You probably think of cardio as being the best way to burn more calories, a catabolic activity, and weight training as being anabolic, a way to boost strength and muscle size. While weight train primarily builds muscle, training your body against resistance is an investment in fat burning longer term. Having a higher percentage of muscle tissue on your frame subtly boosts your resting metabolic rate. Yet, you can actually enhance the number of calories you burn during weight training by making some tweaks to your workout. Who doesn’t like a workout that accomplishes more than one goal – strength building and fat burning? Here are six, simple ways to do that.
Do More Compound Movements
The more muscle groups you work, the greater the calorie burn. Compound exercises, like squats, deadlifts, push-ups, bent-over rows, and bench press work multiple muscles groups simultaneously. The more muscles that contract at the same time, the more energy you expend. In contrast, isolation exercises, like triceps kickbacks, leg extensions, and biceps curls, only entail movement of a single joint and work one primary muscle group. Therefore, the calories you burn is reduced. Compound exercises are also better for building functional strength and are more time expedient since you’re working more than one muscle group with one exercise. So, if you want more calorie expenditure from strength training, choose more compound exercises.
Focus on Large Muscle Groups
Large muscle groups require more energy to contract. Therefore, you’ll burn more calories when you work the large muscles groups in your back and lower body as opposed to smaller muscles, like your biceps and triceps. You also don’t burn many calories when you do isolated movements for your abs, like crunches. Since we know large muscle groups and compound movements are the biggest calorie burners, weight training moves that burn the most calories are deadlifts and squats since you’re working multiple muscle groups and large muscles as well. Make sure you’re including these exercises in your routine along with their variations.
If you want to build strength while burning more calories, lift heavy. When you work with heavy weights, 80% of your one-rep max or higher, you tap into anaerobic energy pathways and build up lactate in the muscles you’re working. Lactate accumulation triggers more of an EPOC response, also known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. This phenomenon is also called the afterburn and it’s the darling of people who want to burn more fat. Although the extent of the afterburn may be a bit overstated, it’s still additional energy expenditure. Take advantage of it?
Why does lifting heavy create more of an afterburn? When you tap into anaerobic pathways, your body has to expend more energy to recover. You create an oxygen deficit and exhausted your carb stores. Now, your body has to burn more calories and fat to recover. The same happens when you sprint or do high-intensity interval training where you exert intense effort for a short period of time. You’ll get very little of an EPOC effect if you use light weights. Yes, you may burn a few more calories if you use light weights and do lots of repetitions but the calorie burn will stop once your workout is over.
Limit the Time You Rest Between Sets
If your primary goal isn’t to build strength and you just want to get fitter and burn calories while you’re doing it, a circuit approach to training is an option. With this method, you use lighter weights but limit the rest period between each set so that your heart rate stays up throughout the workout. Studies show that circuit training with little or no rest between sets keeps the heart rate up enough to offer cardiovascular benefits as well, although not to the same degree as running or doing a high-intensity interval workout. Whether you do a workout circuit style with little rest between sets or lift heavy with longer rest periods will depend upon your goals. Both approaches burn more calories than using moderate weights and taking long breaks between sets.
Include Light Cardio Between Strength-Training Exercises
You can significantly boost the calorie burn when you train by doing short, cardio intervals between strength-training sets. For example, perform a set of bent-over rows and then do 30 seconds of jump rope before moving to the next exercise. Keep in mind that doing aerobic activity, like jumping rope, one that uses the muscles in your lower body may fatigue your legs and reduce the amount of weight you can use on exercises like squats. If building strength is your primary goal, this may not be the best approach.
Increase the Tempo To Burn More Calories
Tempo refers to how quickly you move the weight when you do a set. The standard tempo is usually two seconds for the concentric phase and two seconds for the eccentric phase, but you can vary the tempo based on your goals. A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise showed that you can burn more calories by increasing the tempo and make the move more explosive.
In the study, the participants used a tempo of two seconds for the eccentric phase and as explosive as possible for the concentric phase when doing squats. By changing the tempo, to make the move more explosive, the participants burned calories 11.2% faster and experienced a greater afterburn as well. Some studies show that lifting explosively builds more strength as it calls into play more fast-twitch muscle fibers. Using a fast tempo also builds power.
The Bottom Line
Weight training should be part of everyone’s routine, even if your primary goal is to lose body fat. Strength training helps preserve lean body mass so that you lose fat rather than muscle. Ultimately, it’s not so much weight as a percentage of muscle and fat that matters most. Now, you know how you can burn more calories when you weight train while building strength at the same time. Of course, you’ll want to vary your approach so that your muscles are challenged in different ways. That’s the beauty of resistance training – there are so many ways to do it. Have fun!
Poliquin Group. “Ten Things You Should Know about Tempo Training”
Exercise After-Burn: Research Update. By Chantal A. Vella, Ph.D. & Len Kravitz, Ph.D.
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