When it comes to weight loss or, more specifically, fat loss, strength training is where it's at. Case in point: In one 2015 Harvard School of Public Health study of 10,500 adults, strength training whooped cardio's butt in the fight against belly fat.
And despite more women cozying up to dumbbells, many are still are terrified of "bulking up" or looking "manly."
First of all, I hate these statements because they equate looking strong with not looking like a woman, which is completely ridiculous. Second of all, any woman who is afraid that she will get huge arms the second she picks up a barbell has probably never actually tried to put on muscle. To build sizeable muscle, women have to follow an exercise and nutrition plan that's totally specific to that goal—especially since women have 15 to 20 times less testosterone compared to men. That makes it pretty much impossible to "bulk up" by accident.
While we're on the subject of muscle size, "toned" is nothing more than a "female-friendly" way to refer to building muscle and burning fat. When you gain muscle size while simultaneously reducing body fat, your muscles look more defined or, as they say, "toned."
Still, probably the biggest reason I take issue with women who want to lose weight talking about getting "toned" is the fact that it sets women's sights squarely on looks. Hey, it's totally cool to have some aesthetic goals when you're trying to lose weight, but you need some other ones, too. The most motivating goals are those that are about feeling better, enjoying your life more, and gaining confidence.
Women love to rag on themselves, talking about all of the things they hate about their bodies and want to "fix." You'll be hard-pressed to find a weight-loss strategy that's more counterproductive than hating your body. In fact, one Syracuse University studyof 100 college women found that the more dissatisfied ladies are with their bodies, the more likely they are to avoid exercise altogether.
So rather than zoning in on all of the things you don't like about your body, pay attention to what you already love. Maybe it's strength or endurance? Or your butt? By appreciating your body for all that it already is and can do, you'll go so much further toward reaching your goals.
Or, for that matter, "gluten-free," "dairy-free," and "intermittent fasting." It's amazing how many weight-loss warriors enter the gym under-fueled and deprived of the nutrients they need for optimal health.
The food you eat provides your body with the raw materials that you need to power through your workouts as well as recover from them—both of which are vital to losing fat and keeping it off over the long-term. And that includes carbs. When you push it hard with high-intensity interval training or heavy lifting (as you should when trying to lose weight), roughly 80 percent of your energy comes from carbs, both those floating in your bloodstream from your last meal and those stored in your muscles and liver as fast-acting glycogen.
Instead of thinking of food as something to limit and control, think of it as a way to fuel and nurture your body.
Erasing this one from your mental monologue really works. In fact, a Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise review of 38 studies found that confidence in your exercise ability is the highest predictor of how much you'll actually hit the gym.
Your move: Focus on what you can do and build on it. It doesn't matter if you start with a short walking workout or a few pushups on your knees. Sooner or later, you'll be doing things that the old you would have never thought possible—like running marathons, performing one-handed push-ups, and crushing your weight-loss goals for good.
K. Aleisha Fetters, MS.,.C.S.C.S is Chicago-based certified strength and conditioning specialist, training clients both in-person and online.
This article originally appeared in Women's Health Mag