Strength training is important if you’re trying to lose weight. Many people focus too much on cardio when trying to lose body fat but that approach is short-sighted. You want to lose body fat, not metabolically-active muscle tissue. Why is strength training so important? Having a greater proportion of muscle to fat subtly boosts your metabolic rate. Muscle is definitely your friend when you’re trying to shed body fat. Ultimately you need a fitness program that balances cardio with strength training. Here are some tips for strength training when you’re trying to lose body fat.
Focus on Compound Strength Exercises
Compound strength exercises are ones that target more than one muscle group at a time. They include such exercises as squats, pull-ups, bent-over rows, bench press and deadlifts. The more muscle groups you use during a strength training exercise, the more calories you’ll burn. Plus, using more muscle groups has a greater metabolic effect. That means there’s greater activation of fat-burning hormones like growth hormone, testosterone and catecholamines.
Isolation exercises that work only one muscle group are still important for shaping muscles and building symmetry but they burn fewer calories and have less of a metabolic effect relative to compound exercise. If your goal is weight loss, focus on strength exercises that use more than one muscle group at a time. Make your strength moves compound and dynamic. When doing lunges, combine them with bicep curls. With squats, do an overhead press. Use as many muscle groups as possible. This will burn more fat.
Work Large Muscle Groups
You burn more calories when you target the larger muscle groups in your lower body rather than your arms and shoulders. A compound movement like the squat targets large lower body muscle groups and burns significantly more calories than upper body isolation exercises like biceps curls or triceps kickbacks. Don’t neglect your upper body but focus more on compound, lower body exercises to increase the calorie burn and activate fat-burning hormones.
Some people who are intent on losing weight are afraid to lift heavy because they think it will make them bigger. It’s hard for females to build enough muscle mass to look bulky. Lifting heavy, especially using your lower body, turns on fat-burning hormones and revs up your metabolism. On the other hand, lifting light weights will have little impact on your metabolism or the shape of your muscles. The most it will do is build muscle endurance. You can suck up a lot of time lifting light weights and get very little return. Go for the challenging weights and stop worrying about getting bulky.
Make a Portion of Your Cardio High Intensity
Just as lifting heavy weight and targeting multiple muscle groups helps you burn more fat so will high-intensity cardio. Short periods of high-intensity cardio forces your body to work harder during and after a workout. After your workout is over, there’s an after-burn effect that makes your body burn more energy for hours afterwards. You don’t get that when you do cardio at a comfortable pace. Losing fat is all about breaking out of your comfort zone. Think high-intensity interval training when you’re trying to lose body fat. You’ll accomplish more in less time.
One or two days a week, do circuit strength training. With circuit training you do strength training sets with little or no rest between exercises. Moving quickly from exercise to exercise without rest burns more calories and maximizes the amount of volume you can do during a single training session. That means it’s a timesaver too. It’s the ultimate in cross-training since you’re building strength while keeping your heart rate up since you’re not stopping to rest. Research shows circuit training causes greater release of growth hormone. That helps mobilize fat. Plus, circuit training has cardiovascular conditioning benefits as well.
The Bottom Line?
Strength training should be a part of your fitness program even if your primary goal is to lose body fat. Make sure you’re not putting strength training on the back burner to focus on cardio.
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. (2011) Sept. 25(4). 2519-2527.
IDEA Fitness. “New Insights into Circuit Training”