Get Lean with a Change to Your Exercise Routine

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Running is the gold standard of fitness. Not only is it the best calorie burn (after swimming) but it's also touted as the ultimate fat burner. Plus you get ultimate bragging rights at every social function from fiestas to Facebook. If you're looking to get fit, the first thing you do is strap on those running shoes and hit the pavement, right? That's what we've all been taught anyhow.

My friends, we were taught wrong.

There is nothing wrong with running, or any type of cardio for that matter, but if weight loss and/or leaning out is your goal then running is probably not the fastest way to get there. Up until about a year ago, I was the cardio queen. I've never met an aerobics class or a road race that I didn't love. Oh sure, I did some weight lifting. But only because people told me I was supposed to. It was definitely secondary to my other fitness activities. Yet despite doing 12+ hours a week of exercise, my body still didn't look like I wanted it to. (Let's be honest: after 5 kids my body will probably never look like I want it to but slimmer thighs and a belly that doesn't look like an uncooked bagel would be nice.)

Then I came across an article by personal trainer to the stars, Rachel Cosgrove called "The Nail in the Cardio Coffin." In it, she outlines all the reasons why chronic cardio is derailing women from getting the bodies they really want. She also shares her personal story of how she went from a flabby triathlete to bikini-model abs by dropping all her cardio and focusing on lifting like the dudes. Surprisingly, she didn't not end up looking like a dude as many of us lady lifters are so afraid of becoming. Seeing her transformation inspired me to take a major leap of faith and try out her principles. For two months, I didn't run a step except in Tabata sprint drills (a particularly barftastic type of high-intensity interval training). I cut my cardio classes down to 1 per week and focused on lifting really really heavy weights 2-3 times a week.

I'll cut the suspense and give you my results: I lost inches everywhere - my thighs went down an inch each, my waist an inch and a half - and I lost 7% body fat. The jeans I am wearing today are a full two sizes smaller than the ones I was wearing 2 months ago. And I'm pretty sure I don't look like any of those muscle-bound gals in the bodybuilding competitions. At least, no one has said the word "bulky" in my presence. This combination of heavy lifting and high-intensity intervals is the closest thing to a fitness miracle I've ever found. It also worked similar miracles for the 5 girls who tried it out with me.

Why this works I'm not exactly sure, but here are some things to consider:

  • Muscle is metabolically active tissue so the more of it that you have, the higher your metabolism will be (and the more calories you will burn) around the clock.
  • Interval training and weight training cause a spike in human growth hormone that you don't get from doing traditional cardio. HGH is good for everything from better skin and immune system to, yes, less fat.
  • Weight training has been proven to strengthen bones and all that extra muscle will help you run faster for when you do do your next 5K! Extra bonus: workouts of this intensity are short! You'll be in and out in about 30 minutes.

With your New Year's goals still going strong, take this momentum to try out something new: instead of heading straight for the treadmill or the elliptical, try hitting the weight floor. And then? Lift as heavy as you can; really see what you can do! Screaming like Xena the Warrior Princess gets you bonus points (scratching yourself strictly optional). I'm not saying you should never run again - I love running! - but just try lifting heavy for one month and see how your body changes!

What's your fitness mojo? Are you a cardio queen or a weight lover? Maybe a little of both?

Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2010. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book.

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