Are you having trouble trimming down? Your diet definitely accounts for the majority of your success here, but exercise can help take you the rest of the way.
In addition to high intensity interval training, weight lifting is an excellent way to get rid of that stubborn excess body fat, because working your muscles is the key to firing up your metabolism.
Your muscles follow the “use it or lose it” principle. The more muscle mass you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate. As noted in a Nerd Fitness blog discussing the merits of weight lifting, while your overall weight loss in terms of pounds may appear slower, you will tend to lose inches faster.
This is in part because, unlike traditional cardio, strength training causes you to continue burning more calories for up to 72 hours after the exercise is over through a phenomenon called after-burn.
To Burn More Calories, add More Muscle
There are many success stories out there that can attest to the success of strength training for weight loss. A very common problem is that people try to “run off” their excess weight. More often than not, all that running ends in failure.
Lifting weights, however, helps shed pounds as a side effect of building and carrying more muscle. In short, muscle contraction is the “engine” that drives fat loss.
Provided you’re eating right, the increased energy expenditure caused by muscle contraction will help “melt off” your excess body fat. As noted in the fitness magazine Experience Life:
“Many gym-goers — and even some health and fitness professionals — still believe that strength training is only for people who want to gain weight in the form of shirt-stretching muscles, and that long-duration exercise like running and cycling is the fastest way to lose fat…
[But]… real-life experience and the latest fitness research suggest that low- to moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, while beneficial, is not the fastest route to leanness and overall health that many people believe it is.
The real key to fat loss is high-intensity exercise, especially strength training — with real weights, real sweat and real effort.”
Fitness experts like Dr. McGuff and Phil Campbell have also pointed out that, in order to actually access your cardiovascular system, you have to perform mechanical work with your muscles. So strength training is also an excellent cardiovascular workout.
Moreover, provided you’re doing high intensity strength training, you’ll also improve your insulin and leptin sensitivity, and boost your human growth hormone (HGH), otherwise known as the “fitness hormone.”
Two Variations of High Intensity Strength Training
Research over the past several years has revolutionized the exercise field. High intensity interval training (HIIT) consistently turns up at the top of the list for being the most efficient and effective, and that also applies for weight loss. HIIT seamlessly integrates with strength training to maximize the health benefits of exercise, and in combination, these two forms of exercise are likely an unsurpassed strategy for shedding excess weight.
There are two ways you can turn a strength training session into a high intensity workout. The featured article discusses “metabolic strength training,” which is basically strength training performed on a high intensity interval circuit. A sample workout demonstration is included above. Alternatively, by considerably slowing down your movements, you also end up with a very high intensity exercise. This is also known as “super-slow weight training,” and is the variation I personally prefer.
Strength Training Basics
There are two basic terms you must understand before planning your strength training routine:
- Reps: A rep (repetition) indicates one complete motion of an exercise. Be mindful of performing each rep using full range of motion
- Set: A set is a group of reps
So, if you performed two sets of 10 reps of bicep curls, this means you did 10 bicep curls, rested, then did 10 more. How many reps should you do? That really depends on your fitness level and your goals. Here are some general guidelines:
- For building strength and bulk, it’s generally recommended to do fewer than eight to 10 reps per set with heavier weights
- For tone and general conditioning, aim for 10 to 12 reps using more moderate weight
- For Super-Slow weight training, aim for only one set of 8-10 reps. You should not be able to do the last rep no matter how hard you try. If you can do 11 then increase the weight. If you can’t do 8 then decrease the weight
Regardless of how many sets you do, make sure the last rep in your set is done to failure. You want to fully fatigue that muscle in the last rep, while still maintaining control of the weight so you don’t lose your form, as this could lead to injury. As your fitness progresses, you’ll want to carry each exercise to “muscle failure”—where you just can’t complete all of the last rep. Adjust the amount of weight you use for each exercise depending on which muscles you are working. Larger muscles such as your thighs, chest, and upper back are stronger and will require a bit heavier weight. Smaller muscles, such as your shoulders and arms, require less weight.
Supercharge Your Strength Training with Super-Slow Techniques
As mentioned, when you slow down your movements, you automatically crank up the intensity. This is because the super-slow movement forces your muscle to access the maximum number of cross-bridges between the protein filaments that produce movement in the muscle. You only need about 12 to 15 minutes of super-slow strength training once a week to achieve the same HGH production as you would from 20 minutes of Peak Fitness sprints, which is why fitness experts like Dr. Doug McGuff are such avid proponents of this technique.
You can perform the super-slow technique using hand weights, resistance machines, bodyweight exercises, or resistance bands. The key to really making the super-slow workout work for you is to make sure you reach muscle fatigue. Your goal therefore is to use enough weight that you cannot do more than 12 reps, but not so much that you can’t complete at least four. Ideally, you will be somewhere in the neighborhood of seven to eight reps.
Strength Training Is for Everyone
Strength training is an integral part of a well-rounded exercise program, and is recommended for both sexes of all ages, including kids and seniors. Besides losing excess fat, gaining more muscle through resistance exercises will also help you maintain healthy bone mass and prevent age-related muscle loss. Strength training also has a beneficial impact on a number of biomarkers associated with aging itself, such as:
Strength and muscle mass (which results in greater balance, as you get older)
- Bone density
- Blood glucose control
- Body composition
- Cardiorespiratory fitness
- Blood lipids
- Blood pressure
- Aerobic capacity
- Gene expression and telomere length
Needless to say, the more consistent you are, the greater your long-term rewards. Having an active lifestyle is really an investment in your future well-being. Diet accounts for the majority, about 80 percent, of the health benefits you reap from a healthy lifestyle, but exercise is a crucial component and adjunct to a healthy diet. Exercise, and strength training in particular, essentially acts as a force multiplier that will allow you to achieve optimal health and weight
*Image of “couple” via Shutterstock