If your goal is weight loss, an improved muscle-to-fat ratio, strengthening your bones, and building confidence and self-esteem, then lifting weights (strength training) is for you.
Building muscle is an effective way to lower your body fat, because muscle is more metabolically active than fat. It requires significantly more calories of energy to maintain muscle than fat. Where a pound of muscle burns 10-20 calories a day, a pound of fat burns only 5 calories a day. Surprisingly, your muscle is working for you, even when you are not working your muscles!
Not only does muscle require more calories just sitting around, effective strength training offers additional calories burned after a training session. Steady state cardio workouts burn calories at the time of the workout, but strength training keeps burning calories after your gym session.
With the appropriate weight load, reps, sets, diet and weight progression men have the physiology to gain size and bulk in their muscles. Women do not because we don’t have the testosterone levels to build big muscles. So don’t fear the bulk and lift heavy to challenge and change your body for the better.
A certified personal trainer can help you determine the appropriate weight or if you are experienced in the weight room you can do it yourself. One way to determine the appropriate weight for building lean muscle is to discover your specific 1 rep max (1rm). Perform a bicep curl, or chest press (or whatever exercise you are going for) with the heaviest weight you can perform for 1 repetition (use a spotter if necessary). Work your weights as a percentage of this 100%. For muscle hypertrophy (muscle definition) you want to work at 75%-85% of this weight. For strength endurance (reduce body fat and increase lean muscle) you want to work at 60% – 80%.
You can also back into selecting the correct weight for your resistance training using the last 2 rep rule. The rule states that you will know you have the correct weight when the last 2 reps of your set are very difficult (almost breaking your perfect form). Experiment with a given weight and check in mid-set. Is this weight extremely easy or extremely difficult? Stay away from the extremes and try to find that weight that allows you to struggle for the last 2 reps.
When the weight goes up, you can complete fewer reps. Focusing on your goals here is important. The National Academy of Sport Medicine (NASM) recommends for strength endurance complete 8-12 reps with 2-4 sets. For more muscle definition (hypertrophy) 6-12 reps with 3-5 sets (less reps, more sets). If you desire to gain maximal strength (think bodybuilder physique) complete 1-5 reps with 4-6 sets. Keep in mind the last 2-rep rule when selecting your weight. No matter what your goal, push yourself to do more reps or use a slightly heavier weight to break through training plateaus. Only increase your weight or rep range by no more than 5-10% at a time.