Wait for the weights?
July 21, 2009 1:31 PM   Subscribe

2/3 of the way to my target weight, thanks to cardio exercise and eating better. Start building muscle mass (via weight training) now, or wait until I hit my target weight?

Started out about 80 lbs. overweight. For about 7 months now, I've been losing weight steadily by running and cycling, walking, and elliptical machine. Combined with a commitment to eating better (I don't starve myself, but eat good portions of nutritious food, cut out sugar, booze, grease, etc.), I've lost about 60 lbs. so far and feel great.

I've never lifted weights before, but I recently bought a weight machine. I want to continue my cardio exercises, and gradually add weight training into my exercise regimen. My question is, should I start weight training now, or wait til I've lost most or all of the weight I want to through cardio?

My goal is to have a trim, muscular physique, not bulging muscles (think dancer, not football player). I know that in addition to burning more calories, muscle weighs more than fat, so I don't know whether I should start lifting to burn more calories, or lose the last 20 lbs. via cardio and then not worry about what I weigh after starting weight training (i.e., as long as I look in shape and stay that way, it doesn't really matter what the scale says). I guess I'm trying to avoid looking too thin without muscle tone, but also avoid looking bulky with the un-lost fat "padding" my muscles.

I'm male, 35, and have a naturally stocky build (5'9", wide shoulders, big chest, short legs) if that matters.
posted by Rykey to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You should begin to integrate some light resistance/weight training into your routine.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:39 PM on July 21, 2009

Oh, start now, by all means. It gives amazing results. You'll boost your resting metabolic rate and burn the remaining fat even more quickly, while achieving surprisingly good results from the toning and lifting and tightening effects of training. It makes you feel fantastic, too.

To avoid bulking up, people usually recommend using lighter weights and lifting more reps. Lifting the maximum possible in short sets seems to be the way to build bulk, so doing more sets of lighter weights lets you tone up without building as much new muscle. I'm not an expert on this, because I'm female and we aren't really going to build enough bulk to look fat from lifting in a moderate regimen without enhancements of some kind. But I wouldn't worry about looking too bulky. The muscle tone you gain will improve even the way your extra fat looks, not make you look fatter.
posted by Miko at 1:42 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

To avoid bulking up, people usually recommend using lighter weights and lifting more reps.

"People" are idiots. If you don't eat to bulk up, you won't. Lift as heavy as possible with good forms and in the rep ranges you feel comfortable doing. Don't be the guy pinned to the floor trying to squat 2x bodyweight in the Smith machine, but don't be the guy who spends an hour in the weight area and ends up with only a sub-par cardio workout.

[S]o doing more sets of lighter weights lets you tone up without building as much new muscle.

This is BS. People look "toned" from muscle growth and fat loss.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:45 PM on July 21, 2009 [5 favorites]

don't worry, you're not going to look bulky. Don't follow the "lighter weights and lifting more reps" advice that Miko gives- it's not really true.

I would have started lifting weights a long time ago, so by all means start now. Because, you're still losing weight, you're not going to put on much muscle (you need to consume an excess of calories to put on serious muscle), so don't use the fact that you don't want to get too bulky as an excuse.

Lifting weights will help your body keep the existing muscle that it does have though, which will be helpful. There's numerous threads on what routines to do. Just do something with compound movements. Maybe do crossfit.

Again, don't worry about getting too bulky. It's not like you're going to wake up one day and be like, "man, I'm too bulky". Just do it until you get to a point where you're happy with yourself, and then stop.
posted by unexpected at 1:46 PM on July 21, 2009

OK, disregard what I said. Just don't worry about bulking up.
posted by Miko at 1:46 PM on July 21, 2009

Just do it until you get to a point where you're happy with yourself, and then stop.

Why stop? Resistance training has numerous benefits. Again, to avoid gaining weight, avoid caloric excess.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:49 PM on July 21, 2009

One thing to add...definitely start lifting, but lifting isn't going to make you look cut. Losing that fat is the only way to show definition, so keep lifting so that when you get to the body fat percentages to a low enough to show definition, all that hard work in the gym will shine through.
posted by mattsweaters at 1:51 PM on July 21, 2009

which, to add on to mattsweaters, is mainly controlled by diet.

Inspector Gadget, I merely said to stop because they idea that you can get "too bulky" doesn't make sense to me, and it's an easy to illustrate this point.

A lot of people say "I don't want to get too bulky" but I have yet to meet one person who is like, "you know I'm really upset I did this workout, I had no intention of getting this bulky".

Bulk is built with diet. Strength is built with exercise.
posted by unexpected at 1:56 PM on July 21, 2009

Do it now. You will be glad!
posted by jgirl at 1:58 PM on July 21, 2009

Beginning weightlifters usually have very little trouble with gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time. Especially given your build, you'll end up looking much better with some muscle than you will without (frankly, short of very heavy participation in aerobic sports like swimming, running, and of course dancing, I think the "dancer" look may be tough for you to achieve due to your body type... but I also think you'll be surprised by how attractive the middle ground is between where you are now and a "football player" physique!)

In short, I think this is the perfect time for you to add weight training to your program. I'd recommend the programs in Starting Strength or Stronglifts 5x5. Both strongly recommend free weights over machines (and so do I) -- the basic compound free-weight lifts are much more effective than doing isolation exercises on machines, which means you'll spend less time and effort in the gym and see more results for it. They also translate much more directly to real-world strength, which will help you excel in your daily life and in your other exercises. That said, you can always start on the machine and see what you think of it. See EXRX for very good answers to your "how do I do X exercise" and "which exercises work which muscles" questions -- they even have videos of the proper form for each.

As for your "I'll get too bulky" worries: no, you won't. Trust me. If you follow a simple program like Stronglifts or Starting Strength, you will get strong and pleasantly muscular, and that's it. It takes a special calorie-and-protein-rich diet and a hell of a lot of effort to become heavily-muscled; it simply does not happen accidentally. As long as you're eating well and lifting weights, your body will discover a happy medium all on its own. :)
posted by vorfeed at 2:08 PM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

Start building muscle mass (via weight training) now, or wait until I hit my target weight?

Looks like we have a consensus growing above, but do remember to adjust your target weight to accommodate for your new muscle. Unless you go nuts with the protein, you'll probably add ~1 pound per week of muscle (possibly less as you start to plateau with some of your exercises).
posted by rkent at 2:11 PM on July 21, 2009

Weight train now. And lift heavy, very heavy and very intense. Don't lift light and don't try to avoid bulking up--as other wise posters said, you can't and won't accidentally get big and bulky. It just doesn't work that way.

I've been lifting really heavy and intensely for two years now. Here are some pictures from when I started. I have a feeling that's the type of physique you'd like to have, yes? If so, you'll get that by eating at a caloric deficit and lifting weights. If you just do cardio you will not get toned; you'll get skinny but not lean and toned.

Good luck! Keep up the good work, it's WELL worth it.
posted by Khalad at 2:34 PM on July 21, 2009

Do it. You'll loose the fat faster and reshape your body in good ways (smaller waist & bigger chest & shoulders).
posted by chairface at 4:06 PM on July 21, 2009

I agree with pretty much everything above (except Miko, sorry!) but just wanted to add that there have been studies done to show that weight training + cardio + diet is more efficient at aiding in weight loss than diet and cardio alone.
posted by Loto at 4:53 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

You mentioned being a stocky individual, which usually characterizes someone who has appreciable muscle mass under a reasonably thick amount of fat. If this is the case, you probably don't need to perform any training to achieve a muscular physique, just get rid of the fat on top of it.

That said, it probably will not be of any detriment to your goals to perform weight training on a regular basis. New training methods cause the body to adapt more than repeating exercise that has been performed before, which translates to more calories burned during the adaptation period after your workout.

As for the discussion on how to lift weights to avoid bulking up, lifting lighter weights (less than 50-70% of your 1 rep max) generally encourages increased mitochondrial density, capillary development, and hypertrophy of the smaller muscle fibers which have a high work tolerence (so called type I fibers). Lifting heavier weights generally encourages neurological adaptations (motor unit recruitment, rate coding) along with hypertrophy of the thicker muscle fibers which have a greater propensity for growth (type IIa/b).

If you are very concerned about not gaining excessive muscle mass from lifting weights, simply keep your protein consumption in the range of 0.5 to 0.75 grams per pound of bodyweight each day, very few individuals have the ability to gain significant amounts of muscle mass on such a low amount of protein.

My two cents would be to change your workouts to intervals, along the lines of what charles poliquin recommends. He has built a reputation for getting athletes ridiculously strong and incredibly lean (any male athlete over 10% bodyfat he considers overweight) in the 8-12 week off season period. Here are some notes from his fat loss seminar.
posted by zentrification at 4:53 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do it, and don't freak out if your weight plateaus for a bit. Muscle weighs more than fat. You'll be getting fitter and losing body fat even if you don't lose pounds for a few weeks.
posted by kestrel251 at 5:34 PM on July 21, 2009

Start weight training now to stop losing the muscle mass you have been losing for the past n months doing only cardio. Lifting is always a good idea, when you are really fat, really skinny, or anywhere inbetween.
posted by ch1x0r at 6:55 PM on July 21, 2009

« Older How can I build an online tool that checks the...   |   Siddhartha Gautama I Am Not Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.