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Lifting Weights And Weight Loss: Does Resistance Trump Cardio?

When we think about losing weight, we typically steer ourselves towards cardio, in particular steady state cardio such as long-distance running or cycling. Whilst this has many health benefits, it’s not hugely effective at maximising fat loss.

So could switching things up a bit and hitting the weights for a session of resistance training be the answer to stripping away fat and transforming your body? Let’s explore the relationship between lifting weights and weight loss, and whether you’re missing a trick by leaving it out of your fat loss plans.

The Benefit Of Weight Training On Fat Loss

Person sitting cross legged with health drink in hand and small dumbbells

Although weight training, also known as resistance or strength training, doesn’t typically burn as many calories as a cardio workout, it offers a host of benefits that could help you burn more fat over the longer-term, and keep it off!

Muscle actually helps to raise out bodies’ metabolism which helps to burn more calories and more fat. Generally speaking, a pound of muscle burns between 10 to 30 calories a day while a pound of fat burns between 5 and 10 pounds. So the more muscle we have, the greater out bodies’ ability to burn fat.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology observed people who followed a resistance training programme. The subjects gained more muscle, got stronger (by around 36%) and burnt body fat, reducing it by around 2Kg on average, despite their weight not changing. This meant they lost body fat but increased their muscle mass, and because muscle is active tissue they increased their resting energy expenditure (calories burned at rest) by 6.8% as well. So they not only got lean but their more toned, streamlined bodies then helped them maintain their new body composition and leanness.

How To Lift For Fat Loss

Follow these six rules to get the most out of your weight training and torch that excess body fat:

1. Go full body

When fat loss is your main goal, you should try to aim for full-body workouts. Just like super sets and circuits, exercising multiple body muscles at once, and keeping rest periods short, will keep your heart rate high and will burn more calories both in the gym and afterwards during your body’s recovery process where you’ll continue to burn fat post-workout.

2. Multi-moves are best

Multi-move sets, or super sets, consist of one move followed by another with little to no rest in between and can target the same muscle group or multiple muscle groups at once. Doing super sets produces greater increases in heart rate and fatigue which is key if you want your body to start tapping into your fat stores.

3. Include compound lifts

Lifts that involve multiple muscle groups and cause movement at two joints – such as shoulder and elbows (overhead press) or hips and knees (squats) – should make up the majority of your workout.

The more muscles you involve in your lift the more weight you can shift – and the more weight you’re lifting the harder your muscles have to work. If your muscles are working hard then so are your heart and lungs and subsequently the more calories you will end up burning as your body ramps up your metabolism to start repairing the damage done to your muscles and repay the oxygen debt from your workout.

Of course isolation exercises such as bicep curls and leg extensions should still be included, but add these in towards the end of your workout once you’ve completed all the heavy lifting!

4. Reduce the weight

Try not to think of this being counter-intuitive, instead think of it as another way to increase fat burning. It’s important to still lift heavy to make your muscles work hard, but by reducing the resistance you can make the weight more manageable and allow you to focus on using your muscles to lift and lower with greater intensity. The more quality lifting you can achieve the greater the result. Quality over quantity every time!

5. Keep rest to a minimum

If you want to maximise the amount of fat you burn during your workout then try to keep your rest periods as short as possible. By giving yourself less time to recover in-between sets you’ll keep your heart rate high and your muscles working harder for longer.

If you’re doing multiple moves or super sets then try to avoid pausing in-between each individual move and keep your rest periods until after completing the full set.

6. Go for shorter sessions in the gym

People tend to think that the longer the workout, the more fat they will burn. It’s actually not so much about the amount of hours you put in but the intensity whilst you’re there. If you’re putting maximum effort into your weight training then you won’t be able to last more than around 45 to 60 minutes before you get completely fatigued.

Try to make every minute count when you’re there to keep your heart, lungs, and of course your muscles working to their full capacity. Get in, do your thing, and get out again!

Lifting Weights And Weight Loss – The Way Forward?

Man seated with a pair of black iron dumbbells

Certainly if you want to maximise the amount of fat you burn over the long-term then strength training should be high on your agenda. Not only will you increase your body’s resting energy expenditure due to increased muscle mass – equalling more calories burned over the course of the day – you’ll also help to tone and sculpt your body in ways that cardio won’t.

But don’t discount cardio completely. As mentioned there are many benefits to going for a run, getting on the bike or dipping into the pool for a swim, but by introducing weights into your routine you’ll maximise your body’s ability to burn fat and finally say goodbye to those pesky love handles!

What’s your take on weight training for fat loss? Do you incorporate weight lifting into your exercise routine or are you a cardio fan only? Comment underneath and let me know!

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