Strength Training for Fat-Loss

Ways to build lean muscle and burn fat at a higher rate and improve your basal metabolic rate

As a nation, we’re getting heavier. The American lifestyle isn’t helping: sitting 12-16 hours per day, access to disposable income combined with an abundance of great restaurants for our on-the-go style of living, grocery stores filled with every possible convenience item imaginable, coffee shops featuring drinks with more sugar than coffee, specialty wine shops and liquor stores readily available all make healthy living a real challenge. And, when you combine that with a reason to celebrate something almost every weekend, it’s a real battle. And guess what? We’re not winning!

In fact, most Americans hold 25-50 percent body fat. Thankfully, medical grade (meaning high accuracy) technology has made its way into the gym which allows us to see that even some “leaner” clients are carrying around way more body fat than they should. In fact, old body fat indicators like BMI (Body Mass Index) don’t take into account that two people of the same weight, height and BMI can have vastly different body compositions. By measuring body fat percentages, we can understand exactly what makes up your bodyweight: pounds of body fat that you’re carrying and how much lean mass you have. Optimal body fat readings for adults are 15 percent or less for males, and 20 percent or less for females. Being able to provide clients with real, trackable data allows clients to fine-tune their nutrition and fitness plans to better reach their goals.

But once you’ve determined that you need to lose fat, what comes next? Some people think exercise is the answer to combating weight gain. I heard this one last week: “I only exercise so that I can eat whatever I want.” That might have worked when you were twenty, but at forty you’re a whole different animal. The weight gain just creeps up on you year after year. Your metabolism slows and so does your movement. Most people know that if they could just move more and eat less they could lower body fat.

Photo courtesy of Next Level Fitness

So, what type of exercise is best?

Cardio, weight-lifting, or both? What about boot camps, or yoga? Crossfit or jogging? Training for a 5k or even a marathon? How about pick-up basketball, walking, or biking? All exercise works, but some activities burn more calories than others and some increase muscle mass better than others. What most people want to know is “what is the safest, most effective way to shed body fat?” And what is the quickest way to get a return on my investment of time, money, and effort?

How do you lower Body Fat Percentage?

Strength training. No, you’re not going to “bulk up” like a bodybuilder. The fact is that strength training builds lean muscle and burns fat at a higher rate than cardiovascular exercise. Strength training (like lifting weights and resistance training) overloads the muscle, forcing it to adapt to be able to lift more weight. In short, strength training stimulates muscle growth, turning your body into a better fat-burning machine and improving your basal metabolic rate. I recommend a professionally designed strength training program of two to four training sessions per week that includes progressive overload to build muscle mass.

Improve your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Simply put, your BMR is the calories (energy) you burn while at rest. Muscle requires more energy than fat, so the more muscle you have the more energy your body needs to function, and therefore the more calories you will burn while at rest. The answer to improving your BMR? Strength training! How do you determine your BMR? Get a thorough body composition analysis.

Avoid only doing cardio. Yes, cardio exercise is an excellent way to improve cardiovascular health and help with weight loss. However, if you only do cardio and no strength training you not only lose lean muscle mass, you’ll slow your metabolism and impact your ability to lose weight.

What additional steps do I take to lose fat?

Create a calorie deficit. In other words, to lose weight you need to take in fewer calories. So, if you know your BMR is 1,600 calories/day, you know you need to eat less than that to lose weight. The main reason we recommend getting your BMR information is so you know exactly what caloric intake you need to maintain or lose weight. Studies have shown that you need a minimum 500-calorie deficit per day to lose weight.

Eat more protein. When it comes to lowering your body fat percentage, the real key is losing the right kind of weight. While lowering your caloric intake for the day and increasing the amount of protein that you ingest, you will be able to maintain and even increase muscle mass while losing body fat. So, how do you know how much daily protein you need? First, find out what your lean muscle mass is (using a body composition analyzer). Then, the golden rule is: eat one gram of protein per pound of lean muscle mass (not body weight). Keep up the intensity using strength training workouts using progressive overload principles.

Progressive overload: You can’t just lift the same weight using the same exercise every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday when you go to the gym. In order to make a difference in your body composition you need to strive to increase load, increase speed, or increase time under tension.

Quit worrying about getting “toned.” Tone is more of a marketing term because people can relate to it without worrying that they’re going to turn into The Hulk. Look, you’re either building muscle or you’re not. Ninety-nine percent of females don’t have the testosterone in their bodies to get big unless they’re taking something to get big. Just lift!

If you’re determined to lose body fat to live a healthier, more active life then it’s important to learn your body composition and then to use that information to adjust your caloric intake, eat more protein, and improve your exercise routine with strength training.

Colby Schreckengost
About Colby Schreckengost 6 Articles
Colby Schreckengost is owner/director of training at Next Level Fitness & Performance in Haymarket, VA. Colby holds a BS and MS and is a former strength and conditioning coach at the University of Tulsa. He is a certified personal trainer and Sports Nutritionist.

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