Fat is the accumulation of excess energy. If you don’t burn off the calories you consume, they will be stored as fat. If you build muscle mass, you will not only feel better and look leaner, you will actually start to burn fat at a much faster rate.
That’s because muscles tissue is an incredible fat-burner. The more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn, even at rest. With that in mind, it makes sense to add strength training to your weekly routine.
First, find out how much of your body is made up of fat, and how much is made up of lean muscle. This measurement is your body fat percentage. You can find guides online which help you determine your body fat percentage, but if you’re a first-time measurer, you might get better results by asking your doctor or fitness trainer to measure it for you.
Some “smart” scales can even calculate your body composition by sending a painless signal through your body. The signal returns data that tells you how much of your weight comes from fat, muscle, bone, and fluid.
A healthy body fat percentage for women ranges from 14% (for a young, athletic woman) to 35% (for women over 65). Males have more natural muscle mass than females, so men can be healthy with body fat percentages between 6% and 25%.
It’s worth noting that a normal body weight does not protect you from the effects of a high body fat percentage. People with low weights and a large amount of body fat (also known as “skinny-fat” or “normal weight obesity”) face the same health risks as other obese individuals.
So how can you get rid of excess body fat and build lean muscle tissue to take its place? By working your muscles with strength-training exercises.
Strength training brings to mind images of sweaty guys shouting as they strain, red-faced, to lift a bar with huge weights on each end. But that’s not representative of strength training as a whole. In fact, you don’t need a gym or even weights to make your muscles stronger and leaner.
You can do strength-training in the comfort of your own home. Persistence is the key. If you’re not accustomed to exercising, your muscles will be weak at first, and you might not feel like you’re doing yourself much good.
In fact, the opposite is true! Every strength training session will benefit your muscles tremendously. When you rest the next day, your muscles will reknit themselves into something stronger than ever before. All you have to do is stick with the program.
Some of the best strength-training exercises are traditional workouts used in school gyms and military boot camps: Sit-ups, pull-ups, push-ups, chair dips, wall sits, and squats.
Don’t worry if you can’t do these maneuvers right at first. You can do modified versions of these exercises until you build enough muscle strength to do the traditional versions. For example, if you can’t do a full push-up, you can do knee push-ups while you grow stronger. If you can’t do a knee push-up, try pushing yourself away from walls or kitchen counters. Your arms will grow stronger over time, and you will start building muscle immediately.
Sit-ups are another easily modified strength training exercise. Many people do a modified version of sit-ups when they do abdominal crunches. You can lower or increase the difficulty of crunches by changing the way you hold your legs, or by twisting your body as you come up. Full sit-ups should be your goal, though, because they give your entire core a good workout. A well-developed core will help you perform all of your strength-training exercises.
Start slowly by doing strength-training on a few non-consecutive days each week. You might start by doing core exercises on Monday, resting on Tuesday, doing Arms on Wednesday, resting on Thursday, working your legs on Friday, and resting on the weekend.
As you grow stronger, increase your strength-training to 4 or 5 times per week. Keep working until your muscles feel weak and wobbly. This is called muscle failure, and you won’t get much benefit from working out beyond that point. The more you work out, the longer it will take you to reach muscle failure.