african american woman muscle weight lifting

When someone first decides that they want to lose weight, one of the first things that happens is they decide to become a cardio warrior, immediately committing all of their time to the Treadmill, Stairmaster, Elliptical, short-distance running… you name it, they’re doing it.

Now, don’t get me wrong – there are amazing benefits to cardiovascular health: improved lung capacity, a stronger heart, clearer arteries and – most importantly – the feeling of victory after you’ve finished a sweaty session.

But. This isn’t the entire story.

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If you are someone who was once living that comfy couch potato lifestyle, taking a cardio-centered approach to your weight loss can do you more harm than good. In other words, you need to begin incorporating strength training as early as possible.

What so many of us miss, when it comes to weight loss, is that a sedentary body will experience more challenges in the quest for fitness than an active body, simply because of the lack of muscle that a sedentary body carries. As I’m always saying, the less muscle a body carries, the slower the weight loss will go and the faster the body will experience a plateau.

When people talk about muscle, it’s always in regards to how it looks, never how it feels or makes them feel. It’s always “I need to get buff” (yes, people still say “buff,” believe it or not) or “I don’t want to look like a man.” Rest assured – female-born bodies often lack the amount of testosterone necessary to develop that much muscle and, if they can or do, it often takes up to a decade to build that much. Don’t let an unfounded fear keep you from making that progress you need.

We won’t even talk about where you could possibly think your thighs, flat tummy, and toned arms could even come from. They’re all muscle!

Muscle is metabolically active – much more so than fat – and burns calories at a much faster hourly rate than fat ever could. Activities that burn too much muscle – excessive sessions of cardio that last longer than an hour or so, for example – result in losing muscle that could be working for you to burn calories outside of your training, not just burning a million calories during your spin session or cardio kickboxing class.

Not only that, but building muscle is an investment for the future – not just an aesthetic choice, and certainly not just a means of burning calories today. Whereas cardio burns energy for you during your workout, muscle is constantly burning calories for you outside of your workout as well as inside. Not only does this mean that your body is burning more calories throughout the day, making it easier for you to lose weight; it also means that, once you’ve reached your goal and entered “maintenance mode,” your body can consume more calories without resulting in undesired weight gain.

Even if you can’t spare the expense for a fantastic trainer that can help guide you in the right direction, it’s quite easy to build muscle on your own as a newbie. Consider taking up classes or DVDs that encourage high intensity interval training, to assist with getting not only that burn, but also that slow and steady muscle development.

Great programs like TaeBo and Insanity have long reputations for making muscle happen, and provide tons of resources as a part of a larger program crafted to help you achieve your goals. Not only that, but many pieces of training equipment – such as the Step 360 or Gaiam’s resistance banded jump rope also come with training DVDs and guides to give you a bit of variety to your routine.

Get your burn on, sure, but also get your build on, too! Building muscle is your friend – learn it, embrace it, and develop it. As I always say, your body will thank you for it!

Erika Nicole Kendall is a trainer certified in women’s fitness, fitness nutrition and weight loss coaching who also chronicles her own 160lb weight loss journey on the award winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss. Hit her up on Twitter, or check her out on Facebook.