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10 Reasons Women Should Lift Heavy Weights (And Avoid Long-Duration Cardio)

But I like reading Cosmo. (Haha, get it?)

There have been a million good posts written about “X Reasons Why Women Should Lift Weights” and the thing is, most of them list the same 10 reasons every time.

But you know what the major problem is with these kinds of posts? They aren’t being published as articles in Women’s Health or Cosmo, they’re being written and published by S&C professionals on their blogs, which are only being read by people who already lift weights.

Cardio bunnies aren’t flocking to strength and conditioning blogs searching for ways to make their 45 minute elliptical workout more challenging. They’re reading about it in magazines. They’re hearing about it from their friends. So after you read this post, if you enjoy it, share it on your Facebook or Twitter or Instagram it or something (can you tell I don’t use Instagram?).

When I say heavy weights, I don’t mean 20 lb dumbbells. Those don’t qualify as heavy.

Anyway, this post isn’t just for girls. It’s not just for cardio bunnies. It’s for men too. It’s for anyone that’s never felt the rush of picking up your own body weight off the floor. It’s for anyone that wants to “tone” their arms and the 5 lb hammer curls haven’t quite worked. It’s for anyone that wants to look better naked (or in clothes). This is for everyone that’s listened to the mainstream media and been told that weights make you bulky and cardio makes you thin.

This is a question that I have to answer on a daily basis: why should I lift weights?

So here are all of the reasons that I believe you should stop doing long-duration cardio and lift some damn weight!

1. Weights build muscle and muscle gives your body shape

A.k.a. makes you look better naked. Fat hangs on the body. Muscle maintains it’s position no matter how much of it you have. It’s the pecs vs. man-boobs discussion. Which would you rather have?

This applies to almost every part of the body. Your calves, quads, hams, butt, abs, pecs, lats, upper back, and arms will all look better if they’re built with muscle tissue. Muscle is only built by progressively lifting more weight.

Perceived Exertion: high. Actual Benefit: low.

Just to be clear, the “Super Intense Glute and Arm Buster 5000” setting on the elliptical will not build muscle.

When we restrict our calories too low and spend hours on long-duration cardio and non-weight-bearing exercise classes, we spend amino acids (what your muscles are built from) for energy, lose aminos to cell turnover, and end up slowly losing muscle from our body.

Here’s the catch: we’re probably skinnier by doing this. But we aren’t strong. And our body has no shape. We are now skinny-fat (I hate to use that term, but it’s becoming the generally accepted term for this body type).

Want toned arms? Build some muscle. Want a better butt? Build some muscle. Want abs? You need to build some muscle.

And to reiterate, muscle isn’t built with 5 lb hammer curls. It’s built with body weight exercises like pushups and chinups. Big compound movements like squats, deadlifts, pushes, and pulls. Olympic lifts like the clean and jerk and snatch. And core exercises like long-lever wide-stance planks (shameless plug, check out my homepage for a post on these) and tall-kneeling woodchops.

And females, no worries. You lack the testosterone to put slabs of muscle onto your traps and thighs the way that men do. Women that look like men are typically on steroids.

Want to look better? Then ask yourself this question, how many of the hottest famous people you know do not have any muscle on their bodies? Answer: none.

Want a better body? Lift some weights.

2. Long-duration cardio burns through carbohydrate stores before it turns to fat as a primary energy substrate (and even then, you’re also burning through amino acids)

Long-duration cardio does not burn massive amounts of fat.

That being said, long-duration cardio does burn lots of calories. But calories burned do not equal bodyfat. Just look at the marathon runner vs. sprinter picture. (I placed it below for your convenience.) The marathon runner burns a lot of calories during his training, but not necessarily bodyfat. Calories burned do not equal fat burned. 

You don’t need to be jacked like the guy on the right to see the aesthetic effects of resistance and interval training.

3. Weight lifting and short-interval training preserve muscle by primarily utilizing ATP and muscle-glycogen as energy substrates

Here is your alternative to long-duration cardio bouts. Short-interval training.

My favorite way to do intervals is to sprint up a 40-80 yard hill and then walk back down. Only to sprint up again right when I get to the bottom.

For clients, I recommend 15 seconds “on” and 45 seconds “off” when they’re doing intervals. You’ll feel like you won’t need the first few rest periods, but don’t waste them, because you’ll definitely need the last few. If you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough for those 15 seconds, you won’t feel it, so push yourself.

For a frame of reference, when I sprint a 40 yard hill, I slow down significantly by the top of the hill and feel like I can’t run another inch. I use everything I have on every sprint.

Your body uses ATP and carbohydrates only for the first few minutes of exercise, but if our interval training only lasts 15 seconds at a time, it allows us to recover our ATP in between sets (or sprints). This way, we preserve muscle by not tapping into amino acids as an energy source.

4. Improved mobility/stability in the right places

There is no better way on Earth to improve the mobility of a joint than to constantly push the limits of your mobility. Want to improve your hamstring extensibility? Do some Romanian deadlifts. Need hip mobility? Grease your squat pattern with some goblet squats. Ankle mobility? Push the limits of your front squat range of motion.

Of course, you should still be performing your soft tissue work, static stretching, dynamic stretching, and mobility work before sessions (and every day), but lifting weight through a full range of motion is a great way to ensure that you maintain that full ROM.

This baby can squat and you can’t?

In fact, Bret Contreras has noted that one of the daily activities everyone should do is a perform a deep squat. An unloaded, flat-footed, ass-to-grass squat.

The trick with using a full range of motion is to maintain form during the exercise. Squats with a rounded back or RDLs with lumbar flexion only mobilize the spine and won’t target the areas you really need.

Need a reason to be mobile? Immobility in the hips and ankles can lead to a host of knee and lower back issues. And immobility in the thoracic spine couple with scapular instability can mess with your shoulders pretty good. So yeah, being mobile is pretty awesome and will keep you feeling 1190% better than if you aren’t (that’s a scientifically proven number).

5. Overall health improvements

Decreased blood pressure. Decreased resting heart rate. Increased HDL. Decreased LDL. Decreased triglycerides. Increased bad-ass-ness.

All of these things occur with resistance training. Especially the last one. Want to improve your life? Stop worrying so much about eating Fat-Free Dessert Thing and Diet Soda Drink and focus on lifting some weights and running some sprints.

6. Increased energy

There aren’t too many scientific studies proving that people who exercise have more energy during the day. Mostly because its a perception thing. But you will. I promise.

Feeling sluggish? Go exercise. It will help, I swear.

Add the fact that you’ll be building strength and work capacity and tasks that used to make you tired won’t even phase you anymore.

7. You’ll be strong and able to push your car out of your un-shoveled driveway

Being strong rocks. Nothing beats the first time you throw your body weight on your back and bury it into the hole before exploding back up (a.k.a. squat, for the n00bs out there) like a cat that jumped up onto the hot stove just after you had taken the rice off the burner. (Just kidding, that didn’t happen.)

Strength really is the basis of all other athletic prowess. Think about it, if you are able to squat more (a.k.a. apply more force through your feet into the ground), then won’t you be able to sprint faster also? Or jump higher?

“Functional” training is B.S. All strength is functional. Let’s say you’re a cross-country runner. You will run faster by having stronger legs (provided you haven’t put so much mass onto your legs that you’re gained a considerable amount of weight). If you’re a golfer, your tee shot will fly further with greater lumbopelvic stability, allowing for greater power transfer from the feet to the club. And if you’re a defensive tackle, incline bench presses, squats, and plenty of core strengthening will give you the power you need to drive through the opposing lineman.

Or maybe you aren’t an athlete. Deadlifts will help you pick up your cat without a problem. Farmer’s walks will allow you to bring the groceries inside your house in fewer trips. Having strength will allow you to go to BJ’s and pick up cases of water with one hand, forcing others around you to shriek and run away in fear of your awesome strength.

And no, you probably won’t be able to push your car out of the snow. But strength will help you shovel said snow without “throwing out” your back.

Can’t wait for more snow on tomorrow night.

8. Strong bones

Bones respond to exercise in the same way that muscles do. In fact, bones adapt to resistance training by becoming denser, allowing them to handle a greater load.

Bone “remodeling” is regulated by hormones and stress, similar to the way that muscle cells are constantly breaking down and rebuilding. When we stress our bones with resistance training, our hormones help to activate osteoblasts (cells which synthesize collagen and protein to create bone).

This has been researched in multiple studies (here, and here) and has been proven effective in participants of all ages.

Concerned about your skeletal integrity? Of course you are. And we all should be. And we can all improve our bone health by resistance training with some heavy weight! Or at least somewhere around 70% of our 1-rep max.

9. Increased metabolism throughout the day

Running at a pretty good clip (I’m going to estimate 6 min/mile) can put you at over 1,000 calories an hour, easily. Lifting weights might only put you at 400. I get it, 1,000 is greater than 400.

But what you aren’t taking into account is that the demand on the body to recover is far greater in the weight lifting scenario.

It’s called Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption. And you should definitely take it into account when you’re deciding whether you want to hog a treadmill for 50 minutes or go do some squats. EPOC is the scientific term for cell repair, replenishment of fuels (like ATP), and hormone balancing, among other things.

Studies have shown that EPOC can last far past the end of the exercise session, even up to 38 hours afterward. That means you metabolism is elevated for 38 hours post-resistance training (1). Some studies have even shown an increase in fat oxidation, specifically, which is a good thing for all of us. In the case of long-duration aerobic training (hanging out reading Cosmo on the elliptical for an hour), EPOC is most often limited by our exercise intensity. We cannot sustain an intensity level that is high enough to stimulate a significant EPOC for a long-duration.

You can’t run a 6-minute mile for an hour straight. Let’s do some math. Let’s say you burn 700 calories running (which would be about seven, 8-minute miles) and an additional 100 above baseline for the next 36 hours (that’s your EPOC). Or you lift weights for an hour, burn 400 calories, and burn another 700 above your baseline for the 36 hours following it. Your total burns are 800 and 1100 calories, respectively.

At 300 calories per session and three sessions per week, you’re burn over 45,000 extra calories over the course of a year. Yeah, that’s almost 13 lbs.

Oh, and you’d also be building muscle in the process, a significant amount of which will increase your daily energy expenditure as well.

For body recomposition (a.k.a. lose fat, gain muscle, look good naked), nothing kicks more ass than weight lifting.

Pretty sure that’s not actual fat and muscle.

10. You will become more confident and have higher self-esteem

You’ll look better. (Naked.)

You’ll be stronger.

You’ll jump higher and run faster.

You’ll have a higher work capacity.

No matter where you derive your confidence from, whether it’s from aesthetics or personal accomplishments, you can be sure that you’ll find it in resistance training.

Maybe you need to build some pipes for the ladies to gaze at in the club. Or maybe you relish the opportunity to constantly improve yourself and set new, personal records. Whatever it is, try lifting some heavy weight. Try talking to a trainer, or somebody you know that “lifts,” as we in the biz call it. Find out what drives you and see how stretching, lifting, and sprinting (credit to Wendler on that one) can help you.

And just to be fair, I’m not anti-aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise comes with a long list of health benefits and I believe that it is necessary. However, I will note that interval training has been shown to improve cardiovascular health in a similar fashion to long-duration cardio. And in less time!

At the end of the day, I can’t tell you that you have to lift weights. And I won’t claim that lifting weights will solve world hunger and poverty. But I can tell you that I’ve experienced all of these things first-hand. And also weight lifting makes you look better naked. And isn’t that the only thing we all care about anyway?

Here’s the featured image again so you can admire my sense of humor.




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