A lot of women are throwing away 50% of the benefits of their workouts - and never even realize it. For all of the sweat, panting and muscle cramps, over half of the gains to be had simply disappear, unattained. Now before I explain the secret to this waste so you can start reaping the full rewards of all your hard work, first we need to cover a few foundational facts to better understand the problem.

What is beauty?

If you're a woman in the modern world, you live amidst a hurricane force storm of touched up photos and irrational expectations of what your body should look like. There's no question about it - natural beauty is scoffed at more than appreciated - particularly by Hollywood and the media. And from scrawny, anorexic fashion models to overweight women carrying the "big is beautiful" battle cry, ideals of beauty are as varied as people who tout them. I won't even try to summarize the fringe ideals - suffice it to say that people chase after some pretty crazy things sometimes... But what if we take a step back and look at beauty from a more scientific and objective point of view?

What we find attractive in a mate

Mate. What comes to mind when you use that word in particular to describe a prospective spouse? Child-rearing, no? Just like in all the nature shows - we choose our "mates" based in large part upon their suitability to produce, raise and protect offspring. The ways to identify these capabilities have changed over time, but there is one characteristic that has always remained universally understood as a positive marker for the ideal mate: Health.

Being healthy is attractive. Being vibrant, passionate, energetic, full of life - regardless of gender, we universally love people who show these traits. And why not? A healthy mate is more likely to be able to not only parent offspring, but raise them, protect them, feed them, and do so at least until they're old enough to take care of themselves.

So what exactly does healthy look like?

If you think scrawny fashion models are healthy, take a deep breath and step away from the magazines. While some people are legitimately, naturally slender like that, being extremely thin carries plenty of health risks of its' own including anemia, fertility concerns, higher susceptibility to undiagnosed heart conditions, brittle bones and more.

On the other side of the scales, if the "healthy at every size" crowd takes a good long look at the medical facts, it must admit that being overweight is incredibly unhealthy. Obesity carries with it a plethora of increased health risks including stroke, heart disease, cancer and dementia just to name a few of the more popular options.

So at no great surprise to most of us, being healthy falls in the middle ground. And traditional wisdom dictates that if you are not already of a reasonable weight and physical shape, you need to spend time in the gym getting that way. So far, so good. Now we will finally tackle the big lie that has had many of you wasting your efforts.

Getting in shape

Men, you want big muscles right? So you take the weight training. And women, you want to be lean and slender and sexy right? So you take the cardio exercise. Now all is right in the world. Right?

WRONG!

Let's be fair - most men who go to the gym looking to get healthy are going to do a combination of strength / weight training for muscle tone, and cardio / endurance exercise for stamina. This is as it should be. You ladies on the other hand, are frequently the victims of a vicious lie that seems logical but is completely wrong:

"Strength training will make me look like a big burly dude."

Many women avoid the realm of resistance exercise almost entirely, because they falsely believe that it will turn them into the burly, muscle-bound women we've all seen in bikinis on the covers of bodybuilding magazines. "No, thank-you!" they tell themselves as they walk right past the benches and machines, grab up the little pink 5lb weights, and proceed to sweat up a storm doing nothing but cardio. This is purely a myth. Getting bulked up and building huge muscles is a completely different process than getting lean and burning fat.

Body builders eat an incredible number of surplus calories, for net gains

When bulking up, body builders (and muscular actors like Dwayne Johnson or Hugh Jackman for example) will sometimes eat at many as 7 full meals per day. Yes, the workouts are intense, and yes, it is weight-training intensive - but the calorie intake is just insane. As a result of all the excess calories and protein, muscle and fat are both simultaneously increased over time, rather than a significant loss of either one taking place.

Fat burners live on a steady calorie deficit, for net losses

When your goal is to lose weight, you almost always want this weight to come from stored fat - and the only way to burn calories stored in fat is to expend more calories than you take in. Thus, exercise combined with a reduced calorie diet results in predictable weight loss over time. Using heavy weights and performing powerful resistance exercises cannot significantly bulk up a fat burner, because they're actively burning off and reducing their fat without the excess caloric intake to make up the difference.

How the body actually reacts to exercise and calorie needs

Now that you understand that strength training will not turn you into a female version of Arnold Schwarzenegger, let's discuss the how strength and cardio training affect your body.

When you perform cardio exercise, you burn calories. Fast. And that's a good thing. Cardio is essential to a healthy circulatory system, long term endurance, and lean, mean muscle. However, when you're taking in fewer calories than you're expending, the body has to draw upon its' reserves to produce more calories - and this is where things get tricky.

Use it, or... Use it somehow else!

At rest, your body is actively burning calories simply staying alive. This is called your resting metabolic rate. For every pound of fat, your body will burn about 2 calories per day just in maintenance. For every pound of muscle, it burns 6 calories per day.

If you don't take in enough calories per day to sustain your resting metabolic rate plus whatever excess calories you burn in activities for that day, your body will first prefer to convert muscle into energy. The process of burning off muscle as spendable calories is actually easier than burning fat - and as I said above, every pound of muscle is 3 times more expensive to maintain than fat. Therefore if the body does not sense an urgent need to keep the muscle, it will absorb it and use it a fuel.

Cardio exercise works your muscles, and helps to prevent your body from seeing them as expendable and burning them for fuel. However it does not directly strain the muscles so much as it strains the heart, lungs and circulatory system.

Weight training puts that focus directly on the muscles throughout your body. This effort triggers responses in your body that say, "I need muscle! I need it badly! I must look elsewhere to procure more energy." In fact, resistance exercise has been shown to increase caloric burn AND improve the body's efficiency at burning fat, simultaneously.

The more muscle you have, the more calories you can burn, and the more efficiently you will metabolize fat. The more cardio you do, the faster your body uses this newfound efficiency to actually target and burn that fat. This combination, along with a reduced calorie diet, is the real secret to successfully - and quickly - losing weight.

Combining strength and cardio exercise has multiple benefits

It's not just about burning fat - it's also about building what's underneath. Ladies, this is where all of that talk about beauty comes into play. You can't just strip away a bunch of fat (and a good bit of muscle at the same time) and look healthy. Strength training produces dense, lean, powerful muscle while cardio strips away some of the fat that covers it up. The result? Now you look legitimately healthy!

It doesn't stop there - exercises that put stress on your muscles also put stress on your bones. Just as the stresses on your muscle cause growth, stresses on your bone cause increased bone density and strength. If you're worried about bone deterioration and osteoporosis, this is your ticket into the clear: Resistance training can help to prevent or slow the progression of both!

Additionally, improving your over-all physique helps to prevent injuries from occurring. The improved muscle strength throughout your core can help improve your posture and prevent back pain. Strength training has even been linked to decreased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Stop wasting 50% of your workout

Now you can see why a lot of women have been throwing away half of the benefits of their workout, every time they go to the gym. Perhaps you're one of them - and that's okay. Today is the day to put down the little pink weights, step across the threshold, and take that other 50% back!