In order to lose weight, the prevailing recommendation has always been a combination of diet and exercise with the goal of creating a calorie deficit that will cause the body to use up its fat stores. Only recently has the importance of strength training been determined for the goal of long-term weight loss and management. The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association now jointly recommend a minimum of twice-weekly strength training sessions, in addition to, moderate or intense cardiovascular activity.
Measuring Fat Loss
Rather than using the gross measurement of weight lost as a determinant of success, body fat testing should be considered to determine whether a diet and exercise program is producing results. Measuring weight loss on a scale only tells how much weight has been lost, but not what has been lost. Losing a large amount of muscle mass will reduce a person’s size, but results in a smaller, yet still flabby, version of that individual. On the other hand, focusing on fat loss results in a smaller size and increased muscle tone, as the muscles are more visible through a thinner layer of subcutaneous fat.
The Role of Strength Training in Fat Loss
Strength training alone does little to effect fat loss, but when combined with a calorie deficit from dieting, cardiovascular exercise, or some combination of the two, strength training aids in conserving muscle mass. When the body experiences calorie deprivation, it uses fat stores and dormant muscle tissue as fuel to make up the energy deficit. A strength training program designed to work all of the major muscle groups reduces the amount of dormant muscle mass and forces the body to utilize a higher percentage of fat for fuel resulting in an improved body composition.
A Simple Example Strength Training Program
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends eight to ten exercises performed for eight to twelve repetitions each twice weekly as a minimum for strengthening muscles. These exercises should work all major muscle groups. Here is an example of machine exercises that meet that criteria, but barbell, or dumbbell versions of these exercises would be sufficient, as well:
- chest press
- seated row
- lat pulldowns
- shoulder press
- leg extensions
- leg curls
- cable curls
- tricep pushdowns
Those interested in gaining the benefits of strength training with a lower time requirement should try a strength training program centered around compound exercises designed to work multiple muscle groups with fewer exercises.