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The Science Behind Strength Training to Burn Fat

Most people who are trying to lose weight will combine dieting and cardio to reach their goals. That is a good start, but there’s more that can be done to really crank up the weight loss. Strength training is usually not considered to be part of a program to lose weight, but actually it can cause you to burn as much fat, or more, than cardio. Plus, it tones your muscles, leading to a tighter physique. But just how does that work?

The Science of Weight Training for Weight Loss

Penn State conducted a study of dieters to find out what works best: dieting only, cardio only, and cardio with weight training. At the end of the study, all the participants lost an average of 21 pounds. However, the people who were in the group that combined cardio and weight training lost an average of 6 more pounds than those in the other groups. The real kicker to this is that the group that used weight training experienced loss that was almost all fat. The ones in the other groups lost both muscle and fat.

If you still aren’t convinced, other research supports the addition of weight training to your weight loss efforts. Dieters who don’t lift weights lost both muscle and fat. On the average, they lost around 75 percent fat and 25 percent muscle. While your scale may say you weigh less, you won’t have the toned body you want. Additionally, you won’t have the extra burning power of all that muscle.

Create a Bigger Engine to Burn More Fuel

When you build muscle you are, in effect, building a bigger engine – and what does a big engine do? It burns more fuel. Even when you aren’t working out your “engine,” it is running – meaning that you are burning fat and calories even at rest. When you do high reps or intense weight training it boosts your metabolism, which remains elevated even after you stop working out. This is called “Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption,” or EPOC.

Several studies have been conducted to explore this phenomenon and what researchers have found is very interesting. When you incorporate a strong weight program into your weight loss efforts you can experience an elevation in your metabolism, or EPOC, for as long as 38 hours after your workout ends. This means that even when you stop weight training, your body is still burning calories. On the other hand, when you stop your cardio, your calorie burning power stops as well.

Cardio Burns Faster, But Weight Training Burns Longer

There is a popular study that is often cited in support of cardio over weight training. It was published in the “Journal of Applied Physiology” in 2012. The study explored weight training and cardio and their effects on fat and body mass in adults who were obese or overweight. At the conclusion, the study determined that cardio and weight training did not have an impact that was significantly greater than cardio alone, when it came to losing fat or body mass. The media has had a field day with this, paraphrasing it to make claims that cardio is better than weight training when it comes to losing weight.


We are now going to set the record straight.

People do experience faster weight loss when they do cardio as opposed to weight training; that much is true. But there are some details to consider. This study was short. In terms of weight loss programs, cardio is the sprinter while weight training is the long distance runner.

You burn more calories when you do cardio, but this stops when your workout ends. Weight training isn’t like that. When you stop training, your body keeps burning. This makes your body a powerful fat burning machine over the long term. Not only do you get a body that looks tight, toned, and fit, you have the added advantage of a body that burns calories while you are resting.

Weight training gives you a lean, fit look. Your body becomes a fat burning machine that still works even while you are resting. Your clothing fits better and you feel stronger. It also helps fight osteoporosis in women. Additionally, because you are strengthening the muscles that support your joints, you will be less prone to injuries. With all those benefits you’d have to be crazy to not add strength training to your fitness routine!