Weight Loss

Resistance Training for Weight Loss

Dana Bender
Dana Bender
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It is important to tailor personal exercise programs towards specific performance or health outcome goals. That said, if your goal for exercising is weight reduction, then it will be important to prioritize the metabolic impact of those exercise sessions to achieve this desired benefit.

It is commonly believed that incorporating cardiovascular exercise workouts is the best strategy for effective weight loss. However, this is not true. Personal trainers often recommend resistance training, also called strength training or weightlifting, rather than aerobic or cardio exercise for this very reason. Although cardiovascular exercise is important for many reasons and can help with weight loss efforts, resistance training will yield more of a return compared to aerobic activity.

This is because resistance training results in an increase in the body's metabolic activity post-exercise session compared to just the cardiovascular one. Read on for a further look at how resistance training can help with sustainable weight loss goals.

Breaking Down the Biology Behind This

To understand the benefit of prioritizing resistance training more deeply in an exercise prescription or program designed for weight loss goals, it is important to understand the concepts of metabolism and body composition.

Metabolism is a chemical process that impacts critical bodily functions like breathing, brain activity, organ function, food digestion, etc. In other words, it allows us to stay living and supports various functions that keep us alive. An important component of metabolism is the resting metabolic rate which refers to the number of calories that the body burns while resting such as when we are sleeping or engaged in more sedentary activities.

Understanding your resting metabolic rate number is helpful as you work towards weight loss because it can impact daily nutritional choices. If you engage in consistent resistance training exercise, it can increase your resting metabolic rate which means the body will increase the number of calories used up during rest each day. Consequently, as more calories are burned, a more positive impact is achieved toward weight loss efforts.

Body Composition

The second important concept to understand is body composition. Body composition is the distribution of our body's makeup. For example, the percentage of fat, water, muscle, skin, and organ tissue in our body.  Resistance training is a preferred method for weight loss goals because it can impact our body composition more effectively than a cardiovascular exercise session.

Incorporating exercises that focus on building and developing the musculoskeletal system allows for more muscle development and conditioning that shifts the body composition to include lean body mass.  The positive of this is that lean muscle tissue burns more calories at rest than fat tissue.

If we consider the impact of these two factors together aka the development of lean body mass and an increase in our resting metabolic rate, then it is easy to understand that consistent resistance training efforts result in a win-win outcome for both initial weight loss and its sustainable maintenance. 

Don’t Resist Resistance Training

Whether you are brand new to incorporating resistance training exercises or are just getting back into it, it is important to start small and progress steadily over time. A best practice would be to start with body-weight foundational movements across the main types of movement patterns. For example, focus on the following functional movement patterns: push, pull, single-leg movements such as lunging, bending, and lifting such as in a squat, and rotation.

Starting resistance training with body-weight exercises allows the body to get stronger before adding external resistance such as dumbbells, kettlebells, or resistance bands. This can help minimize the risk of injury and allow you to focus on exercise form and core stability. After some time and, most importantly, once you are ready, you can add in external resistance if desired to increase the demand for the workouts. As a training principle, one of the best practices that are highly recommended is to progressively overload the muscular system over time.

For example, think about increasing the external resistance load, or volume of sets and reps, by no more than ten percent week to week. Another important best practice is to make sure to work all of the muscle groups. Start with prioritizing large muscle groups and incorporating compound movements that engage the full body. 

Maximum Effort

Once you are ready to maximize your resistance training efforts, consider incorporating metabolic resistance training (MRT). An example of MRT is HIIT, also known as high-intensity interval training or Tabata. Workouts like HIIT and Tabata incorporate intervals of intense compound movements followed by rest periods. This in turn yields more return than steady-state exercise sessions. In other words, these exercise formats are designed to maximize energy output during the intense session, challenge the musculoskeletal system, and recruit and exhaust more muscle tissue than the steady-state ones.

Consequently, this process allows for a more substantial increase in lean body mass, promotes more effective muscle growth, and enables higher caloric burn. In addition to the positive gains for the muscular-skeletal system, interval training such as HIIT and Tabata also helps improve cardiovascular endurance as well.

The key is to remember that the best outcomes are achieved by combining both approaches. In other words, incorporating cardiovascular workouts in your weekly routine along with resistance training helps complement each other in one's efforts towards their respective goals. Both are equally important in different ways. Aerobic activities like cardio workouts are essential for overall heart and lung health while also helping towards weight loss efforts. 

Consider This

In addition, one should remember that two important components of weight loss often get overlooked. First is rest and recovery, and the second is nutrition. With any exercise program rest and recovery is just as important as the training session itself. When we engage in resistance training, we are breaking down our muscle fibers to build and develop them stronger. Incorporating rest and recovery days in your weekly routine will allow those muscle groups that were engaged in those workouts to repair themselves following those activities.

When you return to exercise following a rest period or rest day, it is often the case that you might feel stronger and capable of doing more from a performance point of view versus the previous workouts. Consequently, it is essential to ensure one includes rest days in an effective exercise regimen to allow the body to recover from the demands of resistance training.

The second component to remember is that nutritional choices are just as important as exercising when it comes to weight loss. If you are not eating a balanced diet consisting of whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins), or are consuming more calories than is necessary, then there is a high probability of your weight loss efforts being not as impactful as they could have been otherwise. 

Incorporating both exercise formats in a weekly routine with decent rest and recovery built-in, combined with the right nutrition is the balanced and effective way to reach your weight loss goals and sustenance. If you are not sure where to start with making a change, consider talking to a Registered Dietician for support.

Regardless of where you are on the resistance training continuum, there is no better time than now to take a step towards increasing or building more resistance training in your weekly routine. Doing so will help you on your journey toward weight loss and weight maintenance.

The Author

Dana Bender

Dana Bender

Dana Bender, MS, NBC-HWC, ACSM, E-RYT. Dana works as a Wellness Strategy Manager with Vitality and has 15+ years experience in onsite fitness and wellness management. Dana is also a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, an Adjunct Professor with Rowan University, an E-RYT 200 hour Registered Yoga Teacher, AFAA Group Exercise Instructor, ACSM Exercise Physiologist, and ACE Personal Trainer. Learn more about Dana at www.danabenderwellness.com.


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