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Training to Improve Body Composition

This is an excerpt from Strength Training for Women eBook by Lori Gross.

Millions of women across the country are trying to improve their physiques by altering their body composition. Specifically, they want to reduce their body fat. The cardiovascular endurance exercise session is the traditional favorite exercise of choice to achieve this goal. Many women hop on the treadmill or step machine for 45 minutes to expend calories and decrease fat stores. Although research has proven that this approach might be a sure solution to short-term weight loss (for about the first three months), it may not be the best strategy for long-term weight loss and maintenance.

Let's take a look at a hypothetical example to see why. Our subject is a 200-pound woman who eats 2,000 calories a day and doesn't exercise. For her New Year's resolution, she decides to start a diet and exercise program in an effort to lose 60 pounds. She cuts her calories down to 1,700 a day and adds cardiovascular endurance exercise to burn an additional 300 calories a day. She successfully loses 15 pounds in the first three months, so now she is down to 185. Believe it or not, when she was 200 pounds it cost her body more calories simply to move around. Now that she has lost weight, her body has to burn less energy to move her lighter weight, so it doesn't cost as many calories just to live. She is starting to hit a plateau.

To continue losing weight, the woman needs to decrease her caloric intake again, increase the time or intensity of her cardiovascular endurance exercise, or try another approach. Going below 1,500 calories might leave her hungry, depressed, and lacking some nutrients. If she stays with that strategy, is she going to have to keep decreasing calories until she hits her target weight of 140? That's still 45 pounds away. She can increase the length of time that she stays on the cardio equipment to burn more calories, but she is already doing 45 minutes every day of the week. She might be able to increase the intensity of the exercise (raise the level or difficulty), but she won't be able to sustain the exercise session for as long. At some point she needs to do something that will cost her body calories without having to starve herself or risk joint injury from overtraining. Enter strength training, which will affect her body composition in two ways. First, she is adding another training modality that will cost energy (calories). Second, and most importantly, she is adding lean body weight in the form of muscle. Muscle is metabolically active--it burns energy. You can see how these effects could be a double whammy for her body fat. In addition, lean muscular tissue gives the sculpted look that people who train for body composition desire.

Body composition training and strength training are not enemies, especially not in the long term. But even in the short term, strength training makes sense; otherwise, the body reaches a plateau all too soon. Why wait until the muscles have decreased in size because of the cardiovascular endurance training and until the metabolic cost of living has gone down because of the weight loss? If you pair strength training with the traditional cardiovascular endurance exercise in a planned program, you can create an effective symbiotic relationship.

More Excerpts From Strength Training for Women eBook