When we think of losing weight, our minds automatically go to spending large chunks of time jogging on the treadmill and eating a diet that would make most rabbits hungry. And while the recommendation of “eating less” and “exercising more” is a common one, I am here to tell you that it is not the most effective way to burn fat.
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While low-intensity cardiovascular exercise (think jogging, cycling, rowing etc.) does unquestionably burn some calories, it may not be the best way to promote long term weight loss.
This type of exercise really only stimulates the cardiovascular system. And while this has the potential to improve our aerobic system (makes us fitter, is good for our hearts and lungs), it does very little to stimulate the muscular system (and may actually lead to reductions in muscle mass over time).
Now while this may not sound like a bad thing, it’s incredibly important to highlight the fact that our basal metabolic rate (the amount of energy we need to survive; see metabolism) is largely determined by the amount of muscle we have on our body. The more muscle mass, the greater our metabolic rate. And subsequently, the higher our daily energy intake is.
So by undertaking too much aerobic exercise, we can actually lower our metabolic rate, making it not only incredibly difficult to lose weight in the long run (because our daily energy requirements are so low), but also making it easier for us to gain weight in the future.
But what’s the alternative?
Now I know that this answer might get a few people scratching some heads, but I need you to trust me on this. Strength training can help promote fat loss through a number of key mechanisms, especially when it is implemented optimally.
And just a note, when I say ‘weight training’, I am referring to using moderate to heavy weights (relative to your individual fitness level of course) combined with large compound movements (think squats, deadlifts, presses, and rows) using barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells – NOT lifting light dumbbells repeatedly to “get toned”
And here is why.
Build Muscle Mass
Now this may seem like a bit of a no brainer, but lifting weights builds muscle mass. This is a massive positive if we take what I said earlier into consideration.
By building more muscle tissue, we can cause subsequent increases in our metabolic rate, which equates to more energy being burned at rest. This causes an increase in the amount of energy we need on a day to day basis to strictly survive.
This can make weight loss much easier in the long run, and can actually make it harder to put on weight in the future.
Now, just to try and reduce any worries that you may have: as a female, it is extremely difficult to put on large amounts of muscle mass. Yes you will put on some muscle (enough to increase your metabolism), but you will not get “big and bulky.”
Females have much less androgenic (muscle building) hormones occurring naturally within their body, so they actually have quite a hard time putting on large amounts of muscle mass (not that there is anything wrong with that).
And you know that ‘toned’ look that all the magazines are talking about? The easiest way to achieve that is to improve your muscle definition, while also losing a bit of fat, making the muscle more visible and toned.
And fortunately for us, strength training has the capacity to do both!
Strength Training Uses Energy
Strength training is extremely taxing. Particularly if we opt for full-body workouts, where we use both lower and upper-body exercises. During these types of workouts we burn a huge amount of energy because of the extremely high metabolic demand they place on the body.
Furthermore, strength training elicits a fairly substantial amount of muscle damage, that can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to recover from. While this may not sound like a good thing, it is in fact a very big positive when we are discussing energy expenditure.
This muscle damage requires additional energy to recover from, so weight training actually increases the amount of energy we are burning anywhere from 24 to 72 hours after we have finished our workout.
Now, we know that creating an energy deficit is essential to maximising weight loss. Strength training has the capacity to create a substantial energy deficit both during the session, and for a prolonged period of time after it.
A bonus about strength training is that due to the recovery time associated, we only need to be performing two to three sessions per week to reap the fat loss-related benefits.
These sessions should be full body in nature, requiring the integration of both upper body and lower body exercises. Furthermore, these exercises should be super-setted (performed immediately one after another). This can creates some extreme blood flow around the entire body, increasing the cardiovascular demand of the session while also burning more energy.
The exercises used should large compound movements (such as squats, deadlifts, split squats, presses, and rows) as they are the exercises that use the most amount of muscle mass, and therefore the most amount of energy.
Finally, we should be using heavy-ish loads to stimulate muscle growth and metabolic stress. This will create the highest energy demand during session, while also creating the largest recovery demand as well (both of which lead to a massive expenditure in energy).
Sample Full-Body Fat-Burning Workout
A sample full-body workout might look like this:
1A: Back Squat 3×6
1B: Push Up 3×6
2A: Romanian Deadlift 3×8
2B: Seated Row 3×8
3A: Split Squat 3×10/side
3B: Lat Pull Down 3×10
4A: Seated Shoulder Press 3×12
4B: Face Pulls (rope attachment) 3×12
In this scenario, ‘A’ and ‘B’ exercises are super setted.
This session can be performed two to three times per week with at least one day of rest in between to stimulate maximum weight loss through weight training.
Strength training can be a fantastic way to stimulate weight loss when implemented correctly. It not only burns a heap of energy during the session, but also after during its recovery period. Moreover, strength training increases muscle mass, which leads to improvements in metabolic rate that make it easier to lose weight and harder to gain weight.
By opting for full-body sessions where compound movements are prioritized, we can ensure we burn a huge amount of energy during our session while also creating the largest strength emphasis.
Try this session today and let us know what you think!
Wilson, Jacob M., et al. “Concurrent training: a meta-analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercises.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 26.8 (2012): 2293-2307.
Zurlo, Francesco, et al. “Skeletal muscle metabolism is a major determinant of resting energy expenditure.” Journal of Clinical Investigation 86.5 (1990): 1423.
Frontera, Walter R., et al. “Strength conditioning in older men: skeletal muscle hypertrophy and improved function.” Journal of applied physiology 64.3 (1988): 1038-1044
Hunter, Gary R., et al. “Resistance training increases total energy expenditure and free-living physical activity in older adults.” Journal of Applied Physiology 89.3 (2000): 977-984.