Conventional advice for losing excess body fat is to do cardio for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week. This approach typically leads to disappointing returns due to the fact that people lose a lot of muscle in addition to any fat loss, and their resting metabolic rate drops. They burn fewer calories every day, and often end up experiencing increased body fat levels over the long run.
On the other hand, training with weights is an essential part of any successful fat loss program because it increases your total energy expenditure by these three powerful mechanisms:
1) Build muscle and increase resting metabolic rate
2) Increase levels of catecholamine hormones, increasing metabolic rate
3) Increase the rate of fat burning in the body
This article will discuss the role of strength training for fat loss and give you suggestions for making it happen.
The Goal of Fat Loss
Successful fat loss is achieved through the creation of a negative energy balance. In simple terms this means that you need to burn more calories than you take in through food.
The total amount of calories you burn daily is made up of the following elements:
Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) is the calories your body burns at rest (if you just stayed in bed all day),
Activity Energy Expenditure (AEE) is the calories you burn during exercise
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) is the calories you burn from all activities other than exercise over the course of the day.
Aerobic exercise is typically recommended because, at least at moderate intensities, it has the power to increase activity energy expenditure more then weight training due to the fact that weight training is intermittent and includes rest periods.
However, weight training substantially increases the other two factors, RMR and NEAT, so that you burn more total calories over the course of the day, every day.
Reason #1: Weight Training Increases Resting Metabolic Rate
Pretty much everyone knows that weight training has the power to build muscle.
This is essential because muscle mass alone contributes about 22 percent to RMR. The rest of RMR is accounted for by bone and connective and organ tissue.
Increasing muscle mass will significantly increase your metabolic rate. For example, when older adults did a 12-week weight training program they gained 1.4 kg of muscle and the average energy intake required for body weight maintenance increased by approximately 15 percent.
Most important, weight training can preserve muscle mass when people cut calories to lose fat. On low calorie diets that don’t include exercise, body fat is lost but muscle mass is also wasted leading to a radical drop in daily calorie burn.
For example, when women trained with weights while going on a diet in order to lose 25 pounds, they sustained fat free mass and increased total energy expenditure by 63 calories. A control group that dieted but didn’t exercise, lost 1 kg of fat free mass, lowering their total energy expenditure by a huge 259 calories a day.
Reason #2: Weight Training Increases Catecholamine Hormone Levels
Intense exercise increases baseline levels of the catecholamine hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones result in an increase in carbohydrate and fat burning, which raises resting metabolic rate. For example, following a 16-week heavy weight-training program, older men had a 36 percent increase in norepinephrine levels, which boosted RMR by 7.7 percent.
Reason #3: Weight Training Raises Metabolic Rate During Recovery
Strenuous exercise such as high-intensity weight training leads the body to burn energy at an accelerated rate during the 24 hours after exercise—called EPOC for “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.”
Basically, the body requires extra oxygen in order to perform recovery processes including restoring muscle energy stores and repairing damaged tissue.
For example, a high-intensity training program that had trainees lifting to failure and using short rest resulted in a 24 percent increase in metabolic rate a day after the workout. By the 22-hour mark after exercise, this group had an increase in calorie burn of 452 extra calories, from an average 1909 to 2362 resting energy expenditure/day.
This study also tested a traditional training protocol that used full rest periods of 3 minutes and found that metabolic rate was 5 percent higher than at baseline and trainees burned an extra 100 calories in the 22 hours post-workout. Other studies show comparable elevations in post-workout calorie burn with traditional weight training, ranging in a 5 to 9 percent increase in EPOC.
Reason #4: Weight Training Increases Fat Burning
Fat burning increases both immediately after a weight training workout and over the long-term.
As the body works to synthesize and store glycogen (the storage form of carbs in the muscle that the muscle uses for exercise) fat burning is elevated. In addition, post-workout elevations in hormones, such as the catecholamines and growth hormone also contribute to greater use of fat for fuel.
Together, these two factors were found to boost post-workout fat burning by 93 percent following moderate-intensity training. The contribution of fuel from fat at rest was also higher by 63 percent by the end of a 16-week study.
It’s noteworthy that weight training improves our body’s metabolic flexibility because studies show that overweight people who eat high-carb diets have very low rates of fat burning. Intense exercise is a catalyst to improve metabolic health and promote better body composition.
Reason #5: Weight Training Restores Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin resistance occurs when the cells in your body don’t readily bind to insulin, which means that blood sugar is not effectively used by the body.
When this happens, the body stores more of the food you eat as fat and energy levels will be reduced because your muscle cells aren’t getting the fuel they need. High insulin also causes inflammation, which leads to accelerated aging and disease.
Weight training can prevent all this misery and enable body fat loss by restoring the sensitivity of your cells to insulin. Anaerobic forms of exercise like weight training are one of the best ways to force your cells to become more sensitive to insulin, which allows the body to burn blood sugar for energy.
For example, a study of healthy men who did a 16-week weight training program found that they lost 1.6 percent body fat and improved insulin action by 22 percent. In addition, the men had a significantly lower insulin release during a blood sugar tolerance test, indicating large improvements in insulin sensitivity.
Ten Take Away Tips For Losing Fat With Weight Training:
#1: Your number one exercise priority for fat loss is weight training because it will preserve muscle mass and raise metabolic rate.
#2: A high protein intake of at least 1.6 g/kg of bodyweight also preserves muscle mass during fat loss and boosts metabolic rate.
#3: To increase your energy deficit from exercise, try interval training because it has similar lean mass preserving effects as weight training, whereas aerobic exercise tends to be catabolic leading to a loss of lean mass.
#4: Do weight training and conditioning workouts separately to ensure recovery and take full advantage of the EPOC boost you get from each one.
#5: Use higher volume, moderate-load (65 to 85 percent of the 1RM) protocols and multi-joint lifts for fat loss.
#6: Time your rest periods. Generally, shorter rest periods (60 seconds or less), are ideal for fat loss, however, you they need to be long enough so that you are able to maintain training intensity.
#7: Progressively increase your training loads—weights that overload the body will allow you to get stronger along with getting leaner.
#8: Complete workouts in 60 minutes because this will ensure stress hormones aren’t unnecessarily elevated, causing a catabolic environment.
#9: Training to technical failure has been shown to boost EPOC more than prescribed rep schemes in which you complete your set with energy left in the tank.
#10: Use extended lifting tempos in which you lower the weight on a 4-second count and raise it on a 1-second count because this will elevate EPOC more than standard tempos of 1-second up and down.