February 08, 2008

Mighty Mice

Mouse or Rat? We're Not Sure. Whatever, At Least It's a Rodent.

[By Crabby]

Oh dear, is it Friday already?

For those regular readers expecting the usual "Random Friday" post, complete with an assemblage of bizarro web links--um, sorry! A certain crab didn't manage to put in the usual hours of exhaustive scholarly research mindless web surfing necessary to put one together.

So instead, we have some breaking news about weight training and mouse fitness.

Did you know there are some really strong mice out there hoisting barbells with their tiny paws? And that these mice are better off than the mice who put on their itsy bitsy running shoes and go for a nice long run?

You'd sure think so from this strange little press release (discussed here in case the link screws up again):

"Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have demonstrated that in mice, the use of barbells may be as important to losing weight and improving health as the use of running shoes."

Can't you just picture these determined little rodents in their gym outfits and teeny tiny little ipods? How adorable! A whole new kind of gym rat.

Well, turns out that the press release is either (a) trying to be funny or (b) written while on drugs, because despite my hopes there was no actual miniature mice exercise equipment involved at all.

The researchers just genetically engineered a mouse so that they could mess with a muscle growth-regulating gene. (They're called "MyoMice," not "mighty mice," alas). The upshot of the research seems to be that, at least if you're a mouse, weight lifting as you age will keep you slimmer and healthier and more junk-food resistant than running mouse-marathons. It has to do with all the swell things that type II muscle fiber can do for your metabolism.

The implications are that humans could do a better job fighting obesity if they'd lift weights. Good point! However, I just was SO disappointed after that initial paragraph to find out they did not actually design any little mouse-sized Nike's.

But here's what I'm curious about:

We've been hearing for quite a while now that we're supposed to be doing strength training, not just cardio. I make myself do it, even though I don't like it much. (Okay, some days, honestly, I loathe it). But it really does help you slim down and burn more fat and makes you feel all strong and virtuous and smug.

And yet... I get the feeling a lot of people, particular female people, tend to avoid strength training. When I work out at a gym, there are lots of gals on the treadmills and ellipticals, yet I don't have much female competition for the weight equipment. (And among my friends and relatives--far more pay attention to cardio than bother with weights) .

What's up with that? Is it fear of bulk? Is it psychological? Does strength training truly feel more miserable to women than to men?

I'm curious if you all have any theories. Or whether you guys do weights yourselves. Or is it perhaps something you keep meaning to get around to.. "some day?"


  1. I tend to be one of those cardio gals. The thing is, I USED to lift weights religiously, and truth be told... I don't think there was THAT much of a difference in my bod, aside from even larger quads! I read enough about this stuff to know I should do something strength traning-ish, so lately I've been doing some toning stuff just with little 5 and 10 lb dumbells. Not exactly pushing myself, but I guess it's better than nothing.

    Anyhoo...my 2 cents.

  2. A blog about me! How lovely!

    Thanks, crabby!

  3. The Bag Lady likes lifting weights, actually, but finds doing reps with those little tiny 5 or 10 lb weights boring. Give me some weight! At least 25 lbs, because then it feels like you are actually doing something.
    She's a little disappointed that there aren't any pictures of mice with their little barbells...

  4. I'm so confused.

    "They" say: lift weights, it will boost your metabolism and help you lose fat!

    Then, "they" say: the extra muscle really doesn't really give you much of a metabolism boost. You should still lift weights to be healthy, but do more cardio if you want to burn fat.

    Now we are back to: lift weights if you want to be slim!

    So confused.

    I have been working out with weights for...7 or 8 years now? And doing cardio. And trying to fit in pilates & yoga. I'm still chubby.

    I tend to thing of weights as something to help keep me strong and healthy for years to come; maintaining bone density and muscle mass and all that. But I am not counting on it to make me skinny.

  5. I think that many women who don't lift weights feel like if they did, they'd bulk up too much (not true of everyone, but I've heard it often enough). Guys are taught from an early age that they should have strong muscles. But as women, the encouragement is more towards a leaner body, and many women don't realize they can lift weights and not bulk.

    Personally, if I didn't teach weight lifting classes, I probably wouldn't get enough in - there was a while I was only teaching one class a week (instead of the recommended 2-3 total body weights a week). The only way I can lift weights outside of class on any kind of regular basis is to get a group of friends together so we motivate each other.

  6. All I could think of when I read this was the movie Human Nature, where one of the characters was a scientist trying to teach mice to eat at the table and use proper manners and cutlery.

    I coudl see the point of the weights...I mean muscle burns more calories than fat, and is why I try and do 2 days a week of muscle toningish type stuff with the exercise ball and free weights. I don't know if it helps, but I certainly get more muscle tone in my upper body that way...tho I do know a lot of women who don't want to work out with weights as they think it'll make them too much bigger instead of smaller...which is silly.

  7. yea, it's on that perpetual 'I'll start tomorrow' list. Actually now that we've acquired ourselves a treadmill (and even use it) our next purchase for the home gym will be a set of free weights. I would definitly like to start working with them (I'm sorry but the smileing pilates lady just pisses me off too much to keep watching the same DVD over and over again!)

  8. This is really interesting--sounds like not everyone is getting much help from lifting weights. It makes a huge difference for me, but perhaps it's one of those individual difference thingies?

    I do lift really heavy weights (i.e. heavy for a middle-aged lazy person, not for a hard-core lifter), and I've heard that most women don't use enough poundage to get results. But I'm guessing you folks are not "most" women.

    I also didn't realize there'd been so much back-and-forth on the metabolic issue. I've been hearing pretty consistently you get more bang for your buck with weights (but need to do both weights and cardio). But no doubt I probably missed something.

    And Geosomin, I haven't seen Human Nature but it sounds like a hoot!

  9. This is a very interesting topic, and the debate for this is starting to pick up some steam. In fact, some now say that you should never do cardio, just stick with resistance training. Personally I think it's all a publicity stunt to have this new breaking research finding to make them famous.

    Anyway, I tell my clients that you have to do both. Cardio is great for burning off calories, but once you stop, so does the calorie burn. Plus, doing cardio means that you’ll burn off fat, but also some muscle. Why do you think a lot of marathon runners are skin and bone? It's because they do so much cardio, and that much cardio without compensating by doing any resistance training will lead to muscle being burned off. The best thing ... do your resistance training and then cardio, or cardio and then resistance training. (The order isn't as important as people try and say it is.) By doing resistance training, you compensate for the muscle burn with cardio because you keep the muscle healthy and growing. Muscle is your biggest calorie-burning organ in the body, so by keeping muscle on, you essentially allow your body to burn more calories off and lose body fat faster. Plus, even though calorie burning stops when your cardio stops, the calorie burning from resistance training lasts past your session and actually is even greater when you're done lifting. Many women I train are scared at first to lift because it is psychological. The think lifting = meathead. Not true. There are actually different ways to lift to avoid bulking up, and to be honest, woman don't have the hormones to allow for bulking like guys do. Combining cardio and resistance training is a must for fat burning, not to mention it’ll help improve balance, reaction time, lead to better sleep, decrease the chance of injury, increase bone strength, etc.

    Thanks for the great post!

  10. For me, it is still intimidation and not knowing what I am doing with all those machines and even free weights. I feel like I have to follow a set routine and the ones I've looked at always seem so long and complicated.
    It's much easier to jump on the treadmill and walk or run. Everyone knows how to do that.

  11. Fun fact: The words "mouse" and "muscle" come from the same Latin root (The Latin "musculus" actually means "little mouse"). And that picture sure looks like a mouse to me. Mind if I snorgle him? :D

    I have a set of wimpy girly weights (2, 4, and 6 lbs) that I've been doing strength training with, but I think it's about time I got some heavier ones. The 6 lbs are now heavy enough to be really annoying, but light enough that I have to do a really annoying number of reps to get any kind of a workout. :p

  12. I don't do as much strength training as I should, but it's more a time issue than anything else. I enjoy it, but there are only so many hours in the day. I'm making more of an effort now that the marathon is over, though.

    I'm always surprised at the lack of information women have about lifting. Few women have the right hormone levels to bulk up. Unless they start taking steroids, they won't bulk up even if they try!

    It's interesting going to the university rec center because it's mostly used by undergrads. The girls lift hardly any weight at all and I'm often tempted to tell them how pathetic they are to be doing 10 lb lat pulldowns while I'm doing 75 with no consistent training and two extra decades on them!

    Of course, these are the same girls who amble along on the treadmill or elliptical trainer at a snail's pace, never breaking a sweat, and probably think they've earned themselves a pizza afterward.

    I don't think it matters so much whether one does cardio, weights, or both. You just have to challenge yourself!

  13. Chickengirl, you know what those "girl weights" are good for? Kickboxing and shadowboxing routines! I have some three-pounders that I use for practicing jabs, hooks and upper cuts. It's great for toning the upper body and abs, it's fun to do to music, and it's a good substitute for having a heavy bag at home.

  14. Thanks everyone--wow, I'm learning a lot here! Thanks chicken girl for the mouse/muscle info.

    And Dan, that was a really helpful clarification of the muscle/cardio debate--you sound like a very well-informed trainer.

    I'll be back later, we're doing some weight lifting of a more informal kind today, moving a bunch of crap out of our place to the Lobster's mom's house. Retirement community, here we come! (Ulp.)

  15. I was never any good at lifting weights so I took it as a sign to not do it.

  16. I HATE cardio so I only do it 2 times a week for half hour max. I love doing weights so I do that more frequently plus pilates. I find weights work better for my body. When I just did cardio (45 min. 4-6 times a week) I didn't lose any weight, but when I started doing a little less cardio and added in weights 3 times a week I lost weight and toned my body. I'm all for doing more weights.

  17. I think it's fear of bulk, intimidation (of a male-only area of the gym, and mysterious machines and exercises), and ignorance of its benefits. People think that to lose fat, they have to see the little calories burned ticker racing away on a cardio machine.

    I personally *love* strength training. I used to hate going to the gym before I started lifting. Now I look forward to it. Weights give you much faster, more visible results than cardio, but in terms of progress made and changes to your body.

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again: stumptuous changed my life.

  18. I'm a free weights gal. But I had to cut back thanks to my last fender bender. Whiplash does not like to heal while lifting weights. *Sigh* And I was doing so good, but it also got cold and the weight set up is outside on my porch so workout is now Yoga and Pilates DVDs in the toasty living room. I'm hoping by the end of February or beginning of March it will be warm enough to get back out there.

    Now my history with weights. I am the oldest of three girls, so I always got tagged as parent helper for whatever needed moving or hauling etc. I took a weightlifting class in college in 1995 and loved it, though the teacher put a fear in me to not touch the free weights without a partner tied to your waist that I have only just now gotten over. Course, I forgot all about weights and packed on pounds.

    I went back for my masters in 2005 and started using the university gym. I think I paid extra for a personal trainer in 2006 (thinking maybe I'm not using these stupid machines right). I was hovering around 200 or just under it then. Her eyes nearly fell out of her head when she saw how much I could lift. "Wow, you're really strong for...." She made her diplomacy roll and stopped the sentence right there. I don't know if she was going to end with "a girl" or "a fattie."

    In 2007, I found Stumptuous.com Women Weight Training and got set up for free weights and wrecked my car. :p But I love lifting weights, and I noticed my weight loss slowed to a crawl without it.

  19. No comments on the post. Just a thank you for being my favourite crab. :-)

  20. Cardio is important for heart health, and strength training is good for bone mass. I take reformer pilates (the kind you do on the machine)which has made a HUGE difference in my strength (but can be prohibitively expensive). You can also do mat pilates with light weights. My advice is to check out dvds from the library or Netflix (or friends), and find a workout you enjoy. Also, there's a website called Collage Video that sells only exercise videos. They do all the programs, review them, and post customer reviews, as well. Finally, Amazon sells used dvds.
    Hope that helps!

  21. Crabby,
    I too find all the information and contradictions overwhelming so I hired a trainer so I don't have to worry about all of it. That's her job. She kicks my ass twice a week and I love it. I also swim 3x a week and run at least 1x a week. I'm losing weight faster than ever and I think the strength training has TONS to do with that (so does giving up alcohol which I also did but this post is about lifing weights, not pints) Anyway, as long as I can afford it, I will have this trainer so I can just mindlessly do as she says and get stronger and healthier as a result of our efforts.

  22. Look, those puny mice are passé! This is the year of the RAT! (Happy New Year) Rats run! Rat's lift! Rat's rule! Put one of those minnie mice in the UFC octagon with one of us, who do YOU think will come out? By the way, you can't spell BRAT without RAT, nuff said!
    Dr. J

  23. I was doing little weights for my shoulder injuries and found I actually had muscles under all the fat there! Of course those exercises were not helping my back injury so I had to quit and have never gotten back to it. Time for heavier weights I think.

  24. Sorry everyone, I forgot to sign into my account when I posted last time.

    One other thing that I didn't say was I would try doing interval training with weights and cardio. Personally, I think it's a lot more fun than splitting cardio and resistance training into two different things. Doing a combination of lifting with a cardio break is a great way to get a good workout in. For example, do a set of squats, followed by some jumping jacks, and then back to squats. You could also try a session of doing doing about 5 minutes of lifting, 5 minutes of cardio, and just keep repeating back and forth. It'll keep your workouts intense, fun, and it'll go by so much faster.

  25. I love to lift; it makes me feel strong.

    Does it help me lose weight?

    Well, sort of. It helps keep my too-loose joints together so that I don't get hurt and miss months of working out. So if that counts, then yes.

    But otherwise, no. You can attribute some of that to the joint thing, though.

  26. i don't weight train because i don't know how, and i'm afraid i'll hurt myself. plus i can't afford a gym membership. plus i'm afraid i'll lose less weight while i'm building muscle. lame, i know.

  27. I hate lifting...But I love it too...Actually, I hate working out, but know that I feel better when I'm done and it's working slowly but surely to get me under 200...I've only recently started using free weights with the boyfriend, and fall back to the cables when he's not around, but I love the gains that I've made. I've got a full plate on each side in the squat rack, just popped my leg press up 25lbs yesterday and am so excited to beat the boyfriend in our weight loss bet...

    I've always been told, by coaches, trainers and fit friends, that you have to lift and do cardio to get results...You have to burn calories and fat in order to tone and lose weight. I have no problem following that regimine to get my ass in shape and get into that bikini I have been wanting for 10 years...

  28. Laure - two things. One, stumptuous and exrx.net are great resources for how-to. And two, your scale numbers might stop dropping so quickly, but you'll lose more fat and your clothes will be loser. And muscles look hot.

  29. Looser, not loser.

    I can type. Sure.


  30. My trainer spent the better part of last year lecturing me on the importance of weight training. I was an aerobics instructor in my 20s, but I'd never done any serious weights. Cardio blasts the calories during the session itself, but weight training builds the muscle that keeps burning calories at a higher rate all the time.

    The thing about weight training is that you have to change it up frequently for it to continue to be effective. You can't do two sets of 10 reps with three-pound weights forever and expect to see change. But changing it up can mean adding more weight, adding more reps, switching the exercises you do or even switching the order of your workout (building in supersets, for example). The body adapts very quickly (quicker than you'd think) and it can be really challenging to come up with new ways to challenge your muscles.

    Why don't more women weight train? I think it's a few things: some are afraid of building too much muscle, but we just don't have the testosterone to get all manly. Mostly, I think it's intimidation (it can be scary to be the only female in the weight room) or not wanting to look stupid. If you're serious about adding strength training, it might be well worth ponying up the money for a few sessions with a trainer who'll teach you not only how to use the equipment, but how to build challenging workouts, too.

    Ooh...that turned into a bit of a soapbox speech, didn't it? Sorry about that...but I'm a big believer in weight training.

  31. Hey Crabby!
    So I think that girls have this stigma attached with strength training: that they'll become bulky, rippling muscled hairy women. I know that for me, weights are the easier and more satisfying/instantly gratifying experience. I can just feel the muscles and see them working. I used to do the girl-y workouts, where I'd pick up a 10lb dumbell, do 10 reps and be done. But then I started going to workout with my boyfriend to the manly weights room where I was the only girl out of 20, and the smell of the gym is that of sweaty men with hardcore rock or heavy metal playing in the background. My boyfriend became my personal trainer and made me do 3 sets of the following: Lift the weight at a comfortable weight that I can sustain about 10-12 times. Then add 20-30lbs and do as many lifts as I can. And then go back down to that comfortable weight and do 10 more. Can I just tell you that the whole "no pain no gain" mentality comes in here and for the next two days you can barely walk. But the pain is satisfying, and you feel really strong out there in that testosterone filled gym, on the machines that actually push you to exceed your expectations. That's all I've got!

  32. Truth be told I think that weight loss comes much easier from cardio...in the short term. But for long term, weights are definitely vital in order to burn more calories while at rest. I have been running for years and I still have 30% body fat (even though I'm pretty normal weight 135, 5'4" and quite fit). I have just now started weight lifting in hopes to switch a few pounds of muscle over to fat.

    And why is it that mice always look cute in pictures and scary if they are in my house? Thank goodness in my new apartment there are none but at my old house there were mice everywhere, no matter how clean I kept it!

  33. I'm still chuckling at Marie's comment...

    And I'd have to say ditto to jaime's first comment. I feel my best when I'm doing lots of cardio, but I feel strong and like my metabolism speeds up big time when I strength train with it. I'm usually REALLY hungry but have lots of energy. I'm realizing that's where I feel the most comfortable with myself.

  34. Hi -

    I've been hovering for a while and wanted to say hi, finally.

    I get bored easily at the gym and like weight lifting because I change from machine or weights or gym room without pause after only one set.
    Cardio has me bored very quickly - which seems the opposite for most of you.

    What I really wanted to say: The picture definitly shows a rat - little teenage one.

  35. I had a trainer for a year, and admittedly I kept with it more because my trainer was fine. He was like my very own pool boy to drool over, and of course he laughed at all my jokes and was focused on me because I paid him. But that's subsequential. I have a serious weight training resistance thing going on. I know I should but I don't wanna. I need to do it to help balance out my leg muscles for running, but I don't wanna get on those weights. It's really perplexing. The idea of running 13 miles sounds exciting yet lifting even 10 lb chick weights makes me go "ugh." I need an intervention.

  36. Hmmn... Stephanie, where was this trainer located? Purely out of my interest in research, you understand :)

    I'm gymophobic and weights-o-phobic, so anything that can pique my interest in the subject sounds good to me.

    Totally irrelevant tangent: why does the word "pique" mean 1. arouse someone's curiosity and 2. irritate the heck out of someone?

  37. p.s. I loved Cara's blog post on weight lifting :)

  38. I adore the weight training (does it mitigate the irritation of that sentence to say that I LOATHEHATEDETEST cardio?)

    bring the lobster to the ATX and Ill play personal trainer to you both until you ADORE it as I do.

    My favorite part is/are the REST PERIODS between sets!


  39. So tell me: between the Chief Whiner and the VP of Snark, who's in charge of Creative Grumbling?

    It must be a middle of the day Y thing, but back when I had time and money to use the gym, the cardio machines were usually fairly well occupied but the weights were never crowded by either men or women.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  40. After several long, tiring and stressful days, can I just say how awesome it is to check in here and read all these great comments?

    So this is off topic, but hell, we're pretty far down in the comments section and who's reading this post anymore anyway? But my blog guilt is piling up as I'm way behind on blog visits, blogroll updates and email answering. This buying/selling/renovating/moving stuff is proving more demanding than I expected--especially for someone who is as chore-averse and lazy as I am.

    Plus we're now official residents of a retirement community pending our move to P-town and it's messing with my head. Perhaps Stress Management should be an upcoming blog topic if I can manage to remember how to do it.

    Thanks for all of you who show up here and share your observations and thoughts and bring up so many good points and make us all laugh. Hopefully things will calm down soon and I can be a bit better about returning the favor.

  41. I am so intimidated on the weight floor. Usually, not much intimidates me, but I always feel like I am on display when I am lifting, and I promise, I'm not that hot, so I'm pretty sure the reality is that no one is even paying any attention to me. But that's how it feels. Sorry to have been away...I did catch up. I cannot believe your last post either. A restaurant not serving people because they are obese? I mean who is the judge of whether someone fits into that category or not? Some 18 year old server? I think not.

  42. I do weights three times a week. I know some people don't like them, and other people just don't do them at all, but I don't mind it. I really think it's all about results. I know I've seen a big improvement in my body since I started working out with weights, and I don't want my body to go back to the way it USED to look -- so with every rep I do I know that I'm helping to "keep everything up." :)

  43. By the way, I meant to say thank you, Merry. Then I got all wrapped up in my rant and forgot! :) So, thanks!

  44. I'm both a cardio gal and a strength gal. Hubby and I hike in the mountains, and that's cardio, but it also builds muscles much more so than walking round and round a track -- and we recently got a weight bench for increased strength training. We're shaping up great -- increasing our strength and toning up and building muscle -- feels wonderful. :)

  45. Yeah, it's a young rat. ;)

    I cried when my weight bench was banished to the back yard with my fave curling bar I'd had for 20 years. Then it was dumped and so were my then rusty weights 2 years later. Now I'm sort of renting a room from my Mom, it's her house, there's no garage to speak of, and no place for weights, except what fits under my hubby's zero gravity chair. So we use those. I use the manly weights at home, he uses the girly ones when we walk. I grab the bar ends of the big dumbbells and use them as mini straight bars. I used to have a whole routine with several bars set up for different lifts, and it always felt so good. It's a real stress buster too. I never bulked, just buffed up what was normal for my then lithe and muscular body type. I think it helped with keeping my back strong for a long time too, before other stuff damaged it.
    My hubby who has a cyclist's build and is all bone and sinew never ever lifted weights, and I still have bigger biceps than he does, which I think is sad. He's a perfect geek from the waist up! So to me he's a great example of why all cardio is not balanced. Plus he eats too much grain and not enough protein.

    So ladies, just from personal experience I'd sure encourage you to lift barbells at the least. And don't be afraid to get a sexy chromed curling bar and use it. Guys like curves on a woman, and I personally feel stick thin arms are so unattractive on either sex.

  46. Hey Crabby,
    I'm a woman who lifts weights, does cardio, does yoga, plays tennis, etc. (And no, I DON'T have a job, duh...) Anyway,at my gym, the owner constantly chuckles that he observes the men on the treadmill, stairmaster, and other cardio equipment, while the women are doing squats, chest presses, and deadlifts. So local ladies here have no fear of weightlifting, but maybe we're unusual.

  47. Love, love, love your blog. I hope you don't mind, but I added you to my blog roll.

  48. Hi Crabby,

    I like to do light lifting. I am in awe of the ladies (including you, dfBag Lady) who lift heavy weights. I use 3, 5, 8, and once in a while, 10 pound weights. It's not my major exercise but I try to lift for twenty minutes twice a week, three times when I think of it and have the time. At my age, bone loss in an issue. So far I don't have the problem and I am trying to avoid it in the future.

    I learned a lot from this post and these comments. What a smart group!


  49. I have been lifting weights a few times a week ever since high school (am 31 now) and I absolutely think it makes a difference - I'm now in the slightest bit bulky but when I flex, there's fo sho a nice lil bicep that pops out. It's not the most fun I've ever had but I like knowing I'm strong and can bend/lift/throw/jump. It was actually a power pump class(all hand weights, done to exhaustion, for an hour) that got me in shape for my wedding and took my from knees-down push-ups to 10 real, straight leg pushups. Feels empowering!!

  50. I lean toward cardio, but try to take 2 or 3 strength training classes a week--that is, until I put my back out. Hopefully I'll be back at the gym soon!
    GREAT BLOG!!!!


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