So What Is The Best Workout to Shed Body-Fat? Without a Doubt: Strength Training.
When it’s time to get down to business and shed body-fat, you may be tempted to forgo your resistance training and head for some aerobic exercise or default to the cardio equipment or workout classes in the gym. This is fairly common. The idea is that cardio will burn more calories per unit of time, which would equate to more fat loss, right? Not exactly. Whether you want to call it lifting weights, strength training, weight training, resistance training, etc. the idea is that you're lifting challenging weights in a progressive manner. And if you give up your resistance training, you will probably be giving up more than you bargained for.
Why resistance train?
Resistance training is critical for true fat loss. Without it, your muscles will atrophy. Sure, weight loss can occur without resistance training. In fact, weight loss can occur with no activity at all (relying entirely on dietary factors to reach a calorie deficit, which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend). The problem is that if you aren’t doing something to gain, or at least maintain, muscle during a fat loss phase, you are most likely losing it.
Muscle is more metabolically expensive than fat, meaning that it requires more calories at rest just to maintain muscle mass than it does body-fat. So, when the body senses a time of low food availability (such as when dieting), the first thing it gets rid of will be body-fat in an effort to preserve more calories and keep you alive for longer. From a survival stand-point, it make sense. When food is scarce, get rid of any possible amount of bodyweight that’s not assisting in essential everyday functioning.
So how can we be sure that the weight we lose is body-fat and not muscle? The old liché holds true for muscle mass: if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Have you ever broken your arm or leg and had to wear a cast for a few weeks? Remember what greeted you when the cast was removed? Your arm or leg was a lot smaller and felt weak, and probably weighed a lot less. Although it weighed less, it probably didn’t look a whole lot better. That is because just a few weeks of disuse caused the muscles to begin atrophying. The best way to prevent a muscle from atrophying is to provide a consistent stimulus to the muscle that would prevent it from doing so (such as weight training).
Here are some of the benefits of resistance training and why you might consider prioritizing it during your fat loss phase:
Stops muscle loss and helps begin the rebuilding process.
Makes daily acttivites easier, from carrying groceries to rearraging your furniture.
Gives you a sculpted look.
Increases bone density, giving you a strong, stable skeleton.
Improves balance and coordination.
Prevents decay of the pads between your bones, so that you do not hurt when you move.
Builds muscles which will burn more calories, even while you are resting.
Reduces blood pressure by making your heart stronger.
Increases your metabolism.
Decreases blood sugar, which helps prevent insulin resistance (the precursor to diabetes).
Improves your aerobic capacity: yes, strength training can also train your aerobic capacity.
Gives you a general feeling of wellness and strength. If you are strong, you feel strong.
Makes you a better athlete/allows you to perform better
Prevents the weak, frail “skinny-fat” look.
Raises your energy level. The more muscle you have, the less effort you have to exert and the more energy you have available.
Secures future protection against falls and fractures. If you age with dense bones, strong muscles and good balance, your risk of injury plummets.
Creates more EPOC than aerobic exercise does. (EPOC refers to the fat and calories that your body burns in the hours after you have finished your workout.)
Still tempted to give up resistance training?
Why cardio is not enough
“But,” the question goes, “Can’t I just go for a run and build muscle? I’m using muscles when I run!”
The answer is no. Running or other aerobic exercise is not a replacement for resistance training. They are different exercises and provide different stimulus and benefits. Aerobic exercise does not deliver the needed stress to your bones, muscles and tendons to receive many of the physical and physiological benefits of resistance training.
In order to build strength, you have to place mechanical tension on the muscle that is greater than what the muscle is accustomed to. Going out for a run or putting in an hour on the treadmill will not do this sufficiently.
This is not to say that aerobic exercise is not important: it is! But it is not resistance training, and aerobic conditioning can be achieved via strength training as well. When you strength train, you should be lifting enough weight to challenge yourself. Your heart rate will be up, you will be breathing hard, and your aerobic capacity will increase. If you omit strength training from your routine, you do your body a great disservice.
Avoid the “skinny fat” syndrome
Another risk of focusing on cardio or aerobic exercise to the exclusion of resistance training is becoming what is known as “skinny fat.” Skinny fat is a condition in which a person appears thin on the outside, but possess little to no muscle tone, and still appear ‘doughy’ despite a relatively low bodyweight.
If you are losing weight through diet and exercise but not simultaneously doing resistance training, you are not only losing fat: you are losing muscle as well. Muscle is more dense than fat, so if you weigh the same bodyweight with a higher percentage of muscle, you will look smaller, even if the scale doesn’t budge.
So what is the best way to increase the amount of muscle you carry at a given bodyweight? Weight training. Make sure that you are progressively lifting weights and getting stronger in the gym, and as long as the scale doesn’t increase, you can be fairly certain that you are gaining muscle and losing body-fat. The more weight you lose, the greater emphasis you should put on gaining, or at least maintaining, strength to ensure you don’t lose large proportions of muscle and end up actually looking bigger or worse despite losing weight on the scale.
‘Hidden’ or visceral fat is also a risk for the “skinny fat” person. When 800 slim people underwent an MRI scan to check for visceral fat, 45% were found to have excessive amounts of internal fat around the organs, undetectable from the outside (1). Visceral fat is the most dangerous fat to have, because it accumulates around organs such as the pancreas, heart and liver and then begins releasing hormones and other secretions that lead to disease.
Along with the visible subcutaneous fat that we see on the outside, resistance training can reduce visceral fat and help prevent the formation of fat around the organs.
Don’t give up your resistance training just because you want to get smaller or lose fat. There is no substitute for lifting heavy weights (relative to YOU) at least 2 to 3 times each week. If not for the aesthetic portion, do it for your overall well-being.