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(Note: This article is a part of our 31-day series, “31 Days to a Whole Body Makeover“.)
I’ve lost a lot of weight. A lot. Half my body weight and probably then some. I keep meaning to write out the whole story for those who have been wondering how I did it, but I have been putting it off due to simple procrastination. When I have it finished, I will come back to this article and link to it.
For now, though, I’m going to address exercise and tell you the best advice I ever received that got my body to burning fat and losing weight after a LONG and DIFFICULT plateau!
After one year of a very steady decrease, I started stalling. At the time, I was doing at most, two water aerobics classes and two cardio aerobics classes per week. Naturally, everyone thinks that if you’re slowing down and stalling, the obvious decision is to then increase that cardio, right? But the more I did, the worse the stall became! So… I added in more! I cut my calories back to 1200 calories a day thinking that would help but… Nothing! It turns out, both of those choices were a huge mistake!
At one point, I was literally doing a minimum of 2.5 hours of straight cardio per day. I would come into the gym, run on the treadmill for 35 minutes at a 5.5 – 6.0 mph pace. Then I would jump off the treadmill and right into step aerobics. Then there was always a Zumba class or water aerobics class available immediately after. On Saturday mornings, I would go to an intense step aerobics class that went 60 minutes with no pauses, then I would do a “toning” class, then stay for boot camp. It was CRAZY.
I counted every single bite that went into my mouth. I lowered my calories down to a measly 1200 calories per day. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS. It is soooo bad for you. (I now practice intuitive eating.)
And each time I weighed in, I scratched my head wondering why I wasn’t losing weight! The harder I worked, the more stubborn the results. I thought maybe I was broken because I’m sure you know there are television programs that feature those people doing the same things, but with crazy awesome results! (Turns out, if you Google search how those people are all doing today, the majority have gained it back. Ouch.)
Then, I had the opportunity to get a hugely discounted price on personal training sessions at my local YMCA. The Y was under major renovations at the time; I assume it was a way to drum up some business. I ended up doing six months of heavy weightlifting with my personal trainer and I LOVED IT. I kept up with the maddening cardio on the side, but fell in love with the weightlifting. Here’s the thing: The way I looked changed! I stayed relatively the same weight, didn’t lose nearly as much as I thought I would in weight or inches, but I was really pleased with the visible results.
Weightlifting caused me to look so much better!
Sadly, I ran out of sessions, and the prices were going back up, so I could no longer afford to see my trainer. I was at a total crossroads. I didn’t feel like I was set up to do the weights on my own; I didn’t know the reasoning WHY we did the specific exercises we did.
One day, I had this strong desire to email my friend, Steph Gaudreau from Stupid Easy Paleo explaining my predicament. She immediately told me this: stop with the cardio.
Um, say what?!
That just seemed to go against everything we’ve ever heard about losing weight, right? Think of the Jazzercise movement of the 1980’s, or the step aerobics of the 1990’s, or the Zumba of the 2000’s, or even the Crossfit of the 2010’s! That’s just what everyone does!
Turns out, Steph knows what she is talking about!!
Steph is an Olympic weightlifting coach as well as a holistic nutritionist. She taught us in her class that weightlifting three times a week is PLENTY of exercise. That’s it! 3 hours a week of weightlifting!!
Here’s the catch (if you can even call it a “catch”): You have to lift heavy weights. No matter what level you are at, you need to be using weights that are a challenge for you. Because of the way our muscles, bones, and connective tissue respond to heavy lifting, that is where you see benefit. Your hormones will begin to balance out, telling your body to lose fat. You strengthen your bones and connective tissue, all while improving balance and coordination. You have the added benefit of burning even more energy all throughout the day post workout! Your basal metabolic rate raises a whopping 15% post workout, making your body a fat-burning furnace! You don’t get any that with cardio… in fact, calorie burning pretty much stops once you get off the treadmill.
There are so many studies coming out that show that sustained cardio exercise stalls weight loss. The Denver Post explains it like this:
“When you spend 30, 40 or even 60 minutes pounding away on a treadmill, you send your body a powerful signal to start storing fat instead of burning it.
This is because when you do cardio, your body reacts to the stress by suppressing a very important hormone that is produced by the thyroid to burn fat. When this hormone, called T3, is suppressed, your body starts gaining and storing fat immediately.”
Those aren’t the only hormones being messed with. Too much cardio also raises your production of the stress hormone cortisol, which is a huge contributor to belly fat. Cortisol also wrecks your sleeping habits (a good night’s sleep is critical for weight loss), and it messes with your blood sugar, causing you to be extra hungry, especially for sugars. (I pointed out in my article about treating acne why cortisol contributes to poor skin health.)
Ladies, if you are worried about “getting too big”, I assure you that our bodies are not able to get that way without a lot of testosterone, and our bodies will never make enough of that to create that look. What weightlifting does do is give you shape and those coveted curves!
So, if you are going to do cardio, perhaps for the purpose of warming up for your strength training, limit it to 20 minutes, 2 times per week.
How to Get Started in Weightlifting or Strength Training:
If you feel most comfortable hiring a trainer at your gym, make sure you take the time to find one that is a good match for you. You want to find one who really listens and responds to what results you want. You wouldn’t want a doctor that doesn’t listen to you, right? So there is no need to hire a trainer who doesn’t respect your wants and needs.
If you are going to do this on your own, know that good form is key!
The amazing thing about our modern day is that there are a million YouTube videos about good form while lifting weights! Study 2 or 3 per exercise.
Choose exercises that are multi-muscle group exercises. For example, Steph has recommended squats, deadlifts, power cleans, and presses in our program. They target different groups, including your core, which is our very own built-in girdle!
With my former trainer, we would do two sets of 10-15 reps. That means that I would lift whatever weight I was doing 10-15 times (repetitions/reps) and then rest at least three minutes before the next set. The way to know your weight is that if you are not feeling challenged by rep 10 or 12, then you need to go up in weight.
If it is heavy enough to make you break form, then it is officially too heavy. Time to either stop, or lower the weight next time. You want to be challenged, but you don’t want to break proper form, making yourself susceptible to injury.
The Home Gym:
When it comes to working out, you have to choose where you’re most likely to get it done. If going to the gym helps set the mood better than being at home, do that!
I did my Healthy, Happy, & Harder to Kill program at home. I purchased weights that went up to 52.5 lbs each just to make sure I was covered! I felt like since I was doing it on my own, I felt more comfortable doing it at home while my kids were at school.
I purchased for myself this set of Bowflex Adjustable Dumbbells. I love them! At the time of writing this article, they are on crazy sale, nearly half off! (This is actually the same price I purchased them at.) They are awesome! There are other sets that only go up to 20# that cost the same, and I don’t know about you, but 20# is way too light for me.
I also purchased a doorway pull up bar similar to this one. I love that you do not need to install it into your doorway!
If you go with the pull up bar, you will for sure want a good set of resistance bands until you are able to do pull ups on your own. These make it much easier to do because it takes some of your body weight off.
Creating your at-home gym is actually much easier than I ever would have thought possible.
As you can see, I’m still a work in progress, and I hope to be able to update this post in a few more months with even more results! Until then, please tell me in the comments below if you’ve ever tried weightlifting or if it’s something you might be interested in!
If you are interested in the Healthy, Happy, & Harder to Kill program, I believe Steph Gaudreau is planning to launch the next round somewhere around the first of the new year, 2016. You can get on the list to receive an email for when the doors open once again by clicking on that link!