In about a month’s time, millions of people around the world will set out hoping to be better versions of themselves in the new year with a tradition that dates back thousands of years – the New Year resolution.
Amongst the list of resolutions that people make, the top few are (in no particular order):
1. Lose weight/Get in shape.
2. Eat healthier.
3. Exercise more.
Unsurprisingly, of all the people that make resolutions, a dismally small percentage actually follow through and put in the consistent effort till they achieve their goals. Nonetheless, I hope this message reaches those of you who are determined enough to make a difference in your life. I implore you to ditch your focus on the conventional fitness resolutions mentioned above and work towards the physical attribute that will make a huge improvement in your life – strength. Getting physically strong will make such a massive impact on your life that you’ll wonder why didn’t you do so earlier. Trust me, I wonder why all the time.
The awesome thing about training for strength is that the benefits are multifactorial. Apart from the obvious benefit of getting stronger, you’ll also notice a plethora of changes occurring as you get stronger. Since losing weight and getting into shape is amongst the top few resolutions that people tend to make, we’ll talk about how strength training can help achieve those goals.
Just to be clear, when we say strength training, we’re referring to the compound barbell lifts done in a structured program with progressively heavier loads. HIIT workouts aren’t strength training. The argument as to the preference of barbell training over other forms of training is out of the scope of this article and will be addressed in a future article.
Ok, being stronger sounds good but what if I want to lose some weight?
Let’s say you’re on board with strength training and willing to give it a shot but you’d also like to lose a couple of kilos. The misconception that strength training is not conducive to fat loss and cardio is the be all end all to shed excess body fat is a myth that refuses to go away. Before we proceed, we need to clarify that when people refer to losing weight, they are specifically referring to fat loss and I’m assuming you are too. I’ve yet to meet something that says “I’m looking to lose weight but to lose only muscles and bone density. Please don’t make me lose any fat.”
If losing fat is your goal, strength training will definitely help but what you need most of all is a sensible and sustainable nutrition plan. There is no such thing as a weight loss exercise program and you can’t out-train a bad diet. However, that doesn’t stop marketers from pandering to what the general population wants to hear and selling “weight loss exercise programs” so don’t be suckered into thinking there is.
How does barbell strength training help with my weight loss goal?
So now that you’ve cleaned up your eating and you’re aware that there’s no weight loss exercise program, you must be thinking what part does strength training play in achieving your weight loss goal.
Perform compound barbells lifts with progressively heavier loads and your body will undergo many architectural changes. You put on muscle tissue. Bones get denser. Connective tissues get stronger. An increase in muscle mass raises your body’s basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the amount of energy that a person needs to keep the body functioning at rest. Since BMR accounts for about 60-75% of the daily caloric expenditure by individuals, it’s a good idea to work towards bumping up this figure. A higher BMR means more calories burnt, even at rest. This can have an impact if you’re looking to shed excess fat. For older adults, actively adding muscle tissue is even more important as BMR typically declines by 1-2% per decade, which is mainly due to the loss of muscle mass.
Apart from losing body fat, you’re probably also looking to “get into shape”. By getting into shape, I’m assuming being less rotund and having as Meghan Trainor says in her song “All the right junk, in all the right places”.
When someone says they want to “look more toned” or “get into shape”, what they unknowingly mean is that they wish to put on some muscle mass – it’s having muscle, combined with sufficiently low body fat that gives one the appearance of looking “toned”.
How should I start?
For someone just starting out in the gym, their resource for information is usually from bodybuilding centric magazines or websites. That is understandable, since bodybuilding is only concerned about aesthetics and these people are wanting to build a more desirable body. The problem happens when they try to emulate the programs recommended in these magazines/websites, which invariably is some form of a 4-6 day a week body part split routine with tons of isolation work. I’m not saying that these programs don’t work but you have to be conscious of whom you apply this program to. This form of training might work very well for an intermediate or advanced lifter, but it doesn’t work for the novice lifter who just started training and lacks the base level of strength.
Bodybuilding programs typically call for higher rep sets (anywhere between 8-15 reps) and if you lack the base level of strength, you can’t lift very much for 8-15 reps, which means you’re not going to be able to build much muscle. Who do you think can bench press a heavier weight for a set of 12 reps – someone with a bench press 1 Repetition Maximum (RM) of 150kgs or 50kgs? If you’d to pursue more aesthetic goals and like to follow a more bodybuilding centric program, I’d advise you to build your strength first then taking that strength and applying it to these programs – you’ll see much better results this way. To build your strength, there’s no better way than compound barbell lifts done in a program with progressively heavier loads.
This New Year, give getting stronger a shot
So if your New Year resolution is to either lose weight or get into shape, do strongly consider making plans to get stronger in addition cleaning up your eating habits and you’ll be very happy with the results. This article was published a month ahead of the New Year so that it’ll have some time to get circulated and hopefully convince some people to ditch the conventional fitness related resolution and resolve to get stronger in 2020.
If you’re reading this before the 1st of January 2020 and have decided that you want to focus on getting stronger in the New Year, I suggest starting soon, preferably before the New Year comes around. That’ll give you some time to make progress and experience the benefits of strength. When the gyms get crowded in January, after you’ve tasted the benefits of being stronger, you may very well be the one asking the New Year resolutioners “Have you considered getting stronger”?