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The Benefits of Weight Training for Fat Loss

When trying to lose weight, people tend to gravitate toward cardiovascular or “cardio” exercises, such as running, biking, and working out on machines like ellipticals and stair steppers. While cardio can definitely burn calories and help you create a calorie deficit, it is not the only way to exercise for weight loss and fat loss. Resistance training, or weight lifting, is an often neglected exercise among those trying to lose weight. Let’s talk about why you should add weights to your routine if you’re trying to burn fat.

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Muscle Mass and Resting Energy Expenditure

The first step toward understanding the importance of weight training for fat loss is learning about the relationship between muscle mass and resting energy expenditure or metabolic rate. Put simply, resting energy expenditure is the number of calories a person burns per day without doing anything except simply existing. This actually makes up 60 to 75 percent of our daily calorie burn. The body’s resting energy expenditure is a reflection of the calories that are burned to maintain basic bodily functions like breathing and circulation.

According to research, there is a strong positive correlation between muscle mass and resting energy expenditure. This means that people with more muscle mass burn more calories at rest. This is where resistance training can be your best friend; in fact, scientists know from research that resistance training increases muscle mass, so it is reasonable to conclude that when you pick up the weights, your resting energy expenditure will continue to increase. If you’re trying to create fat loss, this increase in calorie burn throughout the day can make it much easier for you!

Studies on Resistance Training and Weight Loss

Given the relationship between muscle mass and resting energy expenditure, exercise scientists have set out to determine whether lifting weights truly has an effect on fat loss. A study in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science compared the effects of aerobic training versus combined aerobic and resistance training on a group of women trying to lose weight. At the end of the study period, women who participated in combined training lost more fat than those doing aerobic training alone, confirming the benefits of resistance training for fat loss.

Resistance training also has positive effects following weight loss. For instance, researchers writing for Obesity journal found that resistance training helped women maintain their fat loss, whereas those participating in aerobic exercise or no exercise lost muscle mass when they lost weight (instead of fat, which is what we are really trying to lose!). In addition, women who engaged in resistance training maintained their resting metabolic rate with weight loss, whereas those who did aerobic training or no training experienced a reduction in metabolic rate. What this means is that resistance training can boost metabolism and make it easier to keep weight off over the long-term.

If you’re looking to lose weight, don’t be afraid to add resistance training to your exercise routine. You do not have to take up olympic powerlifting, but two to three weight training workouts per week can help you to boost muscle mass and metabolism, making it easier to lose fat and maintain the loss. Exercises such as biceps curls, overhead presses, weighted squats, overhead triceps extensions, lunges with weight, and lateral raises can be a good place to start, but if you are unsure of how to resistance train, you might benefit from watching online exercise videos or working with a personal trainer or group exercise instructor who focuses on weight training.

Good luck and get lifting!

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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