Why Strength Training is Important for Weight Loss
Mar 31, 2023 by Melissa Garcia
Many people around the world are trying to lose weight fast. When many first think about losing weight, they will dive headfirst into cardio. Although cardio is extremely important for numerous reasons, consider incorporating lifting weights for a well-rounded and sustainable weight loss plan.
The majority of fitness centers and health clubs have free weights, machines, and group training classes in addition to cardio equipment. It can feel overwhelming with endless options in the gym and influencers on social media. However, adding strength training to your fitness routine is extremely important, especially if your goal is to improve your overall health and wellness, as well as achieve long term results.
Our bodies need a healthy balance of activity and rest. A regular strength training routine provides the opportunity for you to build a program you enjoy doing and is tailored to your goals. In contrast, harsh and extreme diets combined with impossibly difficult workouts is not sustainable in the long term to maintain.
Our body requires energy for daily function: walk, talk, digest food, and breathe. We typically refer to these units of energy as “calories”. On a scientific level, it is the amount of energy required to raise one gram of water one degree Celsius.
Calories are how we measure the amount of energy consumed from food and drinks. Metabolism is the process in which the body converts food and calories into energy that can be used for bodily function and movement. One very effective method to improve your resting metabolism is to build muscle through strength training.
The number of calories that a person needs to consume for daily life varies based on numerous factors such as age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity. In order to lose weight, one needs to consume fewer calories than the body uses over a period of time. Now while this formula for weight loss seems simple, the road to weight loss is significantly more complex than initially thought.
Factors such as hormones, stress, genetics, sleep, and body composition can greatly affect our body’s ability to burn calories. While we are only scratching the surface of metabolism and calories, we are going to explore further the benefits of building muscle to drive a more efficient and healthy metabolism.
Diet and Cardio Alone are Not Long Term Solutions
Altering our body’s composition to proportionally more muscle than fat has been suggested to increase the amount of calories burned at rest. One of the major drawbacks of relying on diet alone to lose weight is the suppression of resting metabolism. Meaning your metabolism starts to purposely slow down due to not enough calories being consumed to fuel the physical activity.
The body won’t be able to build muscle or recover effectively and as a result, the body is more resistant to drop the extra pounds. Studies show that being in a state of constant inflammation also affects energy levels, stress, and intrinsic motivation to stick with a routine. All of these work against you if your ultimate goal is to lose weight.
Exercising Muscles Burn More Energy Than Fat
Muscle tissue requires energy to maintain its structure and function on an ongoing basis. Right now, your muscles are constantly working to maintain your body's posture while you are reading this article and support internal functions such as breathing and digestion. In building more muscle throughout your body with weight lifting, it can increase your body’s metabolism at rest.
While weight loss can be a multifactorial process, lifting weights in addition to adhering to a balanced diet instructs the body to use calories to build muscle instead of storing fat. As the body undergoes recomposition during weight loss, you’ll notice muscle mass increase while areas of fat slowly decrease.
Muscle is more dense than fat, so it is expected to not see immediate changes in weight. Eventually, the body will shift towards a more lean physique. Building muscle has many other systemic benefits that can aid in your weight loss journey.
Gaining muscle has been proven to lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, strengthen your heart, and reduce overall inflammation. All of these factors are important for losing weight and maintaining your weight loss.
Long Term Benefits of Strength Training
We know that cardiovascular training such as running, swimming, and biking helps improve the heart’s ability to pump blood through the body. Today, it is now recommended to incorporate strength training into your fitness program for heart health. Strength training, unlike low impact cardio, requires a different higher demand on the heart due to increases in blood pressure and heart rate.
Over time, the heart adapts and becomes stronger and more efficient with each beat. Research shows that lifting weights greatly reduces the chances of heart attack and stroke. Add this with aerobic exercise and you have the perfect recipe for a well-rounded, fat burning program. The benefits for your heart are two-fold: Greatly improves your body’s ability to exercise and overall efficiency, and promotes lifelong health and wellness.
Bone health is important, especially for females as bone density tends to be lower than males. Strength training stimulates the bones to increase in density in order to adapt to the increased stress. As females age and hormone levels start to decline especially after menopause, bone density declines quickly. Strength training aids in maintaining current levels of bone density as well as stimulates the body to build more bone. Lastly, weight training stimulates the release of growth hormones which help to improve bone density and muscle synthesis.
Fitness and mobility become even more important as we age. Strength training improves your independence and quality of life in performing daily tasks. It can reduce the risk of falls and injuries and overall improve the efficiency of your everyday activities.
For example, activities such as walking, climbing stairs, and getting in/out of the car, require strength from the legs and core. Strength training exercises that help to improve the ease of these tasks could include squats, lunges, and step ups. Over time, your ability to do these tasks will improve significantly, and more importantly, will make it easier to include daily activity into your lifestyle and eventually lose weight.
How to Get Started
The most difficult part of starting any new routine is getting started, establishing consistency, and keeping yourself accountable. It makes you feel sore at first, and can be intimidating going to a crowded local gym. It’s easier to keep your head down and do cardio for an hour and not have to worry about weight selection and fight for open equipment. Follow these simple steps for ideas on how to get started.
- Research and pick a plan to stick with. Whether it’s the sample workout below, or a personalized plan from a trainer. Have a structured outline of what exercises you will be focusing on and how many times a week you plan to exercise.
- Keep track of your progress. There are many fitness apps out there to help you keep yourself accountable. Others prefer taking photos or measurements to track weight loss and stay motivated. Decide on your preferred method and commit to regular check-ins.
- If you are unsure how to perform a certain exercise, practice at home or with a professional. There are endless resources on the internet- make sure that they come from credible sources and are the best choice for your goals. Your body’s health and safety are worth the investment.
Consider working with a personal trainer or physical therapist if you are dealing with any injuries or need a more personalized plan. Safety is the most important factor when starting a new strength training program- start slow, and gradually increase exercise volume and weight.
Beginners will typically start a weight training routine at a frequency of around 3x a week and see steady improvements in strength over the next month. Meanwhile, continue to perform low intensity cardio and maintain a balanced diet. This is a basic program that works for many starting their weight loss journey. If you are still feeling lost and unsure where to start, seek professional guidance from a fitness professional.
Lastly, rest days are just as important as strength training days. Our bodies build and synthesize muscle during these days. Exercising while overly fatigued can increase your risk of injury. Examples of rest day activities include walking the dog, leisurely bike rides, and yoga. The goal is to find a balance between training and rest in order for the body to efficiently build muscle and lose weight.
Stay consistent and motivated throughout your journey and track your progress. Whether it’s by tracking your bench press, weight, or waist size, keeping record of your hard work will help you adjust your program to best fit your needs and interests.
Listen and take note of how your body is responding to the workouts. For example: Do you feel like your body is recovering fully between workouts? Consider reducing total volume or modifying exercise choice. Progress in fitness and wellness is almost never linear. Enjoy the process and be proud of your accomplishments.
Example Strength Training Program for Weight Loss
Outlined below is a sample program that would be typically prescribed for someone trying to lose weight. Keep in mind that this is in combination with a balanced diet, daily activity, and low impact cardiovascular exercise. Remember to warm up before you start your workout and take time to stretch and cool down before wrapping up. Start with little to no weight and slowly increase as form and confidence improves. If you are ever unsure, contact a fitness or medical professional.
The following total body workout is written for a complete beginner focused on compound movements to develop general body strength, power, and coordination. As you start to feel more comfortable and feel like you need more of a challenge, consider increasing the number of strength training days or switching to a different split such as upper body/lower body days, push-pull-legs, or a 5x5 program. In the event of an injury, be sure to take appropriate days off and slowly ease your way back into your program. Start the following workout with three sets of ten repetitions for each exercise.
Dumbbell Bench Press
Seated Machine Row
Seated Lat Pulldown
Seated Leg Press
Dumbbell Reverse Lunges
Seated Shoulder Press
Bent Over Dumbbell Row
Weighted Step Ups
Dumbbell Goblet Squats
Barbell Bench Press
Assisted Pull Ups
Hope you enjoyed reading this guide and it provided insight into strength training for achieving and maintaining weight loss. There are more benefits than aesthetics alone- the body benefits from the added bonus of improving bone health, mobility, and heart strength.
All of these factors help the body to perform exercise better, for longer and in return, help maintain weight loss. The program that is the best choice is the one you enjoy because you are more likely to maintain consistency. Find a program that you enjoy, there’s no wrong answer!
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