A lot of my female clients love to focus on the cardio aspect more than the weightlifting. There seems to be this stereotype that lifting will make you too bulky, and cardio will keep you skinny. While there is some truth to that it isn’t 100% true.
The Downside to Cardio
While in the immediate short term yes, cardio is the quickest way to burn calories, it only works up to a point. Especially when you are in a deficit of calories, your body, like an athlete, adapts to the cardio stimulus placed on it. Meaning, the more cardio you do, the less calories you burn as your body gets more efficient. Add on top of that being in a deficit of calories for too long a time, your body only sees that as starvation, and will hold onto your fat stores for survival when not enough calories are present. Muscle on the other hand is calorically expensive. Since cardio isn’t a strong enough stimulus to keep muscle on, now you're priming your body to lose weight by burning muscle not fat. So you will just become a smaller version of your current shape with no “tone” to show for it.
The Upside to Weight Training
Lifting weights, on the other hand, has the opposite effect. Because you are progressively adding more weights and/or reps, you are sending a strong signal to the body to KEEP the muscle (even in a deficit). Not only that, the more muscle you add to your frame, the more calories you burn at REST. Yup. You will be allowed to eat more calories because of how calorically expensive it is to have muscle.
Start With The Minimum Effective Dose
If you are still skeptical about jumping into weight training, or don’t want to commit too much time, start with 2 days. Your body really only needs 2-3 days a week (full body) to drastically change the look and shape. If you are worried about looking too “bulky”, fear not. Most guys spend their entire lives trying to get too bulky in the gym and they’ll never make it. They also have significantly way more testosterone than the average woman, so women do not have the same blueprint to risk becoming overly jacked. Also, you don’t just wake up one day being too big. As you improve your body composition, and get to your ideal body, you can always back off the intensity of your workouts to maintain what you currently have. It takes significantly less volume to maintain than it does to build.
Don’t Have The Time?
If you are a busy mom, or have a busy schedule, it can be hard to get in the gym for an hour. If this is the case, try doing a more circuit based approach (like MAPS HIIT) where you are still resistance training, but following shorter rests in between. I don’t recommend doing this all the time, as you eventually want to be taking longer breaks between bigger lifts to allow you to push heavier weights, and thus a bigger response to weight lifting. But for short periods where your schedule doesn’t allow much time, doing a more circuit based approach while still using resistance training exercises (not box jumps and cardio movements), you can still get a great workout in and get the muscle building signal you are seeking.
Now, keep in mind this isn’t to demonize cardio. Cardio has its place. It’s benefits for overall cardiovascular health, and longevity still remain. My point is more to steer towards keeping it as such rather than doing an hour a day for the sake of fat loss. A better approach if you are trying to diet down, is to try and increase your daily activity. That is, instead of just being in the gym for cardio for 30 minutes, try finding 3 times throughout the day you can go for a 10 minute walk. This will not only allow you to get the same cardio in, but it’ll better help facilitate digestion (if you timed it after meals), and it now becomes a more sustainable approach that you can incorporate into your busy life. You no longer NEED the gym for cardio and can keep this positive habit up for the rest of your life.