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Many people who are just starting a fitness program are going to turn to this page, as well as many who already caught the fitness bug and are “in the lifestyle.” The latter group can always remember what it was like when they first got into it, unless they are among the very few who were always fit and athletic, since childhood. We hate you guys. (Just kidding, just kidding…) When you’ve put it off for a long time, you usually feel you have a lot of weight to lose, plus you hate to exercise, plus you’re intimidated by all the choices and don’t want to ask “stupid” questions* on how to get started (*premature footnote: I don’t think there are such things), or you feel some combination of the above. And always, you wish you knew how to start.

“Just do it” isn’t enough. You want to know what it is you’re supposed to do.

Fear not. You’re in the right place. I won’t tell you what you have to do, but I’ll help you find out what works for you. And you “old timers” may get a new slant on things as well.

The question I’m going to tackle today has to do with weight training. It seems there’s a pretty common idea floating around in “conventional wisdom” land that you need to start with aerobics, put the weight training off till later. After all, you have so much weight to lose, goes the thinking, knock some of it off, you can start to build muscle later on. Building muscle builds bulk. Hold off with the weights.

Well, like most conventional wisdom, this thinking contains some stuff you can use, some that’s not so useful.

Just to jump ahead a bit, Tom Purvis, one of the great icons of personal trainers everywhere for his brilliant and innovative seminars on biomechanics and personal training, often says, “Look, if you brought a Ferrari in for servicing, and it hadn’t been used in a long time, and you wanted to get it working right, you wouldn’t just ‘send it out on the road’ would you? You’d want to find out if the wheels were balanced, for example. If you start driving without doing that, the wheels are just gonna get more and more unbalanced. First things first!”

Well, your body’s the Ferrari. And what Tom is pushing is for trainers to do a good fitness evaluation before having their clients hit the jogging trails. Now I’m not saying you’ve got to go into a facility and get a full musculoskeletal evaluation before you begin a program, (the last thing you need is another stumbling block) but he’s got a point here. If one foot is shorter than the other, or you favor one side, or any of a dozen other scenarios, you should at least be aware of it. At the very least, get a good pair of shoes fitted by someone who knows what they’re doing. It can save a lot of wear and tear and unpleasantness later on.

But let’s get back to you, now. Strength is a very, very important component of weight loss. Why? Because when you exercise you are, among many other important things, burning calories. Never mind if they are “fat calories” or “carb calories” that’s another column—in fact, probably many other columns. You’re burning calories. And guess where in the body calories are for the most part burned? A little structure called the mitochondria, kind of like the Power Central of the cell. And guess where these mitochondria are found?

In the muscles.


So let’s do the logic. If you don’t work or challenge your muscles they atrophy at a rate of, I don’t know, about 1/2 pound a year (five pounds a decade of muscle loss, maybe more). Your weight may stay the same (it usually doesn’t, but even so…) but your “body composition” will change. More fat, less muscle, same weight. And that’s the best scenario, as we all know too well.

So you’re losing valuable assets in the war against fat and flab. Your muscles are the fireplaces.

You’re trying to heat a ten room house. You need all the fireplaces you can get.

Sure you can lose weight with aerobics alone. But very often, you’ll wind up being a “smaller” version of a flabby person. You won’t always get the body you want, and the muscle tone, definition, vitality and strength is rarely if ever achievable just from cardio work. (Look at real marathoners sometimes.) I know, I know, there are exceptions, but come on, you know what I’m talking about.

The take home point is: Do your weights. You need ‘em. They’re going to give you the tools to burn calories while you’re resting, watching TV, working at your desk, etc. And let’s face it, that’s where you spend most of your day. You need to train your body to be efficient at calorie burning the other 23 hours a day when you’re not in the gym. Remember that a person with muscle sitting in front of the TV is burning more calories at that moment than a flabby person.

When to start then? Well, that’s more complicated. Am I saying you shouldn’t start a nice, basic walking program if that’s where you’re at right now this minute, and you should wait instead till you get all set up with a weight training program to balance it out? Of course not. You start right now, with whatever you can do. A few weeks of walking (or biking, or anything else like that) never hurt anyone and never will. I just want to plant one thing in your consciousness.

You can’t do it without weights. Or their equivalent, as veterans of the Shape Up Programs can tell you. (We have lots of equivalents. I can see the Shape Up Veterans evil-grinning their trim little you-know-what’s off right now!)

Weight training is your greatest asset in weight management and weight loss.

And there’s a good chance that you’re going to love it.

Or at least not hate it as much as you think.

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, (aka "The Rogue Nutritionist") is a nationally known expert on weight loss, nutrition and health. He is a board-certified nutritionist with a master’s degree in psychology and the author of nine books on health, healing, food and longevity including two best-sellers, “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth” and “Living Low Carb”. A frequent guest on television and radio, he has appeared on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS as an expert on nutrition, weight loss, and longevity. He is a past member of the Editorial Advisory Board for Men’s Health magazine, is the Nutrition Editor for Pilates Style, and is a regular contributor to AOL, Vanity Fair Online, Clean Eating Magazine, Better Nutrition, and Total Health Magazine Online.