Very often a person will come into a gym with the intent of losing body fat. If they are well informed, they know that food is more critical to that pursuit than exercise, so they incorporate both. But at some point, they will hit a wall. When this happens a decision needs to be made. Now what?
Before I answer the “Now what?” question though, we need to look at how the losing of body fat generally works. It requires a change in nutrition but really should include exercise as well. A few bullet points are in order:
- A slight reduction in caloric intake is needed. Don’t go crazy here though. Lose fat using as much food as possible.
- Prioritize vegetables, protein, water and healthy sources of carbohydrates (according to your activity levels) and add in some healthy fats.
- Use MRT, or metabolic resistance training. This phrase was coined because of the impact strength training can have on your metabolism. Using weights appropriate for 8-12 reps and shorter rest periods, you can boost your metabolism after a workout for up to 36 hours. The key here is to use lifts that use as much muscle as possible. That means swings, squats, presses, rows etc.
- Interval training is your other exercise piece, but is secondary to strength training. If you only have time in your weekly schedule for one, hit the weights.
- If there is time left over in your schedule after you have prepped your food, hit the weights and spiked your heart rate with intervals, then adding in some traditional cardio may be in order.
That in a nut shell is the accepted way to approach losing body fat among fitness pros that get paid to get people lean. When folks can put all of that together it works well. I’ve seen it professionally and experienced it personally. But what about that wall I mentioned earlier? What about the “Now what?”. See at some point, your progress will stop. When you get here, you have a couple of choices. You can:
- Reduce your caloric intake a little more. This will work but be warned. This reduces your metabolism and thus the calories you’re burning as well. And at some point, this strategy will hit a wall because you will run out of food or hit a low point that you can’t sustain without killing someone out of “Hanger”.
- Another strategy is to add in more exercise. This too will work, but like the first one, there is a limit here. Unless you are an Olympic athlete and your job is to train, you will hit a ceiling in the amount of time that you can devote to exercise.
- So we get to door number 3. Focus on something else for a little while and in this case, that something else should (in my humble opinion) be adding some muscle mass.
And this is honestly the crux of what I wanted to say in this whole post. I thought you would need some context first though. So, here they are. Seven reasons that you should stop trying to lose fat and start gaining some muscle:
- Muscle helps to fight the frailty associated with aging. Okay, so maybe right now, that’s not a concern for you. But it will be at some point. And a slip and fall is a lot less catastrophic when your bones have been strengthened from the process of lifting weights. As for the muscle, building a bit of body armor to protect against those falls makes getting up and brushing them off a whole lot easier.
- Cardio doesn’t shape anything. Now on the surface, this may seem a little shallow. But let’s face it. We all want to look better and there is nothing wrong with that as long as it’s kept in the right place in line. So with that said, adding muscle can give people the shape that they are looking for in some areas. Guys, you want your shoulders to be broader so that your waist looks smaller? Adding a few pounds of muscle to your upper body can do that. Ladies, you want your back side to be “high and tight” (to use a phrase an old co-worker of mine used to use)? Then adding a little muscle to your hips will do that. The treadmill though? Your Zumba class? Nope.
- Adding muscle in the right places can improve range of motion. I know. We all have that notion of the muscle bound oaf in our heads right? The guys that’s so big he can’t scratch his… well never mind. The point is that this is a bit of a myth. We lose range of motion because we are imbalanced, not because we have muscle. Adding some muscle to your upper back for instance will do wonders for your shoulders and their mobility.
- More muscle makes everyday life easier. More muscle means more strength. More strength means things like lifting cases of water into the back of your car at Bj’s or Costco gets a whole lot easier. Lifting bags of mulch and placing them where you want in your yard gets a whole lot easier. Chasing your kids in the back yards is definitely a lot easier. Life is better when you are stronger and muscle is one path to that.
- Adding muscle allows you to eat more. The more muscle mass you have the higher your metabolism runs. If you are foodie like me, then that right there is enough to sell you on it.
- Muscle fights off metabolic disorders or at least helps to. Coming from a family of type 2 diabetics, I am pretty sure that the only reason that I am not a diabetic myself is because I have been a life-long lifter. Even if you don’t have the genetic propensity that I do, many of us develop those issues later in life due to other lifestyle factors. Adding some muscle to your frame will bolster your health and help to protect you from some of those things.
- And last but not least (and to circle back around to the beginning of the post), it makes getting leaner easier. To reiterate some of what I have already said, with more muscle comes a higher metabolic rate. This means more food. This means that even in a caloric deficit, when trying to shed body fat, you get more food. Again, if you are a foodie like me, that means larger meals and likely higher adherence to a plan. More muscle also means that you will be able to generate a bigger disturbance in your metabolism with your workouts. Ask yourself this. Who’s going to burn more calories, the person swinging a 30lb kettlebell versus a 70lb kettlebell? Obviously, it’s the 70lber right? Adding some more muscle will help with that.
So the take home message here is that yes, work on decreasing your body fat levels if that will make you healthier. But at some point you will have to shift gears. You’ll have to shift goals. Adding some muscle to your frame is a reasonable and beneficial goal to shift to.