When you’re trying to lose weight, weight training is your ally! Too many people believe they should do long cardio sessions for weight loss, but if your goal is to shed pounds and have a healthier body composition, you need weight training too. The goal, of course, is not just to see the number on the scale drop but to shed body fat. The number you see on the scale is a sum of the weight of your stored body fat, muscle, organs, and the fluids that circulate in your body. Therefore, seeing the number on the scale drop doesn’t always mean you’ve lost body fat. Weight training helps you lose the extra body fat while keeping and even increasing lean muscle. In addition, having more muscle modestly boosts your resting metabolic rate.
Another reason weight training is helpful your goal is fat loss is it elicits more of an afterburn than moderate-intensity exercise. When you lift heavy weights, your muscles tap into anaerobic pathways to make ATP to fuel muscle contractions. Lactate builds up and your muscles use that as an alternative fuel source, and this creates an oxygen debt. To repay the oxygen debt, your body has to work harder. So, once the work is over, you breathe harder and your body burns more calories for up to 24 hours afterward. High-intensity interval training also creates an oxygen debt, but moderate-intensity cardio does not, as your muscles use mostly aerobic pathways for energy and that doesn’t create an oxygen debt.
Now that you know you should weight train if you’re trying to lose weight and body fat, what are the best ways to maximize fat loss?
Focus on Compound Exercises
Compound exercises are the biggest calorie burners in your weight training arsenal. Focus on movements that work more than one muscle group at the same time and involve the movement of more than one joint. You get extra points for exercises that emphasize the larger muscles in the lower body. Think deadlifts and squats over leg extensions and leg curls. The more muscles you work at the same time, the better. That’s what makes deadlifts such an effective exercise for shedding body fat. You’re working multiple muscles when you do this multi-joint exercise.
What about the upper body? Push-ups are a compound exercise that hits the muscles in the upper body. When working smaller muscles, like your biceps or triceps, turn it into an integrated exercise. For example, combine a biceps curl with a squat to work more muscle groups.
Shorten the Rest Periods Between Sets
When powerlifters want to build brute strength, they take long rest periods between sets, as long as five minutes. Taking a longer hiatus helps their muscles recover enough to maximize their lift on the next set. But if your goal is to lose body fat, a shorter rest period is your best bet. Keeping rest periods short elevates your heart rate more and burns more calories. So, don’t stand around between sets. Keep moving!
Do Reciprocal Supersets
It’s helpful when you have a study that shows how you can burn more calories when you weight train. One such study, published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, shows that you burn more calories when you include reciprocal supersets in your routine. How can you do this? Do an exercise that works one muscle group. Then, without resting, launch into an exercise that works the opposing muscle group. The lack of rest between exercises powers up the afterburn so you burn more calories after your training session is over.
Another benefit of reciprocal supersets is they allow you to lift a little heavier. That’s because you work one muscle group and then switch to the opposing one. While one is working, the other rests and recovers. Examples of reciprocal supersets include:
- Chest presses-Back rows
- Biceps curls-Triceps extensions
- Shoulder presses-Pulldowns
Take advantage of the additional afterburn this approach offers.
High reps or Low reps
High repetitions are best for building muscle endurance while low reps, using a heavy weight, optimizes strength. For losing body fat, the best bet is to lift somewhere in between, in the hypertrophy zone. To hypertrophy muscles, research suggests that using a weight around 60 to 80% of one-rep max is best. That would be a weight that allows you to complete 8 to 10 reps before your muscles fatigue. Lifting in this range is optimal for muscle gains and gaining muscle will improve your body composition and leave you with more metabolically active muscle tissue.
Integrate Cardio into Your Strength Training
Doing hours of cardio isn’t the best approach for sustained fat loss since it won’t improve your body composition as much as weight training. However, keeping your heart rate up during a strength training workout will boost the number of calories you burn. Rather than standing around between weight-training sets, do light to moderate dynamic exercise, like jumping jacks, butt kicks, or high knees. Not only will you burn more calories, but you’ll also get more cardiovascular benefits.
The Bottom Line
You should be weight training if you’re trying to lose weight. The goal is to lose body fat and hang on to muscle and bone. Weight training can help you do that. Now you know how to burn more calories and body fat as you build muscle and get stronger. Experts point out that 80% of weight loss is nutrition. The other 20% is exercise. Make sure you’re getting the 80% right. Clean out the fridge and cabinets and remove the junk food! Over-processed fare will do nothing for your health or your waistline. Enjoy whole, nutrient-dense foods and use them to fuel your training. Don’t forget about how important managing stress and getting enough sleep is too. It all matters!
- com. “Reciprocal Superset Training Burns More Calories”
- ‘New Insights into Circuit Training’ Len Kraviz, Ph.D.
- Gentil P, Soares S, Bottaro M. Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy. Asian J Sports Med. 2015;6(2):e24057. doi:10.5812/asjsm.24057.
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