Reader question – muscle gain…

What exercises took you from weight loss to muscle gain?

In one word – strength training, that is your key (ok that was not ONE word…)

There is a lot of stuff you’ll find from Google and books  – I read a lot that kinda guided me in what I decided to do but you can look that stuff up later :)   I’ll share my personal experience (including the mishaps) to where I am now.

A lot really does depend on your goals – not everyone has the same goals and even for the same person goals can change/evolve a LOT.  Some people’s goals are just to be thin,  some to be healthy and energetic, some to be able to “do” something in particular, some to be “fit” and toned with muscle, some to be quite muscular.  And different methods get you to those different places.

I started with a focus on weight loss (and only weight loss), and while I appreciate the lessons and insight this phase gave me, this was one of my mishaps ;)   I lost probably quite a bit of muscle mass before I added working out to the mix and wish I had not done that.  (Tip for the “new to weight loss and hoping they can drop 50 pounds in 3 days”… research ways to hang on to that muscle!  It is actually quite possible and common to be thin yet still have a lot of fat – even an unhealthy amount of fat – so skinny does not equal fit and toned.)

About 5 months in I discovered strength training – basically training that gets you stronger, not just aerobically fit.  You simply cannot run your way to muscled shoulders and biceps.  I started doing Jillian Michaels dvds.  Briefly this is mostly bodyweight exercise in no-rest circuits.  It works well :)   I have pics of the muscle I was able to develop doing just this 25 minute circuit for 2-3 months (below).   Bodyweight exercise – if you know how to make it progressively harder – can make you pretty darn strong, but there is a limit at which more weight than your body can give will be needed to develop more strength (and muscle) – especially for leg muscles… it’s hard to do bodyweight exercises that compare with lifting 200 pounds with your legs.

Maybe 5 months after I started the dvds I tried out weight lifting (barbells, dumbbells, machines with weights).  The fear here might be that you will end up in the “quite muscular” category when you only wanted to be in the “fit and muscled” – trust me it’s quite a lot of effort (and some other things combined) that will make that happen and it takes a long time so you’ll see it coming  :)   The weights offer resistance to your muscles which then essentially get stronger to accomodate the extra load.  And if you get strong and need more resistance, you graduate to more weight – simple!

For someone looking to be in the “fit and muscled” category, a general guideline will be doing 3-4 strength workouts per week and 2-3 short cardio workouts. (often “lifters” will do a bit of cardio after their weights so they aren’t in they gym 7 days a week).  And I have followed several workout routines ranging from 30 minutes to 70 minutes, so you can tailor it to fit the time you have make available :)

A few caveats:

  • You can develop the most beautiful, shapely muscles but they will not be seen until/unless you have less bodyfat.  Muscle will still help your body function better and your metabolism function better so strength training is important even if you are not yet “lean” but don’t be discouraged about not seeing rippling muscles unless you plan to lean out the fat layers on top. And have patience to do so.
  • In that vein, this post is about exercise but what you eat is also important – for fat loss AND muscle building, namely adequate protein :)
  • IF your goal is to run a marathon or some other endurance sport, more power to ya! You’ll want to focus more on cardio than strength training probably, but you need to decide which is your goal, because they are quite different body and training-wise.
  • Everyone’s goal is very personal – I have grown to LOVE muscle and I might be working toward more muscle than another person might find attractive (?) but I will give my opinion that everyone, especially weight-loss seekers, should be doing a minimal amount of strength training because that muscle helps your BODY and your METABOLISM function – this is good for health but also for maintaining your weight loss.

shredarms shredlegs




Some weight training resources to get you started:

You can google and find 1 million workouts for the weight room (or even bodyweight exercises) but these are some I have worked with…

Jillian Michaels: Shred, Ripped in 30, Trouble Zones

You Are your Own Gym, Bodyweight exercises

My first intro into weight lifting (good nutritional advice too):  Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle 

New Rules of Lifting for Women – nice, tempered approach to diet and lifting

A Workout Routine – they have a pretty educational guide (free) if you want to learn, or just skip to some of the workouts  (the Muscle Building Routine is what I am following right now)

For the more advanced and more daring, 12 week program 4-6 days a week:  Jamie Eason’s LiveFit



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One Response to Reader question – muscle gain…

  1. miranda says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this article … this is definitely my weakness!