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Does Lifting Weights Burn Fat?

    Person Holding Barbell

    While weight training is generally not considered a part of a “burning fat” and “losing weight” program, it may actually lead you to burn just as much fat, or even more, as cardio, leading to better health overall. For weight loss, it is important to select a strength training program that is effective at burning calories, but that will also help you build more muscle and reduce body fat. Weight loss requires strength training because this type of workout builds muscles, which are more heat-active than fat.

    In fact, muscle building actually helps with weight loss, increasing metabolic rate, helping to burn more calories while at rest. Having more muscle on your body, with less body fat, increases your basal metabolic rate, meaning that you burn more calories while at rest, helping you over the long haul. The reason why this helps is so beneficial for anyone trying to lose weight is because the fat-free tissue burns more calories.

    This suggests that weight training is better than cardio for helping people lose stomach fat, since while aerobic exercises burn fat as well as muscle, lifting primarily burns fat. So, you have got a higher energy expenditure when lifting and a better chance of maxing out your fat burn while doing aerobics. This might seem counterintuitive, but cutting back on how much weight you lift may help increase your rate of fat burn. This might sound counter-intuitive, and of course, this depends on the type of weight training as well as how much aerobic exercise is done, but resistance training does indeed aid in fat burning.

    Lifting weights may, in some cases, actually be a more effective fat-burning strategy than cardio alone. Cardio helps weight loss, enhances cardiovascular health, and exposes muscles that you sculpted. This means that a program combining cardio with resistance weights can work best to enhance your body composition.

    While stationary cardio exercises such as running are great ways to lose weight, weights workouts have the added benefit of helping you reach your fat-loss goals. Anaerobic exercises basically build muscle as you whittle down fat, and this is truly the ideal way to get lean with training. Anaerobic exercises are perfect because they depend on the energy stored in your muscles instead of oxygen. Some powerlifting exercises demand that you recruit the entire body, burning calories while gaining muscle.

    For fat loss, lifting 60% to 80% of 1RM is the best way to spur muscle growth, which is what helps you shed fat. Lifting will increase your metabolism and will result in a body that looks less fat compared to one that has less muscle mass, but just as much fat tissue. Once you build a little muscle, it will keep working for you as your fat-burning engine, even when you are not training as hard.

    Building means over the long run, you will be able to handle heavier weights, as your body adapts quickly, and you start to burn more fat, even while resting. Another effect of muscle build is that it increases your BMR (basal metabolic rate), which increases the number of calories your body burns each day as muscles demand more sustainable energy, leading nicely into weight training benefits #3. Because it is a burner, building muscle is often said to be key to increasing your resting metabolism — i.e., the number of calories you burn when you are resting.

    When you do intensive training, such as weightlifting, your body continues burning calories at higher rates in the hours after your workout. It is true that cardio exercises may burn more calories during the exercise, but the benefits from lifting weights also continue even after the workout is finished in the gym. You might burn more calories in a one-hour cardio session than lifting for one, but one study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that women who lifted weights burned 100 more calories on average over 24 hours after the workout ended. Based on research, you can use your bodyweight to estimate how many calories you will burn through various types of exercises, including cardio and weight training.

    Working multiple separate muscle groups each session will also demand a higher energy expenditure post-workout as part of the recovery process for your body, so you will keep burning fat. Muscles are more metabolically active than fat, so the more you build, the more calories you will burn — and the better chance you have to keep the fat off, says sports physiologist Dr. Leigh Breen.

    Then, your metabolism can increase further, as your body adapts to the challenges of lifting by building new muscle tissue. Weight training and building some muscle does not cause your metabolism to explode, but it can boost it a bit. Even if you are not planning on bulking up, maintaining your lean body mass when you are losing weight is important, because if you are just losing a couple pounds, your base metabolic rate could fall off because your body responds to a weight change.

    As mentioned, dieting while not lifting any weights cuts down both your body fat and your muscle mass, making you overall a weaker body. Weight training may be particularly important for helping women lose body fat, with research from the University of Alabama showing greater reductions in abdominal fat among women who lifted weights than among those who simply did cardiovascular exercises. While it is true you cannot cut out a specific area–your body is born with conceived places that want to store fat–the University of Alabama study found women who lifted weights lost more abdominal internal body fat (deep belly fat) than those who simply did cardiovascular exercise. In fact, the study — a systematic review and meta-analysis examining and analyzing existing evidence — found we could lose about 1.4% of total body fat just from weight training, similar to what we can lose through cardio or calisthenics.

    It takes time to build and maintain big muscles, suggesting that resistance exercise can also trigger fat-burning processes at a cellular level, with effects occurring far faster. Since the amount of muscle damage done in high-rep, lighter-weight types of training is so small, these energy demands after training are not experienced.


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