BY LISA WILLIAMS
The number one rule of exercising for weight loss: Lift.
If they feel hard, remember: Each rep gets you one step closer to your goal weight.
Unlike cardio, which stops fighting fat as soon as you get off of the treadmill, serious strength training pulls 24/7 overtime to help you reach your goals. That’s because, apart from burning calories in the gym, weight training builds lean muscle. That fat-free tissue is the key to stoking your metabolic fire, hacking your hormones, and helping you slash calories like whoa
If weight loss is your goal, incorporating strength training into your routine is key. Here’s the thing, while strength training may not give you the instant heart-pounding, sweat-dripping satisfaction of, say, Zumba or an indoor cycling class, in the long run, building lean muscle definitely works in favor of your weight-loss goals. The short version? Having more muscle means your body burns more calories at rest. The long version? Read on for more on why strength training is the best exercise for weight loss.
Strength training helps build lean muscle.
When you’re losing weight strictly through cardio, it’s normal to lose muscle and fat. And if resistance training isn’t a part of your plan to counteract this, you could actually be slowing down your metabolism by losing lean muscle mass, rather than revving it up (which can lead to weight-loss plateaus). Strength training is better at much building muscle than a cardio-only routine.
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More muscle = a higher BMR (base metabolic rate).
Having more lean muscle means your body will burn more calories at rest. Having more muscle increases your everyday base metabolic rate, or BMR (AKA, how many calories your body would burn just to keep itself running if you did nothing but binge on Netflix all day).
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You’ll still burn calories during a strength workout.
Even though cardio gets a lot of the credit when it comes to calorie-torching workouts, you can still get a great burn during a strength-training session by adding in some heart-pumping elements. There are several things you can do maximize your burn, says Perkins: Move faster between exercises, don’t rest between sets, move quickly during each set, increase your reps, and choose heavier weights (but don’t go so heavy that you risk injury, of course).
Here’s how to add strength training into your weight-loss plan.
Warm up like it’s your job
Apart from increasing your heart rate and literally heating up your muscles, warm-ups prime your neuromuscular system to perform better, your anaerobic system to recover faster, and enable every muscle fiber to contract with force. And, don’t worry, a good warm-up will actually burn calories, too.
Your perfect pre-strength warm up: Start with a few minutes of light, aerobic activity on the elliptical, stationary bike, or treadmill. From there, you can get into dynamic moves like bodyweight squats, lunges, butt kicks, high knees, incline pushups, or whatever uses the same muscles you are going to hit during your lifting session, she says. Try to spend 15 minutes warming up prior to lifting.
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Prioritize Big Lifts
When it comes to fat loss, squats, deadlifts, lunges, hip thrusters, bench press, pullups, and rows are where it’s at. These “big lifts,” involve large muscle groups across multiple joints for more muscular and hormonal benefits than small, isolation exercises. Big lifts trigger testosterone and human growth hormone secretion, both of which boost fat metabolism. Make these moves the focus of your lifting sessions by doing them often and early in your routine. By doing these moves in the beginning of your workout, you maximize the amount of resistance you use without getting tired.
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With strength training, more is not always better. Adequate rest between sets, exercises, or entire workouts is clutch for preventing overtraining. Rest also gives you more energy to perform each rep with your best effort for optimal fat-loss results, says Reed. How much rest you need is based on individual factors, like your strength training experience, how much you’re lifting, and even genetics. That’s why it’s so important to listen to your body.
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Put down the little dumbbells. One of the best ways to push yourself and get results faster is by dialing up the weights. Heavy lifting with fewer reps builds more lean muscle, which is ideal for boosting your weight-loss hormones. Also, it forces your body to burn extra calories as it recovers after you leave the gym. Booyah!
The beauty of this is that whatever feels heavy to you, works. What’s most important is that you choose a weight you can move with proper form for all of those reps, says Reed. If you can’t eek out all of them without breaking form, you need to go down in weight. On the flip side, if you finish all of your sets with more in the tank, slightly increase the weight the next time around.
At the end of the day, you still have to burn more calories than you take in to lose weight, and even though building muscle can help keep that up long-term, it’s still important to chip away at calories on a day-to-day basis. That’s why it is important to watch your diet for some, and for others to add in cardio to tip them into calorie deficit.
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