The Science Behind Strength Training to Burn Fat
Working out has a myriad of physical and mental health benefits. From self-empowerment, confidence building, and anxiety reduction to muscle strengthening, maintaining a healthy heart, and getting blood pumping—exercise makes us feel good!
Looking and feeling your best comes in many different forms, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to fitness goals.
You may have asked these questions before. Does weight training burn fat? Can you lose fat and develop lean muscle mass without strength training exercise? Is lifting weights better at fat loss and building muscle than purely aerobic exercise? In this article, we’ll tackle the science behind strength training to lose weight and body fat.
If one of your goals is to burn fat and lose weight, you might already be convinced that you need to resort to cardio and dieting and we’re very happy to share that that’s not necessarily the truth. While strength training is usually not considered a part of the burn-fat-and-lose-weight menu, it can actually cause you to burn as much fat, or more, than cardio leading to better overall health.
From resistance training to HIIT workout, there are many methods to help you gain more muscle and quickly burn fat. Today we’re diving into all things strength training and how it can actually help you burn fat and support your health goals for the long haul.
Create A Bigger Engine To Burn More Fuel
When you build muscle through resistance exercise 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 more body fat and calories even at rest than you would without the strength training exercise. When you do high reps or intense weight training it boosts your resting metabolism, which remains elevated even after you stop working out. This is called “Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption,” or EPOC.
When you incorporate strength training into your weight loss efforts you can experience an elevation in your metabolism, or EPOC, for far longer than usual. One study’s results showed the effects lasting 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 mass and body mass in adults who were obese or overweight. The study concluded that when it comes to losing body fat or body mass, cardio and weight training did not have an impact that was significantly greater than cardio alone. 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 body weight and improving physical health.
We’re Here 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 what you’re losing is worth consideration. 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 like stair climber vs elliptical, but this stops when your workout ends. Weight training is the opposite. 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 fit, you also have the added advantage of a stronger body that burns more calories at rest, resists osteoporosis, and is less prone to injury.
Adding strength training to your fitness routine is easy and fun to do, because let’s be honest, how much fun can running in place for hours on end actually be? Talk to a strength coach or trainer, learn the correct form, and take your workouts to a whole new level. Ask your strength coach which strength-building exercises you should do. Should you do muscle targeting? Does yoga build muscle? Don’t hesitate to ask and open yourself up to learning.
When strategizing your wellness journey, reflecting on your lifestyle and the bigger picture matters. If you want to be strong, fit, and healthy, a big part of that is food and nutrition.
As previously mentioned, restricting calories without lifting weights reduces both fat mass and muscle mass, making your body weaker overall. Fueling your body with healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates rather than cutting off entire food groups is more sustainable and provides your body with a whole diet that is nourishing and caters to your needs. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take the time to reflect on your relationship with food and open your mind to new ways of eating—but it is important to face your diet from a place of self-love and gratitude.
Talk to your doctor, see what is best for your body, and nourish yourself in ways that feel right for you.
Like everything in life, find a middle path in your diet and exercise routine. This looks different for everyone, but establishing a sweet spot where your mind, body, and spirit align will feel so right! If you have further questions about how to use strength training to burn fat, drop us a line or stop by one of our gyms—we have experts who love to help people become the best version of themselves.
Ani is the Vice President of Fitness at Chuze Fitness and oversees the group fitness and team training departments. She’s had a 25+ year career in club management, personal training, group exercise and instructor training. Ani lives with her husband and son in San Diego, CA and loves hot yoga, snowboarding and all things wellness.
- “Strength training can burn fat too, myth-busting study finds.” Science Daily. 22 September, 2021. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/09/210922121905.htm
- Tinsley, Grant. “Cardio vs. Weight Lifting: Which Is Better for Weight Loss?” Helathline. 24 October, 2017. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cardio-vs-weights-for-weight-loss
- Willis, Leslie H et al. “Effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults.” Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985) vol. 113,12 (2012): 1831-7. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01370.2011
- Scott, Christopher. “The Science Of Weight Loss Loves Hard And Heavy.” Breaking Muscle. 20 March, 2018. https://breakingmuscle.com/fitness/the-science-of-weight-loss-loves-hard-and-heavy/