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Strength Training for Fat Loss, Exercise & Ways to Lose Fat

Strength Training for Fat Loss, Exercise & Ways to Lose Fat

Image of female with measuring tape around her waist

There are 1,260,000,000 answers when you do a google search for “how to lose weight.”


Weight loss is one of the most commonly-cited reasons for exercising.

While nutrition is the dominant factor for determining whether a person loses fat, strength training has become a popular complement to diet for achieving fat loss.

In this article, we look at why strength training is essential to losing weight and keeping the weight off. Also, we look at other habits that help burn fat and help with fat loss maintenance. If these topics appeal to you, scroll down!

Before and after image of a person

Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss

Despite exercise’s ability to enhance our happiness, physical health, cognition, and many other important elements, “physical appearance” remains a primary motivator for people who exercise (Zervou et al., 2017).

Physical appearance, from a fitness perspective, is mainly driven by two factors: the amounts of muscle and fat that a person has. A person seeking an enhanced physical appearance typically wants more muscle and less fat.

However, the term “weight loss” is typically used to identify a person’s goal. Weight loss doesn’t distinguish between what type of tissue the person loses. It can be achieved by losing fat and muscle.

Diet changes are the key to losing fat, but when exercise is not included weight loss is the result. Weight loss from dieting alone includes about 20-30% of the lost weight being lean tissue, with most of that being muscle (Cava, Yeat, & Mittendorfer, 2017).

In fact, in some cases, lean tissue loss can make up over 35% of weight loss (Cava et al., 2017)!

What we really want is fat loss. We want to lose fat while maintaining or building muscle, which will also protect us from a large decrease in metabolism and a likelihood of regaining the weight.

How do we avoid weight loss and achieve fat loss? Let’s keep going…

Before and After image of a TPW member
Debbie Nicholls, 60, lost 90 pounds in her first 2 years at The Perfect Workout.

Exercise for Fat Loss

Traditionally, cardio has been the go-to choice for achieving weight loss. This is based on activities such as jogging, cycling, and group exercise classes burning more calories during the activity. Unfortunately, these activities aren’t very efficient for achieving fat loss.

A few studies with participants who were categorized (by body mass index) as “obese” illustrate this:

  • Study 1. Participants in this study performed 2-3 hours per week of walking or jogging (Johnson et al., 2007). After eight months of consistent exercise, the most successful group lost two pounds!
  • Study 2. Women performed an average of nearly four hours of cycling, treadmill walking, and other activities per week (Foster-Schubert et al., 2012). At the end of 12 months, the women lost only 4.5 pounds.

Dozens of hours of cardio over months led to small weight losses for obese individuals. Using cardio as a weight loss tool is similar to using a spoon to dig a large hole. There are better options.

When combining cardio with calorie restriction, more weight loss is achieved, but the problem becomes that what people achieve is weight loss. People lose fat and muscle.

For example, a half-year study of people who dieted and jogged three times per week led to a loss of 2-4 lbs. of lean body mass (Hunter et al., 2008).

Strength training provides a better alternative for a complement to diet for achieving weight loss. When strength training during calorie restriction, people can maintain or even gain muscle while losing fat (Cava, Yeat, & Mittendorfer et al., 2017; Hunter et al., 2008).

Strength training is more effective for minimizing the decrease in metabolism that occurs during weight loss, which makes regaining fat less likely (Hunter et al., 2008).

Strength training also requires a much smaller time commitment, compared to the cardio routines discussed in the studies above.

A key to using strength training for fat loss is the length of rest between exercises. When people move quickly between exercises, weight training produces a noticeable increase in metabolism for anywhere from 14 hours to three days after the workout (Greer et al., 2021; Heden et al., 2011). Specifically, resting 30 seconds or less between exercises is connected with short-term metabolic spikes and better overall fat loss outcomes (Waller, Miller, & Hannon, 2011).

Image of different kinds of protein

Other Things That Help With Fat Loss

Calorie restriction is the driver of fat loss. Strength training preserves muscle and metabolism while fat is lost. A few other approaches help complement these efforts, providing a better and more sustainable outcome:

High-protein diet

While losing fat, eating a high-protein diet maintains muscle mass (Cava, Yeat, & Mittendorfer, 2017). Recommendations vary, ranging from recommending around 0.7-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day during calorie restriction.

Reducing sitting time

Sitting for many hours leads to a reduction in activity of lipoprotein lipase (LPL), which helps with the metabolism of fat (Healy et al., 2008). While it’s not concretely proven at this time, sitting fewer hours, or having more interruptions to sitting marathons, is connected with better outcomes related to fat loss (Healy et al., 2008).


Some supplements show a small weight loss benefit. Consuming at least 1.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids can enhance fat loss, specifically in the midsection (Thorsdottir et al., 2007). Adding fiber, anywhere from 5-25 grams per day, can lead to an additional 3-6 lbs. lost (Anderson et al., 2009).

Image of a trainer coaching a member during ab exercises

Key Takeaways

While “weight loss” is the common verbiage, we actually want fat loss. Fat loss means we are losing what we don’t want (excess body fat) while keeping what we do want (muscle mass).

  • Restricting calories is the most effective method for achieving fat loss, but we shouldn’t rely on that alone.
  • When it comes to exercise, cardio is a very inefficient way to lose fat and doesn’t prevent the loss of muscle.
  • Strength training is a much more efficient complement and can help maintain or build muscle while fat is lost. The most important part of weight training to lose fat might be to hustle between exercises, which aids the post-workout increase in metabolism.
  • A few other practices can help with maximizing fat loss while maintaining muscle: eating a high-protein diet, taking omega-3 and/or fiber supplements, and reducing uninterrupted sitting time.

However, the key to effective fat loss is to restrict calories while regularly strength training.

To learn more about working with a Trainer at The Perfect Workout, start by finding a studio near you today.

  • Anderson, J. W., Baird, P., Davis, R. H., Ferreri, S., Knudtson, M., Koraym, A., … & Williams, C. L. (2009). Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutrition Reviews, 67(4), 188-205.
  • Cava, E., Yeat, N.C., & Mittendorfer, B. (2017). Preserving healthy muscle during weight loss. Advances in Nutrition, 8(30), 511-519.
  • Foster‐Schubert, K. E., Alfano, C. M., Duggan, C. R., Xiao, L., Campbell, K. L., Kong, A., … & McTiernan, A. (2012). Effect of diet and exercise, alone or combined, on weight and body composition in overweight‐to‐obese postmenopausal women. Obesity, 20(8), 1628-1638.
  • Greer, B. K., O’Brien, J., Hornbuckle, L. M., & Panton, L. B. (2021). EPOC Comparison between resistance training and high-intensity interval training in aerobically fit women. International Journal of Exercise Science, 14(2), 1027.
  • Healy, G. N., Dunstan, D. W., Salmon, J., Cerin, E., Shaw, J. E., Zimmet, P. Z., & Owen, N. (2008). Breaks in sedentary time: beneficial associations with metabolic risk. Diabetes Care, 31(4), 661-666.
  • Heden, T., Lox, C., Rose, P., Reid, S., & Kik, E.P. (2011). One-set resistance training elevates energy expenditure for 72 h similar to three sets. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 111(3), 477-484.
  • Johnson, J. L., Slentz, C. A., Houmard, J. A., Samsa, G. P., Duscha, B. D., Aiken, L. B., … & Kraus, W. E. (2007). Exercise training amount and intensity effects on metabolic syndrome (from Studies of a Targeted Risk Reduction Intervention through Defined Exercise). The American Journal of Cardiology, 100(12), 1759-1766.
  • Thorsdottir, I., Tomasson, H., Gunnarsdottir, I., Gisladottir, E., Kiely, M., Parra, M. D., … & Martinez, J. A. (2007). Randomized trial of weight-loss-diets for young adults varying in fish and fish oil content. International Journal of Obesity, 31(10), 1560-1566.
  • Waller, M., Miller, J., & Hannon, J. (2011). Resistance circuit training: Its application for the adult population. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 33(1), 16-22.
  • Zervou, F., Stavrou, N. A., Koehn, S., Zounhia, K., & Psychountaki, M. (2017). Motives for exercise participation: The role of individual and psychological characteristics. Cogent Psychology, 4(1), 1345141.