Why You Should Be Weight Training For Weight Loss
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Why You Should Be Weight Training For Weight Loss

Weight training is incredibly effective for weight loss. It maximises your fat loss, helps you build and retain muscle and leaves you feeling stronger, healthier and more energetic.

How to lose weight: the basics

To lose weight you need to be in a calorie deficit. This means you are eating fewer calories than you are using. You can do this by eating less calories and increasing your energy expenditure through activity[1]. If you do this, you will lose weight. However, how much of this comes from fat or muscle will depend on your nutrition and type of exercise. Weight training and the right nutrition are essential in maintaining your strength and fitness whilst losing fat[2].

Why is strength training so effective for weight loss?

Strength training has many advantages over cardiovascular (cardio) exercise when it comes to losing fat. It can burn more calories and boost your metabolism, making it easier to lose weight and keep it off.

Weight training burns more calories

Cardio may burn calories quickly, but this doesn’t mean it’s your ticket to using more calories. In fact, lifting weights significantly increases your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the number of calories the body burns at rest. Often called “afterburn”, this can last for up to 48 hours[3]. This means even after your workout is complete, your body will continue using more energy as it repairs muscles, removes lactic acid and restores your oxygen levels.

Weightlifting improves your metabolism

Someone who has a fast metabolism will be able to eat more, without gaining weight. This makes it easier to both lose weight and maintain those hard-earned results. Lifting weights will not only boost your metabolism during and post-workout, but also at rest. Unlike fat, muscle is constantly burning energy. Therefore, by building muscle your BMR will increase and your body will need more calories each day[4].

Although strength training is a great tool for losing weight, there are plenty more additional benefits. Strength training will help make normal, everyday tasks seem easier. It improves your stamina and develops balance, coordination, mobility and posture. Strength training helps you get a better night’s sleep and increases bone density and strength. It also aids in fighting or controlling diseases including sarcopenia, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease and obesity[5].

What happens if I only do cardio when I’m trying to lose fat?

Your metabolism has two phases – anabolism and catabolism. When you are in an anabolic state, you’re building and maintaining your muscle mass. When you are in a catabolic state, you’re breaking down or losing both fat and muscle.

Doing lots of cardio will place you in a catabolic state, reducing your critical muscle mass and slowing down your metabolism. If you do this continuously, over time your body will need less calories to perform it’s daily functions as it will have less muscle mass to maintain. This means if you return to your usual calorie intake after reaching your weight loss goal, you will gain more fat faster than before. This can make it incredibly difficult to maintain your results and lose fat in the future[6].

Although you can lose weight by just doing cardio, your results will be suboptimal, and you will plateau sooner. If you always do the same cardio routine, over time your body will get more efficient and burn less calories. This means you either have to increase the time or intensity of your sessions to get the same results. In contrast, you can spend the same time strength training each session but continually build muscle by increasing the weights as you get stronger[7].

If you only do cardio there will also be physical differences in your results. When you remain in a catabolic state for long periods, your muscles will diminish and you may become “skinny fat”. Although you may have a normal BMI, you may still have a relatively high body fat percentage and less muscle definition. Along with not looking as good, those who are skinny fat are also at risk of conditions such as diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease[8].

What is the best fat loss program?

When you are trying to lose fat, you should ideally do a combination of strength and cardio workouts. At Plexus we recommend doing two or three weight training sessions a week. This will allow you to build muscle, increase your metabolism and see the benefits of getting stronger in your everyday life.

This should be paired with cardio such as steady state cardio. This is exercise at an easy-to-moderate ‘endurance pace’, such as walking, jogging, hiking or biking. It is ideal for people who may be new to exercise as it provides feel-good endorphins without too much discomfort, making it more enjoyable. It is also taxing enough to improve endurance and conditioning whilst still promoting recovery. Recovery is incredibly important, as it allows time for your muscles to repair and rebuild and reduces your risk of injury[9].

Regardless of what type of cardio you choose to pair with your strength training, it needs to be enjoyable and maintainable. This will set you up for long-term success. Remember, you will burn the most energy through the activities you do in your everyday life, such as walking to work, cleaning the house and playing with your children. Although exercise will boost the calories you burn and aid in fat loss, it will still only account for a small percentage of the total used across the whole day.

Why you shouldn’t just train for fat loss

Weight training will make it easier to lose fat, but it’s important you are not only training to lose fat. Training will leave you feeling good and improve your long-term health and quality of life.

If your only motivation to train is to achieve a certain number on the scales, it can lead to destructive behaviours. For example, training as ‘punishment’ for overindulging will leave you exhausted and dreading that next session.

When trying to make a positive change, look at your lifestyle as a whole and ways to improve it. Training is a way to make you feel good and improve your everyday life. With the right approach, you can feel healthier, happier and improve your body composition, all whilst leading a balanced lifestyle.