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Does Strength Training Burn Fat?

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    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. Strength training, including weightlifting, helps people build muscle, which speeds up metabolism and burns more fat over the long haul. Having more muscle also helps your body burn more fat compared to lean body mass, which is important if you are trying to lose weight while maintaining your strength. The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism is going to run, which means the body burns calories and fat.

    Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue, so over time, when you build more muscle, your body will burn more calories when it is at rest than before you built that muscle. In fact, building muscle may actually help you lose weight, increasing your metabolism rate, helping you burn more calories at rest. For instance, resistance training is more effective at building muscle than aerobic exercise, and muscles burn more calories at rest than certain other tissues, including fat (3). More importantly, because weight training increases the number and size of calorie-burning muscle fibers that power your work capacity, perkins says, weight training can actually help you burn more calories while doing aerobic exercise.

    That way, you have got more energy to work with when lifting and a better chance at maxing out your fat-burning during your cardio. It is true that cardio exercises may burn more calories during the workout, but the benefits of weightlifting last long after you finish a workout in the gym. Any type of exercise can help you lose weight, and that includes weightlifting: As long as you are burning more calories than you are eating every day, you are going to stay at a caloric deficit and you are going to lose weight. Some weightlifting exercises demand that you recruit the entire body, burning calories while also gaining muscle.

    When you switch to lighter weights and higher reps, the work you are doing is more akin to cardio: It is still good for your body, but will not build quite as much muscle. You could walk for an hour using lighter weights and get some great sweats, but unless you are lifting heavier, you are not going to reap the benefits of strength training. Training with heavy weights puts more stress on the muscles, which means tissue breaks down faster.

    This suggests strength training is better than cardio for helping people lose stomach fat, since while aerobic exercises burn fat as well as muscle, lifting weights burns fat almost exclusively. Weight training may be particularly important for helping women lose body fat, and research from the University of Alabama shows greater reductions in stomach fat for women who lift weights than for those who only do cardio. A 2010 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise showed post-menopausal women who regularly did resistance training experienced lower belly fat gains compared to their non-regularly trained counterparts.

    Unlike resistance exercise, the data shows resistance training has beneficial effects beyond reducing body fat, including increased muscle size and strength. Resistance training helps to lose excess fat both through increased post-exercise burn, as well as increased muscle size, which increases the amount of calories we burn while at rest. As a result, resistance exercise is an effective method for losing excess body fat, because of both the higher caloric expenditure in an actual workout session, as well as the after-burn effects.

    Aerobic training has been shown to spur fat-burning in a certain degree, but resistance training seems particularly strong at creating cell-level adaptations that may speed up the process. It takes time to build and maintain big muscles, suggesting resistance exercise can also spur fat-burning processes at the cellular level, which can have much faster effects. This suggests a similar mechanism for fat burning could play out in humans following weight-training exercises.

    More importantly, other studies suggest that HIIT-style training can burn roughly as many calories as traditional cardio, though it depends on exercise intensity. You might burn more calories in your 1-hour cardio session than in an hour of heavy lifting, but one study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that women who lifted averaged 100 more calories over 24 hours after the training session ended.

    Minute-for-minute cardiovascular exercises burn more calories than weights workouts because of the continued intensity, and thus, they can help you burn fat while eating a wider, healthier diet. While cardio gets most of the credit when it comes to calories-burning workouts, you can still achieve great burns in your weight-training sessions by adding some heart-pumping elements. By increasing your daily base metabolic rate and burning more calories while resting, you are also increasing the caloric deficit needed to lose weight.

    Having more muscle increases your daily base metabolic rate, or BMR (AKA, the amount of calories your body would burn to just keep running if you did nothing except binge-watch Netflix all day. If your BMR is higher, then your BMR is higher, so your body will have more energy for it. The other effect of gaining muscle is it increases your BMR (base metabolic rate), which increases how many calories your body burns each day because muscles demand more sustainable energy, leading nicely into weight training benefits #3. Weight training and putting on some muscle does not cause your metabolism to explode, but it can boost it a bit.

    Because muscles burn a relatively large percentage of calories, less muscle means that our bodies are less capable of maintaining the amount of calories that we consumed in our youth. As mentioned, dieting without lifting reduces both fat and muscle, making the body generally weaker. While exercises like running and biking are really effective at losing fat, those activities simultaneously reduce muscle size, leading to weaker muscles and greater perceived weight loss, since muscles are denser than fat.

    Healthy men who exercise for twenty minutes per day with resistance exercises experience a lower rise in their waistline fat associated with age compared with those who devote an equal amount of time to aerobic activities. A study published in a 2013 issue of International Journal of Cardiology showed that higher-intensity resistance training induced more rapid reductions in belly fat than cardio activity alone.


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