The common hype is that fat-burning and weight loss is all to do with moderately vigorous aerobic activities and that resistance training is really only for muscle building.
However, contrary to what many people think, resistance training is as important – perhaps even more important – to successful fat loss as aerobic exercise.
There are several reasons for this:
- Muscle is your fat furnace – it’s where fat is most effectively burned – and resistance training will increase your lean muscle tissue
- Muscle burns more calories than fat – a pound of muscle burns around 50 calories a day while a pound of fat burns 5.
- Muscle takes up less space than fat so helps you look slimmer and leaner.
- Resistance training increases your metabolic rate – enabling you to burn more calories you’ll burn all day long.
- Resistance training helps stop the loss of muscle that occurs with ageing (known as ‘sarcopenia’).
A hundred years ago, human muscle provided almost 40% of the energy used by our workshops, factories and farms. Today that figure is less than 1%. A generation or two ago people had to retain their muscle strength and power not only to undertake jobs in the workplace, but also do the day-to-day jobs in and around the home. People didn’t need to go to the gym – their lifestyle was sufficient to keep them fit and strong.
However, life in the 21st century is different. Labour-saving devices mean that for many of us, there is just not the need for our muscles to remain strong in order for us to survive. So in today’s world, rather than keeping our muscles as we age, we start to lose muscle after the age of 30, making day to day tasks gradually harder to perform, slowing down metabolism and increasing the risk of weight gain. We have to make a concentrated effort to exercise in order to save our muscles from shrinking and wasting as we get older.
Inactive adults typically lose around half a pound of muscle per year (more in females) – that’s almost half a stone every decade. So our fat-burning furnace gets smaller – there is less muscle to burn off the calories. If eating habits don’t change, we store the excess calories as fat and put on weight. Since fat takes up more space than muscle, girths gradually increase – dress and trouser size get larger as the middle-aged body starts to spread! The hour glass figure of feminine youth often becomes a beer glass shape in middle age!
Losing muscle is therefore not a good thing – it makes flab-fighting much more difficult. Whilst, aerobic exercise is a great way to improve heart and lung fitness and certainly helps keep your muscles in good shape, resistance training is much more effective at building healthy, well-toned muscles.
Males generally combine both aerobic and resistance training during a typical workout. Women tend to spend most of their gym time on cardiovascular exercise and tend to be more reluctant to undertake resistance training for fear of getting bulky. However, women simply don’t have the testosterone levels to build big muscles – they develop leaner and stronger muscle fibres – with less fat between each fibre (intramuscular fat) – improving muscle slenderness and tone.
Significant gains can be made with a 30-minute resistance training workout performed 2 -3 times per week. A recent study of overweight women found that a three-month basic strength-training programme resulted in the subjects gaining 2lbs of muscle but losing 5lbs of fat – and all reported feeling fitter, stronger and healthier!
These days most gyms are well equipped with a wide variety of resistance equipment – and good technical instructors to advise you. However, remember to start with a resistance that you can comfortably handle with 12-15 repetitions. Move around the equipment, exercising different muscle groups in a circuit of exercises that cover the whole body.
Don’t get overly-stretched on any exercise and move between the different exercises smoothly. In this way you get a good calorie-workout as well as effective muscle strength and endurance conditioning – both helping fat loss.
Resistance training has all kinds of great effects on your body:
- Increases your 24-hr metabolic rate
- Makes you stronger and increase muscular endurance
- Makes you lean and slim–muscle takes up less space than fat so, the more you have, the slimmer you are
- Strengthens bones – especially important for women
- Helps you avoid injuries
- Helps improve posture
- Helps improve confidence and self-esteem – and body image!
So, don’t resist resistance training – use it in combination with aerobic activities as a more effective way to control your weight.