Why is Muscle so Important?
A lot of what I am about to say will go against everything you have ever learnt about training as a woman.
I was also once the girl who did 20 minutes on the treadmill and then proceeded to the yoga mat to do my abs, legs and arms routine. Now, I know some people enjoy doing this kind of thing – but I absolutely despised it. Not to mention I never really improved over the whole three years that I spent training this way. So when my boyfriend (now husband) encouraged me to try weight lifting with him at the gym some 4 odd years ago, I was more than happy to ditch my program and rack up a barbell.
I learnt a very important lesson that day, even though I had been training consistently for 7+ years (and considered myself to be pretty “fit”), I was unstable, uncoordinated and weak. EVERYWHERE. This started my (slightly obsessive) pursuit of strength & functionality. However, what I thought then to be a simple change in training methodology, turned out to change my entire perspective on health & wellness … and ultimately sparked a deep personal fire & rerouted my career.
Before I dive into the importance of muscle mass, I think it’s necessary to clarify what happens when muscle is ABSENT in the body… this may help to emphasise the importance of its presence.
Our body constantly seeks an energy homeostasis and adjusts for the low energy intake (during a diet), or high energy output (from exercise). To adjust to this energy deprivation, you body does a number of things, including:
- stockpiling fat for future fuel needs
- increasing feelings of hunger to access more calories
- lowering your basal metabolic rate
- burning tissue with a high-energy cost: YOUR MUSCLE.
Research suggests that nearly 40% of weight lost in a caloric deficit program is muscle.
Aside from the long-term health consequences of less muscle, this will only further reduce our resting metabolic rate (RMR). Since 60-75% of our total energy expenditure is determined by this rate... and we’re already fighting a natural decline with age (3% per decade after the age of 20) ... this is a recipe for metabolic disaster.
The main reason most people continue to select these types of programs as their method for getting fit is because they’ve bought into the calorie reduction method to losing weight. They’ve been led to believe that obtaining a better physique requires consuming less calories, burning more calories, or some combination of the two. This could not be further from the truth.
Put simply, the body functions better and processes nutrients better when it’s carrying more muscle. If you want to speed up your metabolism and burn body fat, weight training is the ticket – not cardio. If you want the absolute biggest bang for your buck as it relates to building lean mass, you want to hit the muscle with a varied approach. A good mix of lifts that challenge more of your body is going to be favourable for long-term adaptation. In the end, this will all equate to more fat loss.
People with more muscle burn more energy at rest, and require LESS exercise to maintain their physique. Exercise should focus on building and maintaining muscle, NOT burning calories. This translates to a higher metabolic rate, lower fat storage rate, and decreased risk of degenerative disease and mortality.
When I talk about lifting weights, I don’t mean incorporating 1kg dumbbells into your pump class. I mean racking up a barbell, adding some weight & sending that ass to the grass ... obviously while being monitored by a coach who makes sure you stay safe.
Building and maintaining muscle should be at the forefront of your training regime. If it’s not, ask yourself why? You don’t need to lift at your max or perform complex movements to achieve muscle gain. Squat, deadlift, press, pull, challenge yourself. Not only is building muscle healthy… it’s FUN, its EMPOWERING and it feels DAMN GOOD to be strong.