I want to start by saying that I know not everyone works out to lose weight. And we all know there are so many physical and mental benefits to a good exercise routine. What I’m about to discuss applies to any physical changes you are looking to make. Whether it’s losing body fat, gaining muscle mass, hitting a goal body weight --- it all applies.
There are two main “levers” when it comes to changing your body composition (ratio of muscle/fat/bodyweight). Let me first ask you if you’ve been guilty of saying the following…
“I gotta take some time off the weights and do more cardio. I need to lose this weight.”
...or maybe some variation of that. Now there is some truth to that thinking. But that’s assuming you already have sufficient muscle mass to support a solid metabolism!
So back to the two levers of body composition. These are 1) Nutrition and 2) Exercise. Pretty obvious, right? Let me expand.
I want you to start thinking of Nutrition as the key lever for your weight on the scale (let’s set aside health benefits for today).
That means Exercise is the key lever for the shape of your body.
Case in point: Person X wants to lose a significant amount of body fat. Person X starts jogging/walking every day. This may be effective to lose some weight, assuming Person X was already sedentary and made no dietary changes. However, there will be a major plateau in weight loss effort because that exercise selection can only take you so far. What tends to happen in this scenario is that your “shape” doesn’t change...it’s just a smaller version of the shape you were probably wanting to change.
In contrast, we know that dialing in your nutrition is the fastest and most sustainable way to modulate your body weight. Eat fewer calories than you expend, the scale goes down. Eat more calories than you expend, the scale goes up. I’m sorry to burst any “secrets” but it really is that simple for most people. This is why we scoff (internally of course, to be polite) when someone mentions they don’t want to accidentally bulk up by lifting weights. If only that could happen!
If my dietary habits are the most important part of changing my weight, why do I need to workout? Well, technically you don’t NEED to workout to lose weight. We all know you don’t need to exercise to GAIN weight either, amiright?!
This is why resistance training is so badass. No knock on running & cardio (I think it’s an important aspect of fitness), but cardio alone can lead to being “skinny-fat” to use a common term. That term just refers to being lighter without the muscle mass to give your body a defined “shape.” Lifting weights, given the right strategy, will lead to an increase in muscle tissue which leads to that more athletic/fit look.
Nutrition drives size. Exercise drives shape.
One last example is this. Let’s say we have two people train exactly the same way. They follow an all-lifting program. Let’s say it’s bodybuilding style: a mix of compound lifts and isolation exercises.
Person A wants to lean out and get that visible muscle “tone.” Person B wants to gain size and muscle mass. Remember, they are going to follow the same program and use weights that challenge them personally.
If person A trains hard and lifts weights, but eats at a caloric deficit (they consume less calories than they use) the result will be a lower body weight with well defined musculature (shape!).
Person B follows that same workout routine and eats a surplus (more calories than they use). The result is a larger shape of that same well defined musculature!! That’s why gaining that “bulk” requires a lot of work on the nutrition side, whereas getting leaner quite literally requires doing less.
I hope that puts some things into perspective for you, whatever your personal goals may be. Use those levers. Once you’ve mastered that, you will feel in control of your body composition!