Is it really necessary to have muscle?

necesito musculo
Image by senivpetro

When we think of muscly people, bodybuilders would probably come to your mind:

Indeed, it is the classic stereotype.

Many people think that lifting weights is mainly about getting bulky, taking selfies, and posting them on social media.

There is no doubt that for many people that is the main purpose, however the spectrum of muscular people is much wider:

Let’s debunk some myths.

Bodybuilders train and eat (this includes supplements) in a certain way to have those bodies. Do you want to know what crazy things they do? Read this.

Therefore, whether you are male or female, you can be sure that there is no chance that your body will resemble that of a bodybuilder by training with weights 3-4 times a week.

If you want more information on how to prepare your training routine, check this post.

The question then is, is it worth lifting to build muscle if I’m not seeking to be an athlete or bodybuilder?

To answer this, we need to know what our muscles are for.

Muscle functions

The main function of the muscle is to allow movement. From scratching behind your ears and other daily activities to the practice of the most complex sport or dance style.

In addition, the muscle provides protection. Although I have not found significant statistics, there are some reports from doctors and anecdotes from people who claim that those involved in a car or plane accident, suffer fewer injuries and show higher survival rates if they are more muscular people (source).

We could say then that muscle is a kind of portable airbag.

But if you are looking for real data based on science we have:

  • Patients with more muscle mass recover faster to treatments and have lower mortality (source) (source) (source)
  • Greater muscle mass is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes (source)
  • Lower general mortality (source) (source)
  • Lower suicide rates and cardiovascular disease (source)
  • Cancer: this review of studies about the progression of different types of cancer states that in patients with solid malignancies, low muscle mass is associated with a poor outcome” 
  • More muscle mass increases longevity (source)

In addition, the muscular tissue releases molecules called myokines that improve several processes such as insulin sensitivity, bone health, immune system health, brain and cardiovascular health, among many others (source) 

Muscle mass to lose weight 

Undoubtedly, what fascinates me the most about muscle mass is the fact that it is the most efficient way to lose fat. Actually I state it as one of the the two fundamental keys to lose weight 

Let me explain. 

Depending on the intensity of the activity we carry out, our body uses different sources of energy.

  • Low intensity, like breathing, walking, or typing on your laptop uses energy from your fat storage. This is why low intensity cardio has historically been recommended for weight loss.
  • Medium-high intensity requires a supply of glycogen. Here you will find most sports or HIIT workouts.
  • High intensity, such as sprinting or a strength training where you are lifting close to your 1RM (maximum weight you can do one repetition with) uses the ATP-phosphocreatine system.

You may be thinking, why then would I burn fat with medium or high intensity training if it is the low intensity cardio that breaks down my fat storage?

Simple. We shouldn’t stay in the picture of what happens during the workout. We should see beyond that.

Micro muscle tears occur when you do strength training. These breaks have to be repaired, a process which takes on average 48-72 hours (also depending on each person and the intensity of the training).

And this process of repair, what kind of intensity do you think it represents?

Yes, low intensity like breathing, walking or typing on your laptop which are activities that get their energy from your fat storage.

From 48 to 72 hours burning fat, while you work in the office, watch TV or even sleep. I don’t know you, but for me it’s great!

And I am not considering other processes that are stimulated by strength training such as the release of certain hormones which also promote fat burning.

Should you stop doing cardio then?

My recommendation is always the same. Practice any physical activity that you really enjoy. If that includes running or cycling, go ahead.

Cardio will help you to burn fat while you are doing it, but once you stop, it does not generate that post-workout energy consumption that  a good strength training session produces.

Cardio is also good for your cardiovascular health, as strength training is, but it does not give you anything special.

If you do it as an “obligation” because you want to lose weight and / or gain muscle, I strongly suggest you to grab the weights. Way more efficient, safe, and personally for me, fun.

Image by javi_indy
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