Strength training doesn’t burn as many calories as a fast-paced aerobic workout like running, at least while you’re doing it, but it’s superior for building a healthier body composition. In fact, a 150-pound person only burns around 110 calories during a 30-minute strength-training session. But that shouldn’t be the principal reason you do it. You work your body against resistance or with weights to build and maintain strength and muscle mass. Without training your body against resistance, you risk losing muscle mass. Plus, running and most other forms of aerobic exercise work the muscles of your lower body but do little to work your upper body.
Even though strength training burns fewer calories, it creates more of an after-burn if you lift heavy weights. Put aside the weights that have 2 or 3 pounds stamped on the ends and reach for heavier ones once you’ve built up baseline strength. The stress of heavy lifting forces your body to work harder after a workout to recover and that increases the calorie burn for up to 48 hours after a strength-training session. However, there are ways to burn more calories even while you’re weight training.
Focus on Larger Muscle Groups For Increased Calorie Burn
Don’t ignore your upper body, but make sure you’re giving your large muscles a workout. The larger the muscles that you work, the more calories you’ll burn since it takes more energy to move a larger muscle. So include exercises that work your glutes, legs, core, and back since these muscles are the largest in your body. Doing exercise that work these muscle groups will give you a lot more calorie burn for the time you spend. Adding more muscle to these large muscle groups will also lead to modestly greater calorie burn, even when you’re resting.
Emphasize Compound Movements
Compound movements are those where you move more than one joint or muscle group at the same time. Squats, push-ups, lunges, chin-ups, pull-ups, deadlifts, bench press, and bent-over rows are all compound exercises, in contrast to triceps extensions, leg curls, and biceps curls, movements that work only a single muscle group and target only a single joint.
Why are compound exercises better for fat loss? The more muscles that work against resistance at the same time, the more calories you burn. That’s why compound exercises are so effective for burning calories and reducing body fat. Plus, there’s some evidence that working more muscle groups elicits a greater anabolic response, meaning it creates an environment that boosts muscle hypertrophy or muscle building.
Don’t give up all isolation exercises, but make sure at least three out of four of the exercises you do is a compound movement. Another perk: A study finds that compound exercises are more effective for building strength and boosting maximal oxygen consumption.
Lift Heavy Creates a Greater Calorie Burn
Lifting heavier weights creates more of an afterburn (additional calories burned after a workout) than working with lighter weights. However, you can’t complete as many repetitions if you use a heavier weight and that reduces the total volume of work you do. Less volume means less activity and reduced calorie burn.
What’s the solution? Strike a happy medium by working with weights that allow you to do around 8 repetitions before your muscles are exhausted. By the time you reach the final repetition, your muscles should be thoroughly fatigued. Around 8 repetitions is the “sweet spot” for building muscle while maximizing calorie burn. Also, doing more sets will boost calorie burn too. So, aim for 3 to 4 sets of an exercise rather than 1 or 2.
Keep Your Rest Periods Between Sets Shorter
Your muscles need time to recover between each set or you won’t be able to maximize your lift on the next set, but don’t rest longer than you need to. Give your muscles enough rest time to ensure you can perform well on the next set and no longer. Some people stand around or look at their smartphone between sets, turning a short rest period into a long one. That’s time that you aren’t burning calories. So, keep your rest periods as short as you can without compromising your performance.
Keep Your Heart Rate Up When You Train
Another approach to boosting the calorie burn when strength training is to keep your heart rate up by including short cardio intervals between strength training sets. For example, do a set of jumping jacks, jog in place, or, if you’re really ambitious, a set or burpees between sets. The only downside to this approach is the cardio will cause more fatigue and it may reduce the amount of weight you can lift. Therefore, you may limit your strength gains with this approach but burn more calories. If you’re focusing on strength on a given day, go heavy on your lifts and skip the cardio between sets.
Strength Training Before Cardio
If you do cardio and strength train on the same day, strength train first. Cardio carries a strong fatigue factor and that can reduce the amount of weight you lift and the number of repetitions and sets you can do during your strength training workout. Even better, don’t strength train and do cardio on the same day to limit the fatigue factor. Strength training your lower body can make it harder to give it your best effort when you do cardio and want to burn more calories.
The Bottom Line
Keep the intensity high, work your large muscles, and make sure you’re working your large muscle groups with intensity and you’ll boost the calorie burn when you strength train. But remember, the primary purpose of strength training is to improve your body composition, irrespective of calorie burn and weight loss.
- com. “Should you do cardio or lift weights?”
- Paoli A, Gentil P, Moro T, Marcolin G, Bianco A. Resistance Training with Single vs. Multi-joint Exercises at Equal Total Load Volume: Effects on Body Composition, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Muscle Strength. Front Physiol. 2017;8:1105. Published 2017 Dec 22. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.01105.
- “How Many Calories Do You Burn Lifting Weights?.” 17 Sept. 2018, https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/calories-burned-lifting-weights.
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