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Gaining muscle helps you lose "bad" weight

Published November 21. 2011 05:03PM

Sometimes you need to spend money to make money. In a similar vein, sometimes you need to gain weight to lose weight.

Last week's column explained how you benefit from adding muscle. This week's column will continue to do so after expounding upon the paradoxical introduction.

Which brings us back to the bonehead we all bump into mentioned in last week's column. The former high school classmate who sees you in the grocery store and boasts that he weighs the same today as when he graduated high school: 195 pounds.

Yet he doesn't look the same. His once impressive "V" shape has morphed into a less-than-impressive lower case "b." That's because the 10 pounds of muscle that he used to carry on his back, chest, and shoulders has been replaced by 10 pounds of goo jiggling around his middle.

His caloric consumption isn't the same, either. As a muscular 195-pound high school senior playing sports, he probably needed just just under 4,000 calories a day to maintain his weight.

Now with less muscle and not working, he out probably needs about 1,000 fewer calories to maintain his mushy 195 pounds.

Why such a dramatic difference? Fat doesn't need calories to sustain itself. Muscle does.

Replace 10 pounds of muscle with 10 pounds of fat, and you need at least 500 fewer calories a day to maintain a given weight.

Conversely, adding 10 pounds of muscle regardless of your age would require you to eat an additional 500 calories a day to maintain that weight.

That's why the best strategy for healthy individuals who want to lose "bad" weight, body fat, is to gain "good" weight, muscle mass.

Both rarely happen simultaneously and the former is easier to do after the latter, so the best initial strategy for losing weight, quite often, is to gain weight.

Let's use that bemused blowhard from your graduation class to explain. If he comes to me for fitness advice, we're initially taking what he'd view as a big step backward.

I'd have him lift weights again and eat as many as 1,000 additional calories a day. While about half of that would get burned because he's being more active, the rest would allow his muscles to grow.

It wouldn't be unusual for a former athlete beginning to work out again to add between a half pound and three-quarters of a pound in muscle a week along with some body fat for a six to eight weeks.

Invariably, there are peaks, valleys, and plateaus to this process, but if a former athlete is willing to follow this program with gusto, he can add 10 pounds of muscle to his frame in about five months. More often than not, though, he's still carrying more fat than he'd like, which leads to phase two of the program: losing eight or 10 or 12 pounds of fat.

This task, however, is made much easier by the additional muscle mass because just five months ago this guy was used to eating 3,000 cals a day to maintain his weight.

Now, with a workout regiment that adds aerobic exercise to the fray, he should lose about a half pound of fat per week while consuming 3,500 calories 500 more than he did five months ago when he looked a mess.

Now if this transformation sounds appealing to you, you need to lift weights in a specific way.

Many people lift weights at a gym to keep what they call muscle tone. That sort of a program is not for you.

If you want to grow muscle you have to push the muscles beyond what they're accustomed to doing. Without getting into too much science, this extra work causes mini tears in the muscles.

These mini tears will be healed much in the same way that a deep cut is healed by a scar. Provided the proper nutrients, extra muscle fibers will be added at the mini tear.

The extra fibers add size and strength to the muscle.

It's that simple. The hard part is to push the muscles to this point after an initial two- to three-month period where the muscles grow quickly.

To continue growth past this stage, you need to do more than increase intensity. You also need to change exercises.

But well before a beginner reaches that point, she needs to develop proper technique. If not, the quick results are compromised and the chance of getting injured skyrockets.

The scope of this column cannot handle these specifics. In fact, it's best to receive your initial instructions from a certified trainer. With that said, here are some general guidelines to increase the odds that lifting weights adds muscle mass:

It's the strength of the muscle's contraction, not the amount of weight necessarily, that creates the micro tears that leads to muscle growth. A squeeze of the biceps, for instance, at the peak of the curl will help promote growth but it will decrease the amount of weight or the number of reps you can perform.

As long as the weight used, however, is two-thirds to three-quarters of your one-rep maximum and the sets are taken to muscle failure, your muscles will grow provided you eat ample calories.

Full motions allow for maximum contraction, but again that requires a reduction in the amount of weight used. Every gym has a leg press, and every gym has some knucklehead who packs on 800 pounds of plates and performs four or five reps ridiculously shorts reps that barely cause his knees to bend.

To fully tax the muscle, it's better for this guy to use 300 pounds and take the weight through such a complete motion that his knees graze his chest.

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