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Often times, when an individual wants to lose weight they drop calories low and do a lot of cardio.

At first glance, it makes sense. They’re decreasing their calorie intake while increasing their calorie expenditure, negative energy balance achieved. If continued overtime weight loss will occur. Done, easy, next, right?

Wrong!

This set up WILL allow you to lose weight, however, not the weight you may want to take off (i.e, you lose a significant amount of lean mass relative to fat mass, leaving you “skinnier” but not much less fat than before).

We have the problem (dropping calories quick and too low, while performing excessive cardio). So, what is the solution?

Well first off, not dropping calories too quickly nor too low (but we are not going to talk about that today). The solution we are talking about today is prioritizing resistance exercise while easing up on the cardio.

Now, this is NOT an article bashing cardio nor implying that you should not perform cardio at all. Cardio is very beneficial and can be a great tool for fat loss as well as many other fitness goals. The point of this article is to explain why resistance training should be one of the primary focuses of your fat loss program.

Why Should You Prioritize Resistance Exercise? The 2 Key Benefits

Benefit Number 1: Preservation of Muscle Mass
The first key benefit of resistance exercise when fat loss is the goal, is its ability to prevent muscle loss while in a caloric deficit (1).

Though many of us say we want to lose weight, it is NOT just any weight that we want to lose (i.e, we want to lose fat, preserve muscle, and be more lean).

Also, Read: Muscular Hypertrophy: What is it & How does it benefit your weight loss goals?

When you are in a caloric deficit, your body must obtain energy from within itself (glycogen, body proteins, and fat).

If you’re not giving your body a reason to hold onto muscle (by not performing resistance exercise) it is going to use it, or I should say, use more of it, to provide that needed energy while preserving fat tissue.

On the contrary, by performing resistance exercise, you are telling your body ”muscle is used and necessary, hold onto it and use more fat for energy requirements”.

It should be understood that when you are in a caloric deficit it is almost certain that you will lose some muscle mass. However, the goal is to preserve as much of it as you can while losing fat.

When you perform resistance exercise you signal to your body that muscle is necessary and should be preserved.

Remember that it is not about just losing weight. The goal is to lose excess fat while keeping useful and beneficial muscle tissue so that you are left with a more lean, healthy body.

Benefit Number 2: Increased RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate)
The second benefit of resistance exercise is an increased resting metabolic rate.

Your resting metabolic rate is the energy your body uses just to survive. Even if you laid in bed all day your body would still require this amount of energy just to keep you alive.

You can increase your resting metabolic rate (though not significantly) by increasing your muscle mass (the more active tissue that you have, the more energy that is required to maintain that tissue).

The benefit of this is that you are able to take in more calories per day without gaining weight, relative to if you were the same weight but had less lean mass.

It should be understood that this increase in resting metaboic rate WILL NOT be so significant as to allow you to increase your caloric intake substantially without gining weight. Having said that, RMR makes up for roughly 60% of your energy expenditure, so increasing it wll surely benefit you. (More on metabolism here).

Muscle is more metabolically active than adipose (fat) tissue (2). For this reason, the more muscle you have the more energy your body will ultimately require.

Now this benefit does not happen overnight, that HAS to be understood and accepted.

Like with any fitness goal, increasing your muscle mass takes time.

Just as you would not expect to lose 10 lbs of fat in one week, you should not expect to gain muscle that quickly either.

Note: Any program, supplement, etc that claims you can build more than 2-5 lbs of muscle a month is a scam!! If it/they claim an individual has put on 40 lbs of muscle in 6 months, you can be sure they did not do it naturally (they used enhancement drugs).

Depending on how long you’ve been training, your genetics, etc a person can expect to gain about .5-2 lbs of muscle a month (the longer you’ve been training and the closer you are to your genetic potential, the slower you will gain muscle). This is a general guideline and can/will vary per individual.

The goal is to slowly increase your muscle mass so that in turn you increase your resting metabolic rate (and therefore are able to eat more while not gaining weight).

Side note: Just like you need a caloric deficit to lose weight, you need a caloric surplus to gain weight. As with losing weight, slower is always better. For more on muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth), keep a look out for my upcoming article, Muscular Hypertrophy: What is it? How it happens? And How it benefits your weight loss goals?

How to Implement Resistance Exercise into Your Program

The American College of Sports Medicine Resistance Exercise Guidelines (3)

-2-3 nonconsecutive days a week (at least 48 hours of rest between workouts)
-8-10 exercises
-8-12 repetitions (10-15 for older adults)
-2-4 sets
-2-3 minutes rest between sets

Some other tips/Guidelines
– Focus on total body workouts, consisting of compound movements (squats, bench press/push ups, barbell rows/pull ups, Deadlift, Military press/pike push up, etc).

– Do NOT sacrifice proper form for more weight nor to perform the exercise more quickly.

– Ensure to use full range of motion

– Continually and safely increase resistance (usually weekly to biweekly)

– Every 4-6 weeks give your body a break and lower the volume and/or frequency of your training (commonly referred to as a deload)

Always consult your physician prior to performing any new exercise program and/or increasing your physical activity. Prioritize safety.

Remember these are simply guidelines and tips, what is relevant and/or applicable for one individual may not be for another. Adding to that, what is best and safe will differ (and can differ greatly) per individual. These guidelines are NOT for you if you are in any disease state or have any injuries.

Conclusion
Resistance exercise is often lowest on the priority list for those aiming to lose fat.

However, as you have learned in this article, resistance training is an excellent tool for both preserving muscle and increasing your resting metabolic rate (i.e, useful both as a short-term and long-term weight loss strategy).

When you want to lose fat and keep it off, make sure to prioritize resistance exercise in your program so that you do not just “lose weight”, but improve your body composition.

I hope this article was helpful for you, please feel free to comment and/or ask questions below.

Michael Cruz, COFC

References
1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5421125/

2. https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20foldermetabolismcontroversy.html

3. https://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/fulltext/2009/07000/ACSM_STRENGTH_TRAINING_GUIDELINES__Role_in_Body.7.aspx

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