Weightlifting Is Crucial for Hitting Weight Loss Goals—Here's What You Need to Know
Getting active and lifting weights are excellent steps to take for your health, regardless of whether or not you want to lose weight. Weight loss isn't a reliable measure of health, and not all methods of dropping pounds are healthy or sustainable.
However, weightlifting is an essential factor in any weight loss effort, and it is definitely a health-forward choice to build into your fitness routine. Building muscle and strength comes with a bevy of benefits beyond weight loss as well.
To find out just how weightlifting can contribute to a healthy and sustainable weight-loss plan—especially compared with the old standby cardio—we spoke to personal trainers Prentiss Rhodes and Hannah Clausen. Keep reading for what they had to say.
Prentiss Rhodes is a NASM-certified personal trainer and performance exercise specialist (PES).
Hannah Clausen is the director of coaching at Macros Inc. and a NASM-certified personal trainer.
Weightlifting for Weight Loss
Weightlifting is an essential part of any weight loss plan and comes with numerous benefits for your health beyond the scale. "When weightlifting is part of a progressive training program, you will strengthen the muscles that will help you to efficiently perform your steady-state cardio training and other activities," explains Rhodes. Progressive training is key to seeing continued results. It simply means that you keep challenging yourself in every training session—by increasing your weight load, for instance.
And in terms of appearance, weightlifting is crucial to most people's goals. "Weightlifting ... promotes that 'toned' look so many anticipate as an award following our diet efforts," says Clausen.
The science is on weightlifting's side, too: Despite cardio having a higher average calorie burn for the same duration of the activity, weightlifting may lead to more weight loss. Lifting weights changes your metabolism for better bodyweight balance. Science also shows that after you lift weights, you can burn more calories for 24 or more hours post-training. This can lead to increased calorie burn over time and increased fat loss. What's more, weightlifting preserves lean mass during weight loss, keeping the metabolism higher than it would be otherwise—which likely leads to more sustainable, long-term weight loss.
Weightlifting also plays a pretty significant role in our longevity as we age by aiding in good balance and strong bones. "While a weightlifting session may not burn as many calories as, say, a spin class, it's something that can still bring about some significant improvements with relatively little time required through the week," says Clausen.
Cardio for Weight Loss
According to Rhodes, there are several reasons why cardio is a solid choice for weight loss. "Performing cardio at lower, sustained intensities, referred to as steady-state, will help burn fat while also strengthening your heart muscle," he says.
With a consistent cardio routine, the benefits become even more significant. "As you perform these bouts of cardio exercise for longer periods, this may send signals for your body to increase the number of mitochondria or the organelles in your cells responsible for providing energy," explains Rhodes.
Mitochondria convert body fat into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which provides energy for many essential processes in the body—as well as the energy you need to get through your workouts. "You may also notice changes in your overall aerobic and muscular endurance," adds Rhodes. With increased aerobic and muscular endurance comes a boost to your other physical activities, allowing you to perform better and burn more calories. These effects will also improve your weightlifting efforts.
And don't forget about the all-important psychological effects. "Most of us tend to feel pretty good after a run, spin, or swim, too, which can, in turn, support a better mood and overall stress management. These are pretty big factors in our ability to stay motivated and focused on making changes," says Clausen.
Other benefits of cardio to consider are lower blood pressure, lower resting heart rate, improved oxygen consumption, and increased mitochondrial density, according to Clausen.
Cardio vs. Weightlifting for Fat Burn
When comparing weightlifting and cardio for fat burn, the picture isn't so black and white. After all, both are part of any healthy lifestyle and come with unique benefits for weight loss and beyond.
"When asking which is better for fat loss, it’s really going to depend on who you’re talking to and their long-term goals. In an ideal world, people find ways to get a little bit of both in but can prioritize what they prefer and enjoy the most," suggests Clausen.
Rhodes agrees: "The best program is going to be the one that you can stick with long-term. Both have their benefits and ideally should be part of a comprehensive training program," he says. He recommends working in the type of cardio—steady-state or high-intensity-style training—that you currently don't do.
Other Factors to Consider for Weight Loss
Weight loss is more complex than a single type of exercise and includes other lifestyle aspects such as sleep, stress, and nutrition. Rhodes provides these additional tips:
Nutrition impacts your weight loss and recovery: Ensure that you are eating the appropriate macronutrients, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, in amounts that would support your training and recovery.
Try to get quality sleep: Losing one night of sleep can adversely affect fat metabolism and recovery. A sleep deficit may also impact appetite and lead to overeating.
Manage your chronic stress: Chronic stress causes the continued circulation of some stress hormones (e.g., cortisol), which may cause cravings for high-sugar foods. This may negatively affect weight loss efforts.
But above all is consistency and compliance. "What really matters is whether you are able to do something to change your current habits, increase your total exercise volume, change your nutrition habits, and shift your priorities to make your health and wellness—not just weight loss—a priority," explains Clausen.
"It is really important that before someone commits to anything extreme, they stop and think about what they are actually able to successfully commit to right now," she adds. "Every step—no matter how small—is a step in the right direction, and it really doesn’t have to be all or nothing."
The Final Takeaway
Weight loss, while a healthy goal for some, is not a measure of health on its own. However, if you do want to pursue weight loss as a goal, weightlifting can be a critical factor in losing pounds and keeping them off. Sleep, stress management, and a proper diet are also essential.
Building muscle and strength will help you enjoy your life and improve longevity and independence. Start where you are with simple exercises or bodyweight routines and build from there, always challenging yourself to improve. Enjoy the process of getting more fit and healthy, and weight loss will follow.
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