Why Strength Training is Necessary For Fat Loss
There are over 1,260,000,000 Google search results 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 is an ideal 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, keep reading!
Jump to Topic:
Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss
Strength Training Exercises for Fat Loss
Diet & Other Things That Help With Fat Loss
Why IS Strength Training Necessary For Fat Loss?
You Lose Fat & Preserve Muscle
If weight loss is your goal, you don’t actually want to just lose weight… you want to lose fat and only fat.
A goal of “weight loss” doesn’t distinguish between what type of tissue the person loses. Weight loss can include losing both 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.
In fact, in some cases, lean tissue loss can make up over 35% of weight loss!
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…
You Burn More Calories
Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue. In other words, your body burns more calories to maintain muscle mass than it does to maintain fat mass.
When you engage in strength training, you are essentially tearing and damaging your muscle fibers. Your body then responds to this demand by rebuilding the muscle fibers, and in the process, increasing muscle mass.
So, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you will burn, even at rest.
Improves Insulin Sensitivity.
Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. When you have poor insulin sensitivity, your body has a harder time regulating blood sugar, which can lead to weight gain and increased fat storage.
One way to improve insulin sensitivity is through strength training. Strength training helps build muscle mass, which is important for glucose uptake and utilization. Muscle tissue is more insulin-sensitive than fat tissue, meaning that it requires less insulin to transport glucose into muscle cells.
By increasing muscle mass through strength training, your body becomes more efficient at using insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.
Strength Training Exercises For 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. 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. 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.
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.
Sample Workout Plan
The best exercises for fat loss are compound movements, which just means the use of multiple muscle groups and joints in a single movement or exercise.
We can’t help but state that, the best exercises should also be:
- Safe: injury and pain-free
- Efficient: can be achieved promptly, ideally 20 minutes, twice a week
- Effective: achieve temporary muscle failure and produce measurable results
- Sustainable: can be done for a lifetime
Several specific strength training exercises are beneficial for fat loss, but we suggest focusing on a push and pull exercise for both the lower and upper body.
Leg Press or Barbell Squat (lower body push)
Leg Curl or Deadlift (lower body pull)
Chest Press Machine or Barbell Chest Press (upper body push)
Lat Pulldown or Pull ups (upper body pull)
TIP: A key to using strength training for fat loss is the length of rest periods 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. Specifically, resting 30 seconds or less between exercises is connected with short-term metabolic spikes and better overall fat loss outcomes.
Diet For Strength Training And Fat Loss (& Other Tools!)
Calorie restriction is the ultimate 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:
While losing fat, eating a high-protein diet maintains muscle mass. Recommendations vary, ranging from recommending around 0.7-1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day during calorie restriction.
Reduce Sitting Time
Sitting for many hours leads to a reduction in activity of lipoprotein lipase (LPL), which helps with the metabolism of fat. 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.
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. Adding fiber, anywhere from 5-25 grams per day, can lead to an additional 3-6 lbs. lost.
Increase Your NEAT
NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, which refers to the energy expenditure that occurs during non-exercise activities such as walking, standing, fidgeting, and other daily activities. NEAT can play a role in weight loss by increasing your overall energy expenditure and helping you create a calorie deficit, which is necessary for fat loss.
Incorporating more NEAT into your daily routine can be an effective way to increase your daily calorie burn without having to engage in structured exercise. This can be achieved by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further away from your destination and walking, standing while working, and other simple changes to increase your movement throughout the day.
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 resistance 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, reducing uninterrupted sitting time, and increasing your non-exercise related activities.
However, the key to effective fat loss is to restrict calories while regularly strength training.
To learn more about applying these strategies to your fitness goals, start by finding a studio near you today.
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