Lift Weights? But I Want To Lose Weight.

Q&A: I Want To Lose Weight. Why Is My Trainer Having Me Lift Weights?
The Question

A dear friend of mine sent me a question about the training program and nutrition suggestions his new trainer has for him.  My friend’s goal is to lose weight.

His new trainer has him doing “mostly weights with an emphasis on strength training, and little cardio (and the cardio is high intensity intervals, not long duration walking or running).”

So of course his response is “Not sure I buy that cardio is so much less effective than weights for weight loss – I get the part about muscles=metabolism, but you want to burn max calories too, right? Then again, I’ve been in pretty good cardio shape at times in the past but carrying extra weight still.”

As far as nutrition goes, his trainer is “also claiming that 70% of the population has some problem with gluten, that the paleo diet is best (or at least as much protein and fruits/veggies as possible), and recommending we take 30g of fish oil every day to jumpstart weight loss…”

My friends greatest concern in all this is “I just don’t want to risk bulking up with weights and protein shakes (or whatever) when slimming down is my #1 goal.”

My Answer

(FYI: I’ve known this friend since we were 15, so pardon the familiar tone.)

Free your mind!

Let go of what you learned way back when about fitness and nutrition. You hired a trainer because all that no longer serves you. Experiment with what your trainer is giving you. Try it for 30 days. See what difference it makes or not. Make it a scientific project.

Over the last several years, fitness pros have really been questioning the old school thought about cardio vs strength training, etc. Helping people improve how their bodies function day-to-day has lead to the question of what the body was built for in the first place and some interesting investigations into ancestral health.

There are several reasons why longer bouts of cardio are not efficient for fat loss. The most obvious is that most people do not work hard enough and do not progress. The heart is a muscle. It needs hard work to strengthen and grow. Watching tv or reading the New Yorker while on a treadmill is not doing much toward strengthening the heart or igniting your metabolism. In fact, the stress hormone, Cortisol, which tells the body to store fat around vital organs, gets turned on during long cardio sessions.

Ok, 44 year old man, you are not going to bulk up from lifting weights. Sometime during our 30s, we start to lose lean muscle mass on average of 1 lb each year, unless we actively work to keep it. You would have to work incredibly hard and take crazy body-building supplements to “bulk up.”

For you, it is a matter of building muscle to keep aging at bay, strengthen your bones and make you a man, baby. Osteoporosis/penia are not issues for just women, especially with all the estrogen that has found its way into the American diet. Building muscle will increase your metabolism and testorone levels. It fights impotency and man-boobs.

Before humans became “civilized,” we were amazing generalists when it came to movement. We had to be. We had to crawl, climb, balance, lift, carry, throw, run, jump, swing, and sometimes swim and defend. If we stopped moving for too long, we died. We are killing ourselves by sitting around.

Nutrition is the hardest thing to change. We have so much attachment to the comfort and pleasure that we get from our favorite foods. Ok, I am tempted to go off on a tangent about how out-of-touch we are with our food sources but I’ll leave that to Michael Pollan. If you haven’t read his stuff yet, do it now.

The big issue with wheat gluten is that it has been so genetically modified that it is less like the wheat our grandparents grew up eating than chimpanzees are like humans. I can speak from experience in saying that I can only tolerate very limited amounts of wheat and gluten. When I eat it now, I get congested and my intestinal system protests. It took me trying it after a 21-day cleanse to recognize that I had an intolerance at all.

Ultimately there is no one “correct” diet for everyone. Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine are based on that principle. What can be said is that by eating as close to nature as possible we honor our biology. Educate yourself and experiment. It’s kind of fun when you get into it.

Your trainer is probably trying to explain all of this to you. Listen.



Ancestral Health Symposium 2011,– a lot of videos from the first conference on ancestral health. The major focus was on food.

MovNat,– Natural movement program developed by Erwan Le Corre.

Exuberant Animal,– Great stuff on the blog about playing rather than working out.

Sucker Punch Training video,– Movie sucked ass but my friend, Logan Hood, trained these girls with heavy lifting and hard training. As you can see, they got strong but not bulky.

Nom Nom Paleo,– Great recipes in an easy-to-follow blog.

How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy by Paul Chek- One of the first fitness gurus to talk about primal movement patterns. Includes cartoon graphic of what our poo tells us.

Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan- Any of his books are great reads.

The Paleo Solution
by Robb Wolf- With his sense of humor and academic mind, you will love Robb Wolf.

Hope that helps.

Train hard and reap the rewards, my dear friend!


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