London - When looking to get into shape, weightlifting may not be the first port of call for many women who may fear doing so will make them look more butch than svelte.
But now fitness experts are hoping to debunk the view that pumping iron only leads to the dramatic muscle gain associated with body builders.
In fact, they say regular workouts with moderate to heavy weights can actually help you lose weight in a more effective way than aerobic exercise such as running and cycling.
Fitness trainer Jean-Ann Marnoch said: “There is a common misconception that weightlifting should only be undertaken when building muscle, however, this is not the case.
“Lifting moderate to light weights for endurance gains (you should reach muscle exhaustion in 15 repetitions) has been shown to give improvements in muscle metabolic rate, in other words the rate at which your body burns calories. This means that even at rest, your body is a better fat burner, in addition to the improved tone to the look of your muscles.”
At gyms many shun weight machines and free weights in favour of treadmills and exercise bikes – and then grow frustrated as they fail to reach their goals.
But Marnoch said that if done the correct way, lifting weights could help women up and down the country drop a dress size.
Fitness trainer Julia Buckley agrees. She has developed a fat loss plan that focuses on raising people’s metabolic rate (the amount of calories your body burns) through weightlifting and short bursts of intense exercise.
She said: “My best tip to help people avoid piling on extra fat is to boost the metabolism by exercising with heavy weights and performing interval sessions with quick bursts of maximum intensity activity.
“My workouts last from just 20 minutes to an hour and my clients do them five or six days a week. I combine strength training with weights with high-intensity interval training, where people go all-out in an exercise for short periods, take a short rest and then repeat, and there’s also some plyometric training which involves fast, explosive movements.
“I give my female clients exactly the same type of workouts as the men and the results are equally impressive for both sexes. Everyone loses fat, the guys get that ‘ripped’ look they usually want, because their bodies produce more testosterone, and the women get lean, firm and shapely.”
Buckley adds that by following this kind of exercise regime, people will achieve slimmer figures without having to stick to restrictive diets.
“Muscle requires more calories to maintain in the body, so when you add muscle mass your metabolic rate increases. This basically means that the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even when you’re resting,” she said.
Buckley is working on a book on her full fat loss programme, but a number of her clients who have been following her advice have been reaping the rewards.
One of them is Kat Ford, 26, who wanted to get in shape for her wedding. She regularly exercised by running, but was struggling to shift stubborn areas of fat.
She had not done weight training before, but was willing to try something new so she could fit into her dream wedding dress.
She said: “I had tried diets before, and sometimes had lost weight, but it always crawled back on as soon as I stopped dieting. The diets were never suitable for the long term.
“No matter how much exercise I did I couldn’t seem to shift the weight. Even when I was running about 50km a week in training, I still couldn’t get the weight to shift, which was frustrating as I felt physically fit.”
Ford said lifting weights and doing short bursts of exercise – never taking up more than half an hour of her day – had made all the difference and she had lost nearly 10kg in 12 weeks.
Zoe Waistell, 37, also found weightlifting a “revelation” after following Buckley’s programme.
She said: “Marathon training made me pile on the weight over the past two years. Plus I just want to feel good, I have much more confidence when I feel fit, strong and healthy. It is a revelation not to be running so much but concentrating on building strength and burning fat.”
While Waistell was far from obese at 70.3kg, she has rid herself of problem fat areas she had around her arms, legs and stomach by following a plan involving weights, and now weighs 61kg.
Buckley said women should not be put off lifting weights for fear of looking “too big and bulky”.
“This is something that tends to worry women more than men, but, ladies, I can assure you that getting big muscles is very hard for us to achieve even when we want to and does not happen by accident,” she said. – Daily Mail