Is Strength Training Good For Weight Loss

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Strength Training is one of the best things you can do to lose weight and feel good. I’ve been lifting weights for over 7 years now, and have found that using more strength training as opposed to cardiovascular exercise has been easier on me – both from a time management perspective as well as being able to retain muscle mass while losing fat.

Strength training: Get stronger, leaner, healthier

Strength training is an important part of an overall fitness program. Here’s what strength training can do for you — and how to get started.By Mayo Clinic Staff Want to reduce body fat, increase lean muscle mass and burn calories more efficiently? Strength training to the rescue! Strength training is a key component of overall health and fitness for everyone.

Use it or lose it

Lean muscle mass naturally diminishes with age. Your body fat percentage will increase over time if you don’t do anything to replace the lean muscle you lose over time. Strength training can help you preserve and enhance your muscle mass at any age. Strength training may also help you:
  • Develop strong bones. By stressing your bones, strength training can increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Manage your weight. Strength training can help you manage or lose weight, and it can increase your metabolism to help you burn more calories.
  • Enhance your quality of life. Strength training may enhance your quality of life and improve your ability to do everyday activities. Strength training can also protect your joints from injury. Building muscle also can contribute to better balance and may reduce your risk of falls. This can help you maintain independence as you age.
  • Manage chronic conditions. Strength training can reduce the signs and symptoms of many chronic conditions, such as arthritis, back pain, obesity, heart disease, depression and diabetes.
  • Sharpen your thinking skills. Some research suggests that regular strength training and aerobic exercise may help improve thinking and learning skills for older adults.

Consider the options

Strength training can be done at home or in the gym. Common choices may include:
  • Body weight. You can do many exercises with little or no equipment. Try pushups, pullups, planks, lunges and squats.
  • Resistance tubing. Resistance tubing is inexpensive, lightweight tubing that provides resistance when stretched. You can choose from many types of resistance tubes in nearly any sporting goods store or online.
  • Free weights. Barbells and dumbbells are classic strength training tools. If you don’t have weights at home, you can use soup cans. Other options can include using medicine balls or kettle bells.
  • Weight machines. Most fitness centers offer various resistance machines. You can invest in weight machines for use at home, too.
  • Cable suspension training. Cable suspension training is another option to try. In cable suspension training, you suspend part of your body — such as your legs — while doing body weight training such as pushups or planks.

Getting started

If you have a chronic condition, or if you’re older than age 40 and you haven’t been active recently, check with your doctor before beginning a strength training or aerobic fitness program. Before beginning strength training, consider warming up with brisk walking or another aerobic activity for five or 10 minutes. Cold muscles are more prone to injury than are warm muscles. Choose a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions. When you can easily do more repetitions of a certain exercise, gradually increase the weight or resistance. Research shows that a single set of 12 to 15 repetitions with the proper weight can build muscle efficiently in most people and can be as effective as three sets of the same exercise. As long as you take the muscle you are working to fatigue — meaning you can’t lift another repetition — you are doing the work necessary to make the muscle stronger. And fatiguing at a higher number of repetitions means you likely are using a lighter weight, which will make it easier for you to control and maintain correct form. To give your muscles time to recover, rest one full day between exercising each specific muscle group. Also be careful to listen to your body. If a strength training exercise causes pain, stop the exercise. Consider trying a lower weight or trying it again in a few days. It’s important to use proper technique in strength training to avoid injuries. If you’re new to strength training, work with a trainer or other fitness specialist to learn correct form and technique. Remember to breathe as you strength train.

Why Strength Training Is The Workout You Need To Do If You’re Trying To Lose Weight

Here’s how strength training can help you meet your weight-loss goals. When you think about the best type of workouts for weight loss, your mind might not immediately jump to strength training, but it should. While it’s definitely true that cardio workouts get your heart working harder and as a result, help your body burn calories, strength training is what’s really going to give your weight-loss goals that extra boost. Before we really get into it, we want to make it clear that weight loss as a goal isn’t necessarily for everyone. For anyone who has a history of disordered eating, even if you’re in recovery, you should speak with a doctor before you pursue any weight-loss goal, including starting a new exercise routine. And even if you don’t have a history of disordered eating, it’s really important to have realistic expectations and make sure you’re pursuing weight loss in a healthy way. Results can be incredibly difficult to come by, may take a very long time to achieve, and are also really hard to maintain. Also important to remember: Exercise is only part of the equation. You have to create a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you consume in a day) in order to lose weight, which requires not just working out, but also being cognizant about what you’re eating, making sure to eat quality calories and watch portion sizes. You need to get good sleep, regularly. You need to have lowered stress levels. You need to take care of your other bodily needs. With so many factors at play, it’s no wonder weight loss is a very unique experience for every person. If weight loss is a goal of yours, incorporating strength training into your routine is key. Here’s the thing, while strength training may not give you the instant heart-pounding, sweat-dripping satisfaction of, say, Zumba or an indoor cycling class, in the long run, building lean muscle definitely works in favor of your weight-loss goals. The short version? Having more muscle means your body burns more calories at rest. The long version? Read on for more on why strength training is the best exercise for weight loss.

How Strength Training Helps Your Health

Besides the well-touted (and frequently Instagrammed) benefit of adding tone and definition to your muscles, how does strength training help? Here are just a few of the many ways:

1. Strength Training Makes You Stronger and Fitter

This benefit is the obvious one, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. “Muscle strength is crucial in making it easier to do the things you need to do on a day-to-day basis,” Pire says — especially as we get older and naturally start to lose muscle. Strength training is also called resistance training because it involves strengthening and toning your muscles by contracting them against a resisting force. According to the Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine, there are two types of resistance training:
  • Isometric resistance involves contracting your muscles against a nonmoving object, such as against the floor in a pushup.
  • Isotonic strength training involves contracting your muscles through a range of motion, as in weight lifting.

2. Strength Training Protects Bone Health and Muscle Mass

At around age 30 we start losing as much as 3 to 5 percent of lean muscle mass per decade thanks to aging, notes Harvard Health Publishing. According to a study published in October 2017 in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, just 30 minutes twice a week of high intensity resistance and impact training was shown to improve functional performance, as well as bone density, structure, and strength in postmenopausal women with low bone mass — and it had no negative effects. Likewise, the HHS physical activity guidelines note that, for everyone, muscle strengthening activities help preserve or increase muscle mass, strength, and power, which are essential for bone, joint, and muscle health as we age.

3. Strength Training Helps Your Body Burn Calories Efficiently

All exercise helps boost your metabolism (the rate your resting body burns calories throughout the day). With both aerobic activity and strength training, your body continues to burn calories after strength training as it returns to its more restful state (in terms of energy exerted). It’s a process called “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption,” according to the American Council on Exercise. But when you do strength, weight, or resistance training, your body demands more energy based on how much energy you’re exerting (meaning the tougher you’re working, the more energy is demanded). So you can amplify this effect depending on the amount of energy you put into the workout. That means more calories burned during the workout, and more calories burned after the workout, too, while your body is recovering to a resting state.

4. Strength Training Helps Keep the Weight off for Good 

Because strength training boosts excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, it can also help exercisers boost weight loss more than if you were to just do aerobic exercise alone, Pire says. “[Resistance or strengthening exercise] keeps your metabolism active after exercising, much longer than after an aerobic workout.” That’s because lean tissue in general is more active tissue. “If you have more muscle mass, you’ll burn more calories — even in your sleep, than if you didn’t have that extra lean body mass,” he adds. A study published in the journal Obesity in November 2017 found that, compared with dieters who didn’t exercise and those who did only aerobic exercise, dieters who did strength training exercises four times a week for 18 months lost the most fat (about 18 pounds, compared with 10 pounds for nonexercisers and 16 pounds for aerobic exercisers). You may even be able to further reduce body fat specifically when strength training is combined with reducing calories through diet. People who followed a combined full-body resistance training and diet over the course of four months reduced their fat mass while improving lean muscle mass better than either resistance training or dieting alone, concluded a small study published in January 2018 in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.

5. Strength Training Helps You Develop Better Body Mechanics

Strength training also benefits your balance, coordination, and posture, according to past research. One review, published in Aging Clinical and Experimental Research in November 2017, concluded that doing at least one resistance training session per week — performed alone or in a program with multiple different types of workouts — produced up to a 37 percent increase in muscle strength, a 7.5 percent increase in muscle mass, and a 58 percent increase in functional capacity (linked to risk of falls) in frail, elderly adults. “Balance is dependent on the strength of the muscles that keep you on your feet,” Pire notes. “The stronger those muscles, the better your balance.”

6. Strength Training Can Help With Chronic Disease Management

Studies have documented that strength training can also help ease symptoms in people with many chronic conditions, including neuromuscular disorders, HIV, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and some cancers, among others.  For the more than 30 million Americans with type 2 diabetes, strength training along with other healthy lifestyle changes can help improve glucose control, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a study published in June 2017 in Diabetes Therapy. And research published in 2019 in Frontiers in Psychology suggested regular resistance training can also help prevent chronic mobility problems, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

7. Strength Training Boosts Energy Levels and Improves Your Mood

Strength training has been found to be a legitimate treatment option (or add-on treatment) to quell symptoms of depression, according to a meta-analysis of 33 clinical trials published in JAMA Psychiatry in June 2018. “All exercise boosts mood because it increases endorphins,” Pire says. But for strength training, additional research that’s looked at neurochemical and neuromuscular responses to such workouts offers further evidence it has a positive effect on the brain, he adds. And there’s evidence strength training may help you sleep better, too, according to a study published in the January–February 2019 issue of Brazilian Journal of Psychology. And we all know a better night’s sleep can go a long way in keeping mood up.

8. Strength Training Has Cardiovascular Health Benefits

Along with aerobic exercise, muscle-strengthening activities helps improve blood pressure and reduce risk of hypertension and heart disease, according to HHS.

Strength training helps build lean muscle.

“Aerobic exercise is actually the most effective in losing weight, however, it’s not the best at burning fat and increasing lean mass (muscle),” says Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S., founder of TS Fitness. When you’re losing weight strictly through cardio, it’s normal to lose muscle and fat. And if resistance training isn’t a part of your plan to counteract this, you could actually be slowing down your metabolism by losing lean muscle mass, rather than revving it up (which can lead to weight-loss plateaus). Strength training is better at much building muscle than a cardio-only routine, explains Michaela Devries-Aboud, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at McMaster University. “When you lift weights, you overload the muscle and it works to adapt to be able to lift more weight. The way the muscle adapts is by increasing something called myofibrillar size (the contractile units of the muscle),” she explains. Resistance training stimulates this growth, which leads to an increase in muscle mass over time. “And while aerobic exercise can also [stimulate this process], this increase is not as great as it is with resistance exercise.” More muscle = a higher BMR (base metabolic rate). Having more lean muscle means your body will burn more calories at rest. Having more muscle increases your everyday base metabolic rate, or BMR (AKA, how many calories your body would burn just to keep itself running if you did nothing but binge on Netflix all day). “Muscle mass is a more metabolically expensive tissue,” explains Devries-Aboud. “The metabolic demand of a pound of muscle is greater than it is for a pound of fat, so just sitting around, the amount of energy needed to maintain a pound of muscle per day is greater than that of a pound of fat. The more muscle you have the more calories you burn throughout the day.” “Muscle is constantly being broken down, recreated, and synthesized, and all these processes require energy. The more muscle you have, the more energy it takes for this process,” adds Tamir. So by building more muscle, you’re stoking the fires of your metabolism. By increasing your BMR and burning more calories at rest, you’re also increasing your calorie deficit, which is necessary for weight loss. (Head over here to get all of the formulas and information you need to figure out how many calories you should eat for weight loss.) And don’t freak out if you don’t see huge results on the scale: “Go by how your clothes fit, because muscle is more compact than fat,” suggests Devries-Aboud. If you’re not losing as much weight as you think you should be, you’re probably building muscle as you’re losing fat, and that’s a good thing! (And no, you won’t get bulky.) “That new muscle has a huge influence on decreasing body fat,” explains Holly Perkins, B.S., C.S.C.S. “The net result is that you are tighter and leaner, regardless of what the scale says.”

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