So, you want to lose weight?
To start out, let’s make an important clarification:
- Weight Loss: Doesn’t specify where weight is coming from. Weight can be lost from all sources including muscle, fat, water, limb amputation, organ removal, etc.
- Fat Loss: Specifically, losing body fat, preferably while maintaining muscle mass and all limbs.
You want to lose fat, but how?
Option A: Spend countless hours of your week on a cardio machine
A 2011 study found that, on average, it takes 86 hours of (steady state) aerobic exercise to lose 1 kilogram (about 2.2 pounds). If your goal is to lose 8 pounds (about 3.5 kilograms) that is 301 hours of cardio, or 3 hours and 20 minutes of cardio every day for the next 90 days. No thanks!
Option B: Embark on a strength training program. This is my choice. I’ll tell you why!
Reason 1: You’ll burn more calories doing nothing
Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of Calories the body burns at rest on a daily basis, and it is directly dependent on the amount of lean body mass (i.e. muscle mass) one has.
Lean body mass: mass of the body not including fat.
The more muscle one has, the higher his or her lean body mass, the higher his or her BMR. Research estimates that each pound of muscle burns an extra 30-35 daily Calories. If a person gains 5 pounds of muscle, he or she will be burning an additional 150 Calories every day and losing an additional pound of fat every 3 weeks or so.
Reason 2: Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC)
After periods of intense exercise, one’s metabolism can remain elevated for several hours after training. Oxygen is the currency of the body during exercise. During periods of intense, anaerobic exercise, the body depletes its oxygen reserve and goes into oxygen debt. After finishing the training session, the body must continue working to pay back this debt and does so by taking in more oxygen over a period of time. The more oxygen debt, the longer the body takes to repay it.
Lifting weight can have a much greater effect on EPOC than other types of exercise. With enough intensity, this EPOC can last more than 38 hours after a workout.
For those of you who doubt the intensity of weight lifting, I suggest wearing a heart rate monitor during your heavy deadlift or squat sets. My heart rate gets as high as 170 beats per minute on those.
Reason 3: Strength Training Decreases Hunger Hormone
Ghrelin is called the “hunger hormone” because as its level rises, one feels hungrier and as its levels decrease in the body, one feels full and satiated. A recent study found ghrelin levels fell 13 to 21 percent after an intense strength training workout.
Reason 4: Muscle is required to look “toned”
Many desiring fat loss envision having a “toned” physique. A healthy diet and a lot of cardio can get you fat loss but not the “toned” look you desire. Muscle is required for this, and it doesn’t just show up- it takes months of work!
Not only is strength training important for building muscle, but it’s also crucial for maintaining muscle. Many fat loss strategies (cardio, eating less, exercising more) put the body into a catabolic state where it is breaking down tissue for energy. Unfortunately, these tissues include muscle tissue that the body doesn’t think it needs (because it isn’t being used on a regular basis). Strength training promotes anabolic processes in the body where muscle is built (or repaired), which helps in maintaining the muscle one already has.
Too often (especially with drastic weight loss strategies) a person will lose a lot of muscle in addition to fat from his or her fat loss efforts. The result is a skinny-fat appearance and lowered resting metabolism (remember Reason 1? Your BMR is dependent on lean body mass) making it more difficult to A) continue losing weight (because of slowed metabolism) and B) keep the weight off (because the body’s Caloric maintenance level is so low).
How to lift weights to lose weight:
- Prioritize exercises that use many muscle groups or large muscle groups
Row Variations (Working the upper back, shoulders, and biceps)
Chest Press Variations (Working the chest, shoulders, and triceps)
Squat Variations (Working glutes, hamstrings, quads, core)
Deadlift Variations (Working the legs, glutes, core, back)
- Lift Heavy Weight
If you are a new to weight lifting, I suggest sticking in with “easy to medium” realm as far as weights go, for the first 2-3 weeks as you learn technique and your body adapts.
Anyone else should lift weights that are in the “medium to hard” difficulty (as long as you can maintain good lifting technique). For example, if you are performing 3 sets of 10 reps of an exercise, your last 1 or 2 reps of sets 2 and 3 should be challenging. If you get to rep 10 and feel like you could have done 5 more reps, increase the weight on the next set.
- Vary your repetition ranges
If you are new to weight lifting, stay in the 8-12 rep range to learn proper form.
More experienced lifters can play with other rep ranges. I find myself starting workouts performing 4-rep sets of an exercise and finishing a workout with a couple sets of 12-20 reps.
Training Guidelines for Beginners by Sohee Lee
Eat, Lift, and Condition to Lose Fat and Maintain Muscle by Bret Contreras
- Friedenreich CM, et al. Adiposity changes after a 1-year aerobic exercise intervention among postmenopausal women: a randomized controlled trial. Int J Obes (Lond). 2011;35:427-435