weight faster.” Those wonderful muscles that you are adding also have weight, but muscle tissue is more compact than fat. Picture a one-pound package of lean ground beef, and a one-pound package of marshmallows. Which one do you want to be made of?
Even if you are not trying to lose fat, strength training should still be an important component of your exercise regimen. First, the more muscle you have, the stronger your bones will be. We reach our peak bone mass around age 20. If you’re reading this and you are under 20, and think none of this pertains to you, think again. The more weight-bearing exercise and weight training you do before the age of 20, the higher your peak bone mass will be. And the higher your peak bone mass, the higher your bone mass will stay as you age.
Unfortunately, women lose about .5 percent of their bone mass every year after the age of 50. Start out with stronger bones, and you’ll end up with stronger bones, as long as you keep up the weight-bearing exercise. If you didn’t exercise when you were young, don’t throw in the towel. Do that strength training now, and you will still help slow down the loss of bone mass, and your bones will be less prone to breakage as you age.
Another important reason to increase your muscle mass is to support your joints. We know that excess weight puts strain on your joints, but so does a lack of muscle tone. So often I see customers who come into my Jazzercise classes, even the ones not carrying extra weight, who say, “I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to do this – I have pain in my knees/hips/back/shoulder/neck.” They often experience a small increase in discomfort as they start working out. But then the magic happens – as their muscle tone improves through the combination of cardio and strength training, their joint pain actually decreases. Even as recently as a few years ago, if you were diagnosed with arthritis, you were usually told to stop exercising. The classic “if it hurts when you do that, then don’t do that” advice.
But now we know better.
You do get to eat!
So whether you are 18 or 58, male or female, I’ve convinced you that you need to do some strength training, right? You’ve decided to pick up those free weights, start a family sit-up and push-up challenge, hire a trainer, or practice your planks while watching TV. Next, you need a plan for how to eat to support that muscle growth.
Pump out a great muscle workout, and go home and eat nothing but veggies and fruit for the rest of the day, and you’ve nearly wasted your time. You can’t build a tower without the blocks. The building blocks for your muscles are complete proteins, like those found in red meat, eggs, fish, chicken and dairy. If you are avoiding meats and dairy, quinoa and soybeans are good options. (More on quinoa, pronounced “KEEN-wah”, next time.) Now here’s the easy math – to increase your muscle mass, you need to eat one gram of protein for every pound you weigh, or for your target weight if you are significantly overweight. Weigh in at 150 pounds, and you need to eat 150 grams of protein every day.
These are not hulkish body builder levels of protein – these are for the average person trying to tone up and trim down. A six-ounce cooked chicken breast has about 42 grams of protein; an egg has about six grams.
Make sure you do get enough carbs, though, preferably in the morning and after your workout. If you don’t eat enough carbs, your body won’t have enough energy, and will start to break down those muscles you have just worked so hard to increase. Go for the carbs that are high in fiber, like whole wheat pasta or bread, brown rice, oatmeal, veggies or sweet potatoes.
Would you like to get started strength training right away? Join Jazzercise of Fort Mill in a pushup challenge! See how many pushups you can do with proper form, without stopping. Then, every other day, do your pushups again, adding one more to your maximum from the last time. Just do your pushups every other day, to give your muscles time to rest and build. And don’t forget your protein.
Like our Facebook Page, Jazzercise of Fort Mill and Indian Land, and each week we’ll ask you to post how many pushups you completed that week. At the end of August, I’ll recognize those who have made significant increases in their pushup ability. You don’t have to be a Jazzercise customer to participate. Everyone is welcome, and I look forward to seeing you share your results!