When it comes to losing weight, most people strongly believe that cardio is the best and even the only way to go. And while it’s true that cardio can indeed help you lose fat, it’s definitely not the only way and may not even be the best way either.
Cardio vs Strength Training
The problem with using cardio for fat loss is it only really works while you are doing it. Your metabolic rate increases while you exercise but once you stop, your metabolism returns to normal so you’ll only really burn extra calories and lose weight while you exercise.
Assuming you exercise for around an hour a day, four days a week, this will equate to around 2,400 calories which equates to not even a pound of fat. In fact, if you want to run off a pound of fat in a week, you’ll actually need to run about 35 miles and any fat loss will only happen if you have also reduced your calorific intake down to maintenance level so your all that exercise creates a sufficient calorific deficit. An insufficient deficit means that all that running will only result in slowing your weight gain rather than creating fat loss. Talk about a road to nowhere!
Then, what happens on the days when you don’t exercise? If you don’t eat even less on those days to make up for the fact you are not exercising, there will be a even less of a calorie deficit which, as you know, will result in no weight loss. Basically, if you rely on nothing but cardio for weight control, you are all-but doomed to doing it every day.
How Strength Training Helps Weight Loss
Muscle is metabolically active. That means that it needs energy to sustain it. One kilogram of muscles (around 2.2-lbs) will increase your daily calorific expenditure by approximately 80 calories so if you gain three kilos, you’ll increase your daily calorific expenditure by around 240 calories which is roughly equivalent to running two-and-a-half miles.
And unlike cardio, where you only burn extra energy while you are working out, extra muscle burns calories 24/7 – even when you are sleeping.
You may, however, notice your bodyweight increases or stays the same rather than decreases during your diet which may worry some people. All that’s happening is you are losing fat AND gaining a little muscle so although your body fat percentage is moving in the right direction, this won’t always be reflected on your bathroom scales. If your waist measurement is decreasing but your scale weight is staying the same you are definitely losing fat and gaining muscle.
The benefit of strength training is not just limited to increasing your resting metabolic rate either – there are more benefits to be had from gaining a little bit of muscle.
Prevents Loss of Muscle during Weight Loss
When you go on a diet, you supply your body with fewer calories than it needs so it’s forced to use your fat to make up the energy shortfall. But, and as a protective mechanism, your body slows your metabolic rate to a crawl and actually shucks some muscle to ensure the little food you are eating and your valuable fat reserves last as long as possible. You see; your body doesn’t know you are voluntarily eating less – it makes the incorrect assumption that you are neck-deep in a famine.
This loss of muscle will make your fat stores last longer. This metabolic slow down will put a major dent in your daily calorie expenditure and subsequently result in a painfully slow rate of fat loss. This phenomenon is commonly called the starvation response. The last thing you want when dieting is muscle loss and chronic cardio actually promotes additional muscle loss.
Luckily, strength training prevents muscle loss during a diet. Strength training while dieting will a) preserve your muscles mass which will b) prevent a metabolic slow down.1
Also, strength training significantly increases your insulin sensitivity which means dietary carbohydrate and protein are much more likely to be shunted into your muscles and liver and much less likely to be converted into fat. Increased insulin sensitivity means lowered blood glucose and that’s another essential factor for promoting fat burning.
Strength training is primarily anaerobic which means that lots of lactic acid is produced. Lactic acid triggers an interesting condition called EPOC which stands for Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption. In simple terms, lactic acid has to be cleared and that requires energy and oxygen. Your metabolism gets revved to the max during the hours that follow a strength training workout so not only do you burn extra calories while pumping iron, you also burn more in the hours and even days afterward. It’s like you get two workouts for the price of one – what a bargain!
Does lifting weights make you bulky?
And don’t worry about getting “too muscular” because you add a couple of kilos of muscle to your frame. It takes a huge amount of effort and energy to “bulk up” and also a very specific body type and diet so it’s very unlikely you’ll ever get “too big” by accident. Muscle is dense so even a couple of kilos don’t actually take up much space on your body.
How to Increase Weight Loss
There are also a number of in-workout tricks you can use to further bump up your calorific expenditure while you exercise…
Half your rest with supersets
Supersets involve doing two exercises back to back e.g. push-ups followed by squats. One exercise provides a rest for the other but your heart rate remains elevated. It also means you have more time to work out as your rest periods are essentially halved. More exercise equals more calories burnt which in turn equals greater fat loss.
Use big exercises
The more muscles involved in an exercise, the more calorifically expensive it will be. Forget leg extensions and triceps kickbacks; instead go for squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, shoulder presses and other compound movements. If you do isolation exercises, save them until the very end of your workout.
Stand up for fat loss
Many exercises can be performed while seated including shoulder presses, biceps curls and rows but if you are serious about burning more calories, stand up whenever you can. Standing exercises will always more than their seated equivalent because your legs and core muscles have to work whereas in seated exercises, a bench supports your weight. Take this a step further by not sitting down between sets.
Supersets are great but for an extra fat burning effect, try performing your workout as a circuit instead. Start at the top of your workout and work your way down moving from one exercise to the next without resting. Pause for a moment when you reach the end and then start over from the top. Use light to moderate weights and moderate to high repetitions for maximum benefit.
Cardio between sets
If your gym is too busy for circuit training try doing cardio between sets of your strength exercises. Jump rope or hop on an exercise bike between sets of strength training and you’ll make much better use of your rest time and also cram a cardio workout into your strength workout without actually having to train for any longer. The result – double the calorie burn.
Try PHA training
Short for Peripheral Heart Action training, this is a special circuit where upper and lower body exercise are alternated to really ramp up your heart rate, breathing rate and metabolic rate and leave you fit, strong and lean. Here is an example workout for you to try so you can experience the power of PHA yourself:
- Five-minutes rowing
- Bench dips
- Bent over rows
- Five-minutes treadmill
- Standing dumbbell shoulder press
- Lat pull downs
- Five- minutes stationary bike
Rest a moment and start over from the top.
So, to recap, strength training will…
- Increase your metabolic rate
- Preserve muscle while you diet
- Increase insulin sensitivity
- Trigger EPOC
- Provide a great fat-burning workout
Strength training is the missing ingredient in many people’s fat loss quest. Don’t be a dumbbell and disregard strength training, it’s more valuable than many people realize and could well be the difference between fat loss success and dieting hard and not making any progress at all.