By Dave Smith
Weight lifting for weight loss - Isn't that an oxymoron?
Close your eyes and think of the term "weight lifting" for a few seconds.
What do you see?
Did you picture a guy like this? Fake tan, bulging muscles, skimpy thong (which no man should ever wear), and a lot of male bravado that comes with being so big and strong?
Lifting weights is for men who want to pack on muscle. It's not for anyone, women especially, who want to trim down and lose weight, right?
This must be true. After all, women who lift weights don't lose weight. They actually get bigger, bulkier, and more manly. You don't want to look like this girl, do you?
These are commonly held beliefs when it comes to lifting weights.
- "Weight lifting adds bulk."
- "Cardiovascular exercise burns fat."
- "Men lift weights."
- "Women do cardio."
I get it. I understand why you might think these statements are true. But, here's a little secret... There is no better form of exercise for losing weight, than lifting weights.
Say it with me,
"There is no better form of exercise for losing weight, than lifting weights."
Hopefully you said that with conviction, but if not, I'd like to show you why this is true. My goal is NOT to turn you off cardiovascular exercise. Rather, it's to show you that adding weight training to your exercise routine is the BEST way for you to lose weight and keep it off.
Let's dive in...
Weight Lifting for Weight Loss: Fact or Fiction?
- AT (Aerobics Training) - Performed cardiovascular exercise only.
- RT (Resistance Training) - performed weight training only.
- AT/RT - performed a combination of cardio training and weight lifting.
The participants were guided through specific exercise routines for 8 months. No other changes were made to their lifestyles. They kept their typical diet, slept at their normal times, worked their regular jobs, etc.
After 8 months, the researchers used 3 metrics to measure the progress of the participants:
- Body Mass - How much did their weight change?
- Lean Mass - How much muscle did they gain?
- Fat Mass - How much fat did they lose?
Weight Lifting to Lose Weight: The Research Results?
What do you think happened to the participants in each of the three groups? Which group saw the most noticeable changes?
The AT and AT/RT groups saw more significant losses in their body mass and fat mass, while the RT and AT/RT groups saw substantially bigger improvements in terms of their lean mass.
That's what you guessed, wasn't it?
You knew that the participants who performed cardio training (i.e. AT and AT/RT) would drop more weight, while those who did weight lifting (i.e. the RT and AT/RT) would gain more muscle.
Doesn't this support the notion that weight lifting is NOT very good for weight loss?
At first glance it does, but here's the real kicker...
While those participants in the AT group lost more weight during the 8-month study, they were significantly more likely to plateau and eventually add that weight back on than those participants who were using resistance training as part of their routine.
Why Did Cardio Training Lead to Weight Re-Gain?
Why is the AT group more likely to add weight back on? And why is the RT group more likely to keep losing weight in the future?
It all comes down to something known as Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)...
Your Resting Metabolic Rate is the speed at which your body burns calories when you're not really doing anything at all. When you're watching TV, scrolling through Facebook, or even reading this article, your body is still burning calories.
How many calories?
Well, that depends on your RMR, which is almost entirely dependent on your lean body mass. (Now we're getting somewhere!)
Research varies a fair bit when it comes to determining how much a pound of muscle actually increases your RMR, but everyone agrees that adding muscle definitely DOES increase your metabolic rate. Some say a pound of muscle burns an extra 12 calories per day, while others estimate that a pound burns up to 70 calories! (At either end of the spectrum, muscle has a pretty big impact on your metabolism)
Back to our Duke University study...
The RT and AT/RT groups added lean mass (i.e. muscle), which means they increased their RMR. In other words, lifting weights leads to muscle gain, which boosts metabolism, and stimulates weight-loss all day, every day.
That's pretty darned cool.
What about the AT group who was busy doing cardio?
Cardiovascular exercise can actually have a negative effect on RMR. If you do too much cardio training, your lean body mass can begin to decrease. This is known as entering a catabolic state, where your body burns muscle tissue for fuel. This is exactly the wrong place to be if you're looking to lose weight for the long-term.
Simply put, when you jog on the treadmill, you will burn a fair number of calories. But, that calorie-burning turns off almost instantly when you stop running. Simultaneously, cardiovascular exercise isn't supporting your existing lean body mass, nor does it help create new lean tissue. Therefore, you can end up killing your metabolism by focusing on cardio.
I could cite study after study that confirms the positive impact of weight lifting on RMR and overall health. Lifting weights is NOT just for men. And no, strength training is not just for bodybuilders. Weight lifting is for anyone who wants to shed weight and keep it off.
What Type of Weight Lifting Is Best For Weight Loss?
Hopefully we're on the same page now. Lifting weights is fantastic for your metabolic rate, and therefore is necessary for maximum weight loss.
But, what type of resistance training should you use? This is a complex question that varies to some degree for each individual, but here's a simple answer:
The best weight lifting program for weight loss is one that has you move in every way that your body is built to move.
That might sound like a confusing answer, but in reality, your body moves in just 6 ways, often referred to as your Primal Movement Patterns. These include squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, bending, and twisting. (Sometimes your gait, walking or running, is added as a seventh movement pattern, although it is a variation of a lunge)
Your body is built to move in the 6 Primal Movement Patterns
You can imagine prehistoric man using these 6 movements to chase down prey, throw a spear to kill it, drag it home, and then cook it on a fire. You are built the same. Your body wants to squat, lunge, push, pull, bend and twist. So, let's use a weight lifting program that trains those movements while stimulating your RMR as much as possible.
The 6 Weight Lifting Exercises You Need to Use for Weight Loss
These 6 exercises will get you moving through the primal movement patterns, but just as importantly, they stimulate your body's largest muscle groups, meaning that they will have a significant impact on your RMR. That's why these are the best strength training exercises for weight loss...
Below is a video where I show how you can add resistance to your squats without actually using any weights. Of course, you can also head to the gym and use a barbell or dumbbells to create a similar effect.
2. Twisting Lunge
I love this lunge variation because it covers two primal movements into one (i.e. a lunge and a twist). For added resistance, you can hold a dumbbell, medicine ball, or kettlebell to create the resistance needed.
3. Push Press
One of my go-to moves, the push press combines a quarter squat with an overhead press. This move is a little more advanced, so get some assistance before trying it on your own. You can also use dumbbells or kettlebells instead of the barbell.
4. Inverted Row (Pulling)
I LOVE this exercise for so many reasons. It engages your back, shoulders, arms, and core all in one move (a.k.a. Awesome for your metabolism). Plus, it provides strength in all the right places to battle poor posture from too much sitting. Do this!
5. Single-Leg Deadlift (Bending)
This is likely my favourite exercise at the gym, but it's also the one that I see people doing incorrectly (and dangerously) more than any other. Watch the video below closely to learn a safe way to begin practicing your forward bends with a bodyweight deadlift.
As you get comfortable with this movement, you can hold dumbbells for added resistance or begin working with a barbell deadlift (with two feet planted).
6. Russian Twist
There are many ways to execute a Russian Twist, and you can use many pieces of equipment to make this more or less challenging. But, regardless of the style you use, this exercise covers all areas of your abdominals, it strengthens your back and your arms, plus it will get your heart rate flying.
I know we've just begun to scratch the surface when it comes to lifting weights to lose weight, but hopefully you've come away with 3 key principles that you can apply to your own exercise routine:
- Lifting weights increases your lean mass, therefore stimulating your RMR
- An increased RMR leads to more sustainable weight loss
- Primal movements are a great way get started with resistance training
The key really is to keep things simple. There are many strength training exercises that can help you lose weight, but these are some of the most effective. Start small, keep it simple, be consistent, and you are going to get great weight-loss results!