Copyright 2006 Truth Publishing
In the first part of this article we highlighted the importance of strength training while dieting to lose weight. I introduced the idea that underneath your body fat you have a strong musculoskeletal system. There’s a lot of muscle mass and good, strong bones underneath all of that body fat. If you find a strategy to conserve that muscle, even while you’re losing body fat, then you can have a much more successful weight loss experience and can end up with a strong skeleton and strong muscles at the end of your regimen.
The way to do that is to engage in basic weight-bearing strength training while you are pursuing a diet. You don’t have to go crazy on this. I am not suggesting that you go to the gym and start pumping iron on the bench press, 50 reps a day, or that you exhaust your body with crazy workouts. It turns out that you don’t even need to stress your body very much to maintain the current muscle mass that you have. Just 15 seconds of stress creates new muscle.
There’s a system of strength training called static contraction training that is outstanding for maintaining current muscle mass and even enhancing it if you choose to go that far. The best thing is that it takes very little time. How much time am I talking about? You’ll be amazed to hear this, but literally, it’s true: 15 seconds per muscle group per week. Only 15 seconds per muscle. If you engage that muscle for 15 seconds with high intensity contraction, then your body gets the signal that, hey, it needs that muscle. It needs to keep it around. And your body decides not to let that muscle go. It just keeps it, because it figures you need it.
Remember, your body has a lot of wisdom, and it’s trying to conserve calories. The body wants to get rid of muscles it doesn’t need, and in order to keep those muscles, you have to prove to your body that you need them. Now the thing is, your body doesn’t know why you need them. It could be that you’re engaged in some kind of competition, it could be that you need to lift heavy things to survive. Your body doesn’t really know the reason why. You can essentially fool your body by engaging in strength training, giving it the message that it needs to hold on to those muscles in order to survive. So in as little as 15 seconds per muscle group, you can tell your body to hold on to your muscle mass. That’s a 15 second bicep curl, for example, or a 15 second chest press, or a 15 second leg curl you get the idea.
To learn more on this, you can find a book called Power Factor Training by John Little and Pete Sisco. It gives you the lowdown on how to do this. The book speaks to bodybuilders, but it’s actually the underground secret book of strength training for people who are 50 years and older. Senior citizens benefit from this training immensely. There are also many golfers who use this system to greatly increase their range and golf swing.
Women are additionally benefiting from this system – when you’re dealing with the potential for osteoporosis when you get up in your years, bone density becomes crucial for your overall health. There is no better way in the world to make sure you have strong bone density than to engage in high intensity, short duration strength training exercises. Static contraction training is, in my view, the very best system of exercise for maintaining not just muscle mass, but also bone mineral density. You will also strengthen your ligaments and tendons.
The key is, as with all forms of exercise, to be sure to work with a qualified health professional before attempting this, especially some of the more high intensity exercises. You may want to ease your way into it and check with your naturopath, doctor or physical therapist to make sure you’re ready for this. You don’t want to injure yourself – that would set you back weeks. So take it a little bit at a time. Remember, your body will adapt slowly, so ease into it slowly. By doing all of this, you’ll be able to conserve the incredible muscle mass that you have underneath that body fat right now.
Accelerated weight loss. The other benefit of strength training is that it greatly increases the speed of your weight loss effort. It will double the effectiveness of any weight loss program you’re on. As mentioned in part one of this article, losing weight by calorie restriction alone is very, very difficult. In fact, personally, I’ve never been able to do that. The only way I’ve been able to lose body fat (I lost over 50 lbs. of body fat, and I’ve kept it off for several years now) is to engage in exercise that includes both a strength training component and a cardiovascular component. My belief is that you cannot keep weight off just by modifying your diet alone, unless you happen to be extremely gifted with just the right genes that don’t ever turn on the hunger signal for you. If you’re in that situation, good for you. But you should probably think about exercising anyway, because of the other cardiovascular health and brain chemistry benefits that are derived from frequent exercise.
Alternative training: Pilates. Now, some people say “Well, I can’t join a gym, I can’t exercise, I don’t want to go to that website and look up static contraction training, I don’t want to do that, I don’t want to pump weights. What do I do instead?” There’s a great solution for people who don’t want to pump weights, and I understand a lot of women are in this situation, nothing wrong with that. You can be very strong without pumping weights if you follow Pilates.
Pilates is a form of body movement and flexibility training that was pioneered by Joseph Pilates almost 100 years ago. The guy was well ahead of his time. This is a system that I definitely follow today. The movements require a lot of strength, but not so much that you can’t get started. There are simple ways to get started with Pilates on a mat that would greatly boost your muscle mass and your overall strength – especially your abdominal strength and your lower back strength. And then, as you gain comfort with that, you can move up to the more advanced movements in Pilates.
And you can even get Pilates equipment, which is rather affordable. The best place for that is Pilates.com, which is the website of a manufacturer of Pilates equipment. They have outstanding equipment. They even have an affordable home version of this Pilates equipment that runs only a couple of hundred dollars. Well worth the investment.
What does this Pilates system do for you? It will give you strength training all over your body – in your hips, adduction and abduction muscles, abdominal muscles, lower back, traps, biceps, triceps, chest, upper body, lower body and especially in your midsection. It will do all of this for you – I should say with you – without using any weights. So you don’t have to set up a bench press with 200 lbs. and see how many reps you can bang out. Pilates can be done in a more artful way. It is a form of body movement that can be very yoga-like, if you choose, or it can be done with more power. This is why both men and women find Pilates to be a fantastic system of strength training. I know a lot of people in the performing arts community who rely on Pilates to maintain core strength and flexibility throughout their body, including in their arms, legs and neck muscles.
The cure for joint pain. I’ve got to mention this too: If you engage in Pilates, you may experience one of the benefits that almost everybody experiences when they do this for a couple of months: their joint pain begins to disappear. People always complain about their joint pain, it seems. When I’m at the gym, I hear guys in their 40s – they’re only 45 years old! – and they’re complaining and whining about how much everything hurts. They say, “Oh, wait ’til you’re my age, everything’s gonna hurt!” And I respond with, “I don’t think so!” But I’ve experienced chronic pain, and I know what that feels like. But now I do Pilates and engage in outstanding nutrition and the pain is gone.
The body is designed to be healthy, and it’s not supposed to hurt. If you feed your body right and if you use and mobilize all those joints, they will not hurt, even to the age of 100. There’s no reason why we can’t live to 100 in a state of perfect health with outstanding cognitive function, free of chronic pain. But to do that, you have to use it. I firmly believe in the concept of “use it or lose it.” If you’re not using those joints, then you’re going to lose their range of motion.
Just ask any physical therapist, they will tell you much the same. You have to have range of motion in order to be free of pain. The difficulty is that as we get older, we tend to stop using all of those muscles and joints in their full range of motion. A lot of people who say that chronic pain is related to aging are really confusing cause and effect. It’s not related to aging, it’s related to the number of years that they’ve stopped using their body.
For example, take a person who is a dancer or someone engaged in yoga, Pilates or flexibility well into their 80s or 90s, and they won’t have joint pain. If aging causes joint pain, then how is it that these people have no pain? The answer is because they keep mobilizing those joints, they keep using their body. They engage in Tai Chi or other gentle body movements. And they are free from pain. By the way, Tai Chi is another outstanding way to get range of motion, but it won’t do quite the same thing for you in terms of muscle mass as Pilates training or other weight bearing exercises. (Tai Chi has many other energetic benefits, though, which are beyond the scope of this article.)
What’s missing from all diets. The bottom line is if you are attempting to lose weight, or more specifically to lose body fat, then engaging in some form of strength training is crucial to your success. I know there are a lot of books out there that say well, you can just change your foods, or you can consume this one particular food like grapefruit or cabbage, or you can go on the popular low-carb diet. I know some people have success with that, but I think the vast majority of people don’t really meet their weight loss goals just by changing their foods.
What’s missing is that body component, the strength training, the movement, the flexibility, and also the cardiovascular training. What I’m suggesting is that you seriously consider finding a way to get some form of strength training into your life. It could be as easy as buying a floor mat or a DVD video on Pilates. Those videos are as little as $15 or $20. So your total investment, including the mat, could be only $40 or $50. And then you can engage in strength training.
Strength training, when you get into the advanced stages of it, is not so easy. You know lifting weights, even just for 15 seconds with high intensity, isn’t always easy, either. When I do it, sometimes I feel like I’m about to pass out. It’s such high intensity. When I do a leg press with a 15 second high intensity static contraction system – and I’m really not even anywhere near what some of the founders are – I’m pushing at least 1,500 lbs. I’m out of breath after that. I’m wiped out. This is hard stuff! It takes effort.
None of this is going to happen automatically, and if you whip through a strength training routine, and you dont feel like you’ve done any work, then you probably haven’t. You’re not going to get any benefit from that. At some point, it’s going to require some effort to get these results. A lot of the information out there that claims you can lose weight without any effort is just flat out wrong. Certainly, there are some shortcuts. There are some strategies that can make it a lot easier for you, no doubt about that. There are some nutritional supplements that can help – I agree. But the bottom line is: if you don’t engage the physical body, if you don’t do some strength training and some cardiovascular training, you’re not going to get the results you want.
Finding a workable system. Most people who are really committed to losing body fat are okay with the effort part. That hasn’t been the problem. The problem has been finding a strategy that really works. What’s a system that works? People tried the Atkins Diet or the low carb diet, and for many people that didn’t work. People tried the low fat diet years ago – well that didn’t work, because everybody just loaded up on carbohydrates and cookies. People tried all kinds of other things – they tried stimulants, things that make you shake all day long because you have a lot of caffeine in your system. And gee, they found out that didn’t work either, because it just made them hungrier.
So, typically, it’s not the effort that stops people. It’s the reliability of the system. Finding out what really works is the hardest part. But I can tell you that no system will work without the physical body movement component. You’ve got to engage in strength training, you’ve got to engage in cardiovascular exercise, even if it’s just walking for five minutes a day. If you can’t walk, even just lifting your arms for 10 minutes a day, or lifting a 1 lb. dumbbell over your head 50 times will benefit you. I don’t care what it is, if you can move something, then you can engage in cardiovascular exercise. There is no excuse, unless you happen to be paralyzed from the neck down, in which case obviously you can’t engage in strength training. But for everybody else, there’s no excuse. If you can move a limb, you can do this.
Find a way to start strength training today, and your body will immediately start showing results.