Fat burning mysteries!
August 28, 2008 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Attention Fitness Gurus and Gurettes: Let's set me straight on about these fitness misconceptions and mysteries. I gotta get in shape!

Alright, we've all heard a million different pieces of information on the subject of fitness and about half of them contradict one another or just seem so ridiculous as to be... ridiculed. So here we will answer these questions for us poor ignorant flabbos ONCE AND FOR ALL.

1. What's the deal with losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time? You hear people saying that they want to do this very thing, but it seems like an impossibility. To put on muscle, you need a calorie surplus, but to lose fat you need a calorie deficit. What the heck? Is there some magic window of calories you can eat to achieve both? What's the point of doing cardio to slim down if you're trying to put on muscle?

2. How much protein do you actually need? I've heard trainers say that too much protein is just passed through the system, so don't waste money on powders and bars, but then another trainer will say that we need like two hundred grams of protein a day. How much is too much, and when should you consume it to ensure it's being used by the body?

3. Is there really any advantage to using freeweights as opposed to weight machines?

4. How often do you need to work a particular muscle group to keep it growing? Some plans say to work a muscle group once a week, but others say three times a week. If once per week is enough to build 'em up, is there an advantage to working them more often?

5. Which is best for building muscle: More weight and lower reps, or less weight and more reps?

THese things confound me, and I'm sure a lot of other people too. Help us solve the mysteries of fitness, and also maybe add a few tidbits of info of your own.
posted by Willie0248 to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
1. No clue
2. No clue
3. Freeweights have the advantage of working out what are called "stabilizing" muscles. And for me, using extra muscles means a better workout, right?
4. No clue, but once a week seems like it won't do too much to build muscle.
5. Higher weight, fewer reps is the general formula for bulking up, lower weight, more reps is the general formula for toning muscles (burning fat rather than building muscle)

Hopefully someone else will be able to answer the rest!
posted by Grither at 12:56 PM on August 28, 2008

1. Some of the calories for building the muscle come from burning off the fat.
2. No idea
3. as Grither says, freeweights use muscles other than the targeted groups. Whether this is good or bad depends on you and your joint health and your form.
4. I've never seen or heard anyone saying that once a week is sufficient to build muscle.
5. lower weight/higher reps is for toning/adding strength, higher weight/lower reps is for bulking muscle.
posted by jlkr at 1:08 PM on August 28, 2008

Best answer: 1) This is basically impossible, for the reasons you said. When people start working out, they experience this effect mainly b/c they're consuming more water and actually sweating. There's no magical window where you can do both. The point in doing cardio if you're trying to put on muscle is that cardio is actually good for you. If you're trying to put on muscle though, it's generally recommended that you don't do too much cardio and to focus your cardio on sprints/HIIT.

2) This is constantly debated and there is no set answer. The "general" body-building rule of them (If you are looking at it from a "how to i get as muscular as possible" sense) is 1 gram for every pound you are. When I was 240 lbs, I tried this, and it was pretty much impossible. That's a lot of protein! Now that I'm 200 lbs, it's easier, but I still don't eat as much. I would say, on average, I eat about 160 grams a day.

Even if your body doesn't need that much protein, I think it's good for people to try to eat more protein b/c protein makes your body feel FULL. 300 calories in carbohydrates is basically a donut. 300 calories in protein is 1 1/2 chicken breasts.

How much is too much? your body will let you know. when I was eating 240 grams a day, I was really...gassy. Like, incredibly gassy. I cut back, and I was fine. To ensure it's being used by the body? Drink water and exercise!

3) Yes there is. The problem with machines is that your body is not composed of 4 - 5 muscles. There's a dozen (at least) of muscles involved in every exercise. When you use a machine, you're just exercising that one major muscle. When you use free-weights, all your muscles get involved- they're all doing things like stabilizing, assisting, keeping your balance, etc. To build muscles, you want to generate the largest hormonal response possible (that's basically all you're doing when you're lifting weights). You basically want to trigger your body into thinking "omg, this was so hard. christ. we need more muscle so next time, this won't be as hard." It's easier to do that if you have more muscles sending those signals.

4) This is constantly debated. Again, it depends on what your goals are. Here are my thoughts: If your goal is to build overall fitness, get in good shape, and increase your cardiovascular endurance (let's say you don't have time to run or whatever), I see the merits in doing full body workouts every time you go. If your goal is to put on as much muscle mass as possible, however, it makes more sense to split workouts. You can work each group harder and put more stress, and trigger a larger hormonal response.

To me, it's like running. If i wanted to get faster, I would run 100 m sprints. I wouldn't run 10 mile loops. There's nothing wrong with 10 mile loops- they increase my endurance, marathons rock- but it doesn't explicitly make you faster.

5) More weights and lower reps. Always, always, always. less weight and more reps just doesn't work. At it's most extreme, are you going to get stronger curling nothing? No. You'd get stronger by progressively lifting heavier. Rippletoe, considered by lifters to be basically a god, advocates a 5 x 5 (5 sets of 5 reps each) for beginning lifters.

Anyways, I hope this helps. Everything depends on what your goals are. There's no "concrete" answer. If you want more specific advice, the best thing would be to come up with a mission statement of what exactly you want to do with your body, and what you're willing to put up with!
posted by unexpected at 1:11 PM on August 28, 2008 [6 favorites]

To put on muscle, you need a calorie surplus, but to lose fat you need a calorie deficit.

To lose fat you need to expend more calories than you take in. Using your muscles expends calories, as does developing them. Certainly if you take in NO calories and have no fat stores for your body to use then you cannot develop muscles, but presumably you're continuing to eat.

Is there really any advantage to using freeweights as opposed to weight machines?

I don't know if there's any benefit to it from a weight loss perspective, but the big difference in free weights vs a machine are all the little control muscles you develop with free weights that you don't need to use when the heavy stuff moves along a tightly restricted path. However most people are capable of moving more weight with a machine than they can free, so you'll probably do the same total quantity of work.

Really I think free vs machine is only a choice to worry about if you're just as likely and able to keep up the exercise regardless of which you use. The machines are probably better for a lot of people from the standpoint that they give a sense of comfort and don't require a partner to use, making some folks more likely to keep it up regularly.
posted by phearlez at 1:16 PM on August 28, 2008

After seeing the first two posts, I would just like to clarify something-

There's no such thing as "toning" the muscle. What you see in the mirror is muscle + fat. If you want to increase the muscle portion, you use a bulking program, like the ones mentioned above. This will make your muscle bigger.

If you want to decrease the fat portion, yes, you can do low weights at high reps, but you're asking your body to spot reduce fat, which it can't do. It's better to do high weights, low reps, and then go run.

The low weight/high reps for strength is not valid either. Rippletoe, in his book, outlines three specific ranges of reps

1-5 reps for building strength
5-12 reps for muscular hypertrophy (make muscles look big!)
12+ for endurance.

So if you want to get stronger (say increase your bench press), his 5 x 5 program makes sense. body builders do more "pumps" to maximize hypertrophy. Lifting low weight/high reps is a lot like doing a bunch of pushups- good for building endurance, but not for strength/hypertrophy.
posted by unexpected at 1:19 PM on August 28, 2008

Best answer: If I may copy and bold-for-emphasis part of unexpected's answer to #5:

5) More weights and lower reps. Always, always, always.

I wish I could 48-point that and put it in red. "Toning" muscles, as opposed to building them, is a myth. There is no difference between toning and building muscle.
And nothing makes me want to swing a 25-lb dumbbell in a gymgoer's face than watching them wave their limbs on the lightest setting of whatever machine for twenty minutes at a time.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:24 PM on August 28, 2008

Best answer: Hi,

First out: I'm no expert - but do have some practical experience of training. So based on my own life, here's what I've learnt as related to your questions.

1 - Yes - you're essential right it is a contradiction. But not very much, because it depends on two things: First what the source of calories are. A simpel (and not very exact allegorie) is a car that's designed to run on octan 96. You can run it on octane 98 etc - but it won't as efficient as on the correct octane. Carbohydrates, fat and protein all give energy as measured in calories. Carbohydrates (mostly sugar and fast carbs) tend to get packed away by the body as body-fat if you eat in excess. So is fat. Protein can be translated to body-fat, but not as easily. So if you eat protein-rich food you can get the same amount of calories as with carb-rich food. But it won't stick as fat as easily. And as you probably know, protein is needed as the no 1 buildningblock of muscles. Remember though that you need carbs and fat to keep the body going. They're essential for your wellbeing and health. Second: When you start eating and training in a healthy way, the excess body-fat get's thinner and you start to see the muscles that's been there all the time - but hidden. So, that's why some people thinks they can burn fat and build muscles - in reality I think they're only burning fat and exposing muscles. That's the deal on doing cardio to be lean - and to look muscular.

2 - I think it's very personal. I mean: Innuits on Greenland eat almost nothing but meat and fat of seals and they're having no bad side-effects. On the contrary some studies in the western countries has linked excess protein-eating with liver and/or kidney-problems (sorry, can't cite any studies - forgot where I read it).

That said: A popular measure is 30 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight. But that's based on bodybuilders who already have rather lean body-fat and are used to weight-training.

For a newbie - I'd say: Start easy on the protein and build up the amount. And no: You don't need the powder and the bars. Go with eggs and real meat. Please. It will be cheaper in the long run and probably more healthy for you to.

3 - As Grither said: Stabilizing muscles take some of the strain. Equals more muscular (total) workout. And might I add: A more alround strenght.

4 - Lifting a weigh tears the muscle apart. The heavier the weigh the more trashed the muscle gets. When the body rebuilds the muscle, it makes the muscle stonger than before (super-compensation). That's the mechanism of muscle-growth. That's why heavier weights leads to bigger super-compensation and bigger muscles.

To put it simple: Few reps, high weigh equals strong muscle (but low stamina). High reps, low weight equals a weaker muscle but with higher stamina.

For a newbie - I'd say: Be very afraid of heavy weights in the beginning. It's easy to harm yourself and thereby put yourself out of training. Start easy (incredible easy, might I add) and let the body get used to the strain. Gradually build up to heavier weights.

And now for my super-tips for people starting a fitness-regime (or just want to get a healthier life): Start walking. It builds cardiovascular strenght and stamina. It primes the body for physical work. It can be done without special equipment or clothes.

So: Take a walk, it's good for you.

Take care.
posted by Rabarberofficer at 1:46 PM on August 28, 2008

I'm fairly new to this stuff as well, so don't have much to say, but want to suggest some good websites for reading:



posted by cheemee at 1:48 PM on August 28, 2008

i think the people above pretty much hit all the major points.

but getting in shape can cover such a wide range of end results.

Right now i am the fittest and strongest i have been in years, but also the leanest and lightest weighing in at 175lb with 10%BF. If lean and strong are your goals i would recommend the Zone Diet and Crossfit [or if you aint got the strength for that follow rippletoe and do starting strength]

If you are after gaining muscle mass again follow rippletoe's guidelines and check out his books.

www.crossfit.com has some fantastic forums for both diet and training.

if you do want to get in shape though bare in mind the diet is incredibly important!
posted by moochoo at 1:48 PM on August 28, 2008

1. What's the deal with losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time? You hear people saying that they want to do this very thing, but it seems like an impossibility.

A lot of this is semantics about exactly what you're optimizing, and what you're trying to optimize.

There's a difference between "impossible" and "very ineffective." It is possible to lose fat and gain muscle -- after all, by building muscle, you will naturally burn more calories -- but it is more effective to lose fat by doing cardio. At the same time, you can get a cardio workout via circuit training, which includes weight lifting exercises, but this is an ineffective means of building muscle mass, if that's your goal.

At the same time, you can "build muscle" by losing fat, inasmuch as losing fat will provide you with more muscle definition, which appears as if you "built muscle."

But the bottom line is ... unless you're an athlete attempting something specific, you need to build both muscle and cardio effectiveness for a long, happy, well-rounded life. There's plenty of skinny old ladies and old men with no fat on their bodies, and no calcium in their bones, either. There's plenty of strong young men with big muscles and big guts, who go off and get big heart attacks to match.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:49 PM on August 28, 2008

1. The received wisdom among bodybuilders (IANAB, BTW) is that you go through bulking and cutting cycles. When bulking, eat and work and (often forgotten) SLEEP to nourish, stress-and-microtear, and repair muscle, making it a litte bigger and stronger. Repeat. You may also put on some fat during a bulking cycle. When cutting, cut calories and continue working out, but this is when you will lose fat and maybe a little muscle. While you may be able to manipulate macronutrients to spare muscle loss as much as possible, don't expect to lose a lot of fat and gain a lot of muscle at the same time (but if you lose fat, your existing muscle will show up more). TANSTAAFL.

2. Opinions vary, but you probably are wasting your money and nitrogen at anything above a gram per pound of bodyweight. So eat good food, several times a day, and try to have some protein and some veg or fruit at every meal.

3. Freeweights fit varying body sizes better, engage more muscles, and help improve your balance. It's real life training.

4. Opinions vary a lot. There are a lot of decent programs using 2, 3 or 4 training days. All can give you results.

5. What unexpected said here, but keep in mind, you have to eat, train and sleep, and even then, you may be a hardgainer (most women and ectomorphic men, typically), who will have a hell of a time putting on real muscle mass.
posted by maudlin at 2:02 PM on August 28, 2008

1-5: It varies from person to person or no one really knows for certain.

My opinions based on my experience:
1. It is possible to lose weight and gain muscle in complete beginners to strength training.

2. 1g/1lb is pretty standard, why not get at least that much to be safe? Carbs are your enemy if you're trying to lose weight so you'll have plenty of spare calories.

3. Freeweights engage more muscles for a given lift. Look at chest press versus bench press, big difference in total muscle involved.

4. Nearly all "popular" programs will work for some amount of time.

5. The general rule of thumb, you've probably read, is that <6 reps will help most for strength (engages CNS), 6-12 is more "bodybuilding", and 12+ is endurance and going to give your slow twitch fibers a run for their money.
posted by wolfkult at 2:23 PM on August 28, 2008

You're not going to get definitive answers from anyone on this subject... quite possibly ever, let alone on metafilter - if you look through past questions on this topic you'll see lots of differing opinions and sometimes downright arguments. Everyone has an opinion and rarely do they have anything more than anecdotal evidence to support their arguments. As you've already found, even people whose profession it is to know about this stuff, argue about the answers to those questions.

On the free-weights vs machines issue - I prefer machines. Bad posture/technique+free weights = neck/back pain, I never had that problem with the machines.
posted by missmagenta at 2:26 PM on August 28, 2008

you should definitely check out t-nation.com
posted by parmanparman at 2:29 PM on August 28, 2008

5) More weights and lower reps. Always, always, always.

Just to be a bastard, I'll throw in the fact that the biggest I ever was and with the lowest body fat was doing a hypertrophy routine (sets would end at around 10-12 reps) over the course of about 3 months. Afterward, checking my 1 rep maxes, I found that they did not increase at all. But I looked a lot bigger.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 3:23 PM on August 28, 2008

Metroid Baby said: "And nothing makes me want to swing a 25-lb dumbbell in a gymgoer's face than watching them wave their limbs on the lightest setting of whatever machine for twenty minutes at a time."

Which is just the kind of attitude that intimidates a lot of people in gyms. I'm glad this is the only comment of the 15 in the thread that sounds like that, because I've just begun a workout regimen myself and I'm reading this thread with interest. Why sneer at the way someone else does their workout? And if you're really concerned that they're not doing it "right," why not offer assistance?
posted by headnsouth at 4:18 PM on August 28, 2008

I think you're covered here but I'll throw my hat in.

1. You're right to be effective in this then pick a goal - either gaining or losing. If you're going for slimmer then concentrate on losing weight with a healthy amount of exercise - both cardio and weights and try to establish a good base of muscle. Note you can still build muscle while losing weight - the two aren't truly mutually exclusive, its just hard to put on significant muscle mass while cutting weight. This is why professional body builders tend to bulk up and then cut - first build the mass (with corresponding fat) and then cut the fat while keeping as much muscle as possible.

2. I've heard the same rule as "unexpected" 1 gram of protein per pound of weight. This is extremely high and if you tried to follow it the "when" aspect of your question becomes moot because you'd be consuming protein all day long. I have a friend who competed as a body builder naturally - he's the best I've ever seen do this w/o roids and he ate 40 grams of protein every 2 hours. He'd get up through the night to eat even. Latest study I heard said to get some protein post work out - probably about 20-40 grams to repair other than that timing isn't too important.

3. Stabilizing muscles is the correct answer. Note and advantage of many machines is its easy to change weight during a set - so if you're working to failure you can do as many reps as you can at a heavy weight - then drop down a bit and do more, then drop again etc. This is an awesome type of workout for building muscle - My friend mentioned earlier would do these types of killer sets to get great power workout done quick.

4. 1-3 times a week - I'd say Less then once a week isn't enough, more than 3 times a week would be too many (not enough rest - can't stress enough that muscles need rest to repair and build. Three times a week on a muscle group is in fact probably too many).

5. Heavier the better but more importantly work to failure - if you're not failing then you're not working hard enough. You need to tear the muscles down to build them back up again.
posted by bitdamaged at 4:24 PM on August 28, 2008

1. Eh. I'll leave that to experts. I think for beginners, both goals can be accomplished at the same time.

2. Bodybuilders are the only people I've heard say that you want 1 g of protein per pound of bodyweight. I am a fairly serious athlete (sometimes) and I've never taken in that much protein. (My sport has weight classes, so I always walk the tightrope of trying to get stronger without getting bigger.) 1g/per pound is probably the right figure if you are a bodybuilder who is trying to build cartoonishly large muscles. If you are just trying to be a fit person, I would say it is overkill. My personal philosphy is to eat good, nutritious, delicious food, and not worry about counting calories or protein. (Lots of fresh fruit, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and soy-I'm a veggie.)

3. The advantage of freeweights (and Bodyweight! Bodyweight work is awesome!) over machines has been mentioned up thread, but let me phrase it another way. If you need to lift something heavy in real life (a box of books, some furniture, whatever), you aren't going to have a machine locking you into a fixed path. Your body has to exert the force to move the object, but it also has to keep balanced and stabilize your abs and back so you don't hurt yourself. So if you want to build strength that is usable in everyday life, train your whole body to act as a unit, instead of individual pieces.

4. My philosophy is that every workout I do works my whole body, but I typically won't perform 'BIG' exercises like Bench, Clean and Jerk, Squat and Deadlift more than once a week. I think 2-6 conditioning sessions weekly is ideal. 3 is probably ideal for a beginner.

5. For hypertrophy, a bodybuilding workout sets of 8-15 reps is probably ideal. To get strong, I think lower reps is better. Note that a beginner will make gains on both programs, but overall fitness is probably better served with heavier weights and lower reps.

So I'll put the ball back in YOUR court: what are your specific goals? If you don't have specific goals, you need to make some. These goals should be measurable, and have a time frame in which you plan to achieve them. Bad goal: " I want to get strongerand leaner." Good goal: By December 1st, I want to lose 6 pounds, increase my bench press by 20 lbs, my deadlift by 30 lbs, and run a mile in less than 8 minutes." The first goal is nebulous, whereas each part of the second goal is easy to measure. Once you make and set some goals, it will be MUCH easier for you to design a training program.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 5:10 PM on August 28, 2008

3. Freeweights are better. And trickier. You might want to get started with a machine. Freeweights with bad form very bad.

Good luck!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:22 PM on August 28, 2008

1) As long as you are a beginner, this -is- possible. For the first few weeks you are lifting, you will put on muscle mass easily, even if you are in a caloric deficit. This stops soon though, and while you can get stronger and lose fat you generally can't gain muscle mass and lose and appreciable amount of fat.

As for doing cardio while lifting, there is a great deal of scientific evidence that resistance training helps promote fat loss, even if you aren’t putting on muscle mass. You would also lift while losing weight to preserve what muscle mass you have accumulated.

2) Protein helps keep your body from cannibalizing muscle mass when you are eating in a caloric deficit. The general consensus is one gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, with some recommending more. I personally eat more, but I also train more often than most people. Powders are an easy source of protein, but real food is better.

3) YES! There are so many benefits, but I'll just stick to a few key points. Machines are built for one range of motion (ROM) and one ROM only. If your body does not match this range of motion, you will stress your joints and body in a way that can injure it. Machines also work muscles, not body parts. When you function, do you use individual muscles to perform a movement? No. Free weights allow you to do complex compound movements which will tax multiple muscles. Squats and deadlifts work your legs and core. Pull-ups work your arms and back. Push press work your legs, arms and chest. Clean squats work almost your entire body. Stick to big, compound movements for the best benefits. Olympic lifts are great.

Finally, the bicep curl -is- a functional movement. How often do you lift something from the ground by curling your arm? Exactly. Just don't do them in the squat rack.

4) This is highly dependent on your work capacity, recovery capacity and the intensity of your training. When I'm in a strength building phase, I'll do big upper body lifts three times a week, and big lower body lifts one to three times a week depending if I'm pulling heavy singles or doing sets for reps. You probably don't want to pull seven heavy single deadlifts more than once a week, but if you are squatting for reps you could get away with three times a week. Find your sweet spot, and make sure your diet is good.

5) Ignore any bullshit about toning. Do you know what toning is? It’s losing fat so the muscles show, and people think you accomplish this with high reps of light weight. Sitting there doing 20 rep leg presses while reading a magazine is a waste of everyone’s time.

Want to get big? Look into 5x5 and 5x3 programs. Do heavy singles with big, compound lifts. Eat a lot and drink a lot of whole milk. You need protein, fat and most of all calories. This will get you big and strong.

My notes:

Want to get fit and strong? You need intensity. You need to go at a workout with so much intensity that you are left drained and exhausted for a bit after. You want to work so hard that you ravage a damned cow on the way back from the gym, because you are that hungry. CrossFit is great, I work it into my programming and I have seen immense gains in strength and fitness. Starting Strength is great. It is the bible when it comes to beginner lifters. If you are starting to lift, don’t look anywhere else but Starting Strength. You will get strong and you will get big, if you follow Rippetoe’s programming.

The idea that you must do long, slow distance (LSD) cardio to lose weight is a myth. Again, intensity is the key. Intervals are an excellent way to lose weight and improve both your anaerobic and aerobic conditioning. Weight lifting is also a necessary component of weight loss. Yeah, muscle burns a few more calories than fat but that isn’t the reason; lifting heavy is -hard- and you will burn a lot of damn calories doing it. The metabolic boost from lifting lasts longer than LSD cardio.

You run wrong. Looking to Pose running, Chi Running or any of the other books out there that discuss proper running form. Heel-Toe is terrible for the body, and very mechanically inefficient. A mid-foot or fore-foot strike is key, as is landing with your center of mass over your foot rather than behind the foot. It’s easier on your body, and you’ll conserve energy. Most people don’t have perfect feet, so you need a good shoe. However, get out of those shoe and run barefoot occasionally to strengthen your feet and ankles. Running barefoot will also teach you a proper foot strike.

Refined food is terrible. I don’t care how healthy your cereal claims to be, or how great that DanActive is for your poop chute, it’s still crap. Stick to as much whole, organic food as you can. The less refined a food is, the better it will be for you. Remember to soak your grains and legumes to make them easily digestible. Carbs aren’t bad, but they shouldn’t make up the bulk of your diet.
posted by Loto at 5:40 PM on August 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

I should also add: if anyone has any questions or needs any advice, feel free to MeFiMail me.
posted by Loto at 5:41 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

1. What's the deal with losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time? You hear people saying that they want to do this very thing, but it seems like an impossibility. To put on muscle, you need a calorie surplus, but to lose fat you need a calorie deficit. What the heck? Is there some magic window of calories you can eat to achieve both? What's the point of doing cardio to slim down if you're trying to put on muscle?

That isn't quite correct- building muscle doesn't require a calorie surplus- it simply requires that energy and the various proteins/amino acids be available to repair and build the muscles. So your body will use more energy when its building muscle, and it will require that you eat the right foods for muscle building. But that doesn't mean that your body can't also be tapping its fat reserves at the same time. Fat is just a store of energy

2. How much protein do you actually need? I've heard trainers say that too much protein is just passed through the system, so don't waste money on powders and bars, but then another trainer will say that we need like two hundred grams of protein a day. How much is too much, and when should you consume it to ensure it's being used by the body?

Hard to say, but I'm sure the correct answer lies somewhere in the middle. Your body will attempt to extract energy from whatever you feed it, so excess calories in the form of protein probably won't be good. Of course, 200 grams of protein is purported to be 800 calories, so if you are eating a balanced diet, that'd be about right for a 2000-2500 calorie per day intake.

3. Is there really any advantage to using freeweights as opposed to weight machines?

The advantage is, as others say, that you will use your stabilizer muscles to balance the weights. The advantage to a machine is that it can focus on muscles that free weights can't always easily attack. Hard to get some of those leg muscles with barbells.

4. How often do you need to work a particular muscle group to keep it growing? Some plans say to work a muscle group once a week, but others say three times a week. If once per week is enough to build 'em up, is there an advantage to working them more often?

Unless you are working to get muscle-man ripped, or are trying to win some kind of contest, once a week should be fine. *Can* you do better? Maybe. But trying for the razor's edge risks injury.

5. Which is best for building muscle: More weight and lower reps, or less weight and more reps?

In absolute terms, yes, more weight builds more muscle. More reps builds endurance, getting closer to cardio than muscle building. I wouldn't sacrifice reps for weight- no point in building huge muscles if you can't use them to their limits for more than three repetitions and you don't have a cardiovascular system to support those giant muscles. But I think it varies and you have to go in spells- make a weight goal, then make a rep goal, then make a higher weight goal. I've had success with this sort of routine, where you exercise at your plateau, just short of your limit. Then you [try to] push past your limit, and build new muscle.

Don't discount proper stretching- make sure your new fancy muscles can be used at their full range of motion.
posted by gjc at 5:59 PM on August 28, 2008

1) It is to a degree an impossibility. But experiments show that rats in starvation, can build calf muscle. So it's possibly, but not fun/pleasant. Probably it's best to decrease fat while holding your muscle weight steady - this will cause a decrease in your percentage of body fat.

2) unless you have a serious deficit of protein in your diet, don't stress so much about this.

3) No. Well, yes, it's easier to get hurt with freeweights. Actually, it's easy to get hurt when you 'throw' weights rather than lift weights. Regardless of modality.

There's a myth that one build ancillary muscles (freeweights) or is better for balance/symmetry. If you're doing a full machine workout with rotary exercise (form follows function) around a joint and secondary exercises around multiple joints - as long as you work out the entire body, those ancillary muscles get direct exercise in their motions not balancing weights. There's nothing wrong with doing a machine fly into a pushup or dip.

Truthfully, kettle bells, rocks....anything with a progressive overload works. The key is that we should aim to make exercise as safe and efficient as possible...and freeweights don't do this.

Beware - this is a Mac vs. PC (or democrat vs. repbulican) type of argument.

4) Probably between 2-3x a week. Rest is important. Most people are overtrained. You can tell this...as soon as they take a week off, when they get back to lifting are often stronger. Initially, your body is learning and becoming more efficient at what it does neuromuscularly, that everyone makes progress. See how little work you need with weights for results; not how much you can stand.

5) Exercise should occur till fatigue - between 90-180 seconds (your anarobic threshold.) Some muscles on some people vary - they fatigue fast...or fatigue slow. I know a world record holder who needs more reps to become fatigued (yes, we tested this.) I know some people who need very few reps for deep fatigue. Let's play be the averages.
posted by filmgeek at 8:01 PM on August 28, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks so much guys!
posted by Willie0248 at 8:28 AM on August 29, 2008

And nothing makes me want to swing a 25-lb dumbbell in a gymgoer's face than watching them wave their limbs on the lightest setting of whatever machine for twenty minutes at a time.

I use certain machines at their lowest settings for many reps on the orders of my physical therapist, because of previous injuries. I don't really see what it has to do with you. Maybe you should take an anger management class.
posted by grouse at 10:11 AM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don’t want to derail, but I apologize for the harshness in my above comment. I didn’t mean to offend.

(For the record I try to be a model gym member. I’m glad to help people with equipment when they ask, but mostly I stay out of their way, and I always wipe down my equipment thoroughly, etc. Doesn’t change that certain things really irritate me, but I keep that to myself.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:43 AM on August 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

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