Lean, toned, strong, fit,—we all have our own ‘goal image’ in mind as we go begin our fitness journey. Regardless of this, there is nearly always one common thread amongst exercisers: most of us are looking for weight loss. Whether training for a competition or trying to improve overall health, most all of us are looking to get rid of that extra jiggle. So what’s the best way to do this? Simple, building muscles that will in turn burn fat.
Cardio is not ideal for weight loss
Contrary to popular belief, performing loads and loads of cardio is not the key to weight loss. I get it; seeing the ‘calories burned’ number on the treadmill steadily increase can be motivating. “300…400…500… If I do this every day, twice a day, I can get to my goal weight by…” Cardiovascular focused exercises miss the mark on a couple of key elements to weight loss, though. Muscle mass and ‘afterburn’ (more on this to come) are ways for your body to continue burning calories outside of your regular workouts. Let’s discuss.
BMR’s role in weight loss
All day, every day your body is working. It needs fuel for your heart to pump, your lungs to breathe, your stomach to digest. Credit is given to your basal metabolic rate (BMR) more easily understood as the number of calories needed for your body to simply be. So what does this have to do with muscle mass? Our muscles are continually breaking down and repairing themselves to get stronger. Therefore, this process leads to lean mass to utilize more calories than fat mass. The greater amount of muscle mass on your body, the higher your BMR will be. More simply put: you are going to burn more calories laying in bed if you have 80% muscle mass versus 70% muscle mass. As you can gather, if your goal is weight loss then your goal is also to burn as many calories as possible; why not put on some muscle so you can burn more calories while sleeping?
EPOC (a.k.a. ‘afterburn’): Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. What the heck? In normal terms, EPOC is the glorious period of time after a workout during which your body is still burning calories at a higher rate. It takes your body some time to return to baseline. It’s almost like a reward for your hard work. After a long run on the treadmill, you return to your BMR much sooner than you would after a weightlifting or HIIT workout. Some vigorous workouts can provide an afterburn for up to 10+ hours. Therefore, you’re getting more bang for your buck with a 30-minute lifting session than a 75-minute jog. Work smarter, not harder.
Have I convinced you yet? We’re beginning to see how strength training can help us burn more calories without even trying. Between an extended afterburn and an increased basal metabolic rate, your body will be a furnace eating up calories all day long. Let’s now figure out how to actually begin strength training so we can see these benefits. Figuring out your routine is a science; remember we want to work smarter, not harder. When looking to strength train nearly every day, you’re going to want to split up your workouts. One of the easiest ways to do this is breaking them into upper and lower or taking it a step further and breaking each workout up by muscle groups. This allows adequate recovery to some areas of your body while other areas are being worked.
Feel a slow strong burn
If you find the ‘biceps/triceps; back/chest; glutes; quads; core’ method too overwhelming, let’s make it less complicated. Try to tackle a three-day rotation. This allows two days of rest between each routine, in addition to one full recovery day. Pick anywhere from 6-10 exercises per routine, focusing on your major muscle groups. Insider tip: working your larger muscles burns more calories, so don’t skip out on your quads, glutes, or back! When determining how much weight to use, you want to begin to feel fatigued about 2/3 of the way through your set. Going for 12 reps? It should start to feel pretty tough around rep 8 or 9. Fully utilize your exercises—this means finding work during the shortening (concentric) and the lengthening (eccentric) phases. As much as we want to speed through the eccentric portion, this is really where you find the most benefit. Strong up, and slow down—don’t be afraid to feel a burn or shake.
Keep refueling your muscles
A couple of key components to keep in mind when strength training on the regular: refueling and recovering. Make sure you’re refueling appropriately. The concept of eating less and working out more usually doesn’t provide lasting results. While a goal of weight loss is in mind, fueling the body before, during, and after your workouts is going to ensure your muscles are rebuilding and your workouts are effective. We’ve all had a gym experience where we feel sluggish and tired— without proper nutrition, this will become your regular feeling during strength training. Recovery is a component that often gets overlooked until it’s too late. Stretching, foam rolling, working on knots of muscular tension can help optimize your progress. When a high frequency of training days, these activities become even more essential. Additionally, give yourself at least one day of complete rest—it’s as good for the mind as it is for the body.
Strength training doesn’t mean that you have to be in the weight room, grunting and pushing around 350 lbs. If that’s your thing—go for it, but also know that using resistance bands, bodyweight, kettle bells, and many other tools are forms of strength training too. Most all fitness studios and gyms offer strength training classes; many magazines suggest routines; online resources are abundant. If you aren’t sure where to start, do a little research and don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is your body we’re talking about, after all.